Daily Prompt: Symbiosis

A Google image search of symbiosis brings up a whole lot of Nemo clown fish. But I’m not here to talk about Finding Nemo or fish. For today’s prompt, I found an article that looks at the relationship of mosques in Yemen’s capital city Sana’a with bath houses and wells.

Mosque, bath and garden: symbiosis in the urban landscape of Sana’a, Yemen
By Ingrid Hehmeyer
Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies
Vol. 28, Papers from the thirty-first meeting of the Seminar for Arabian Studies held in Oxford, 17-19 July 1997 (1998), pp. 105-115

The topic of this paper involves a specific aspect of urban layout in the old city of Sana’a in the Republic of Yemen, and particularly the intimate connection between mosque, bathing facility, and garden. Many of these elements still survive as functioning units with the present community of the old city, but their origins go back to at least mediaeval times.

Mediaeval times…. as in built by the Romans? Maybe. Some of the architecture styles are similar to that of the Romans and some bath houses might have been built by Roman prisoners.

According to this article, when you first look at these three things (bath houses, gardens, and mosques) in the old city of Sana’a, their links aren’t immediately apparent.

  • In one example, the mosque’s bath house is located right next to it, but its entrance is hidden down an alleyway. The well? Its ramp has been abandoned and is covered, but you can still see it when looking at a map.
  • In another example, the mosques garden is hidden behind it. You can’t see it from the street.

Hammams, aka bath houses. This is the place for ritual bathing, or cleansing, so one can be clean before praying or entering the mosque.

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Yemeni men enjoy a steam bath inside the 410-year-old Turkish hamam al-Abhar in the old city of Sanaa on May 5, 2013. For centuries, the traditional Turkish-style bathhouse, hamam in Arabic, has been a cornerstone of life in the Middle East, a place for social gatherings as well as for ritual cleansing.


How did bath houses get the water? Wells!

Wells to provide the bath houses with water, were once operated by animals such as camels or donkeys, but have now been replaced by pumps. The water level in the city has been changing so lengths of ramps to these wells have been increasing, also requiring the use of pumps to bring the water up from deeper wells.

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In Sanaa, Yemen On January 01, 2001-Sacral well in Sanaa.


Once used in the bath houses, where does waste water go? The water gets drained into gardens outside. Each mosque in Sana’a had its own well for its bath house, which then drained water to irrigate the mosques garden. Many of these are still in use today.

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A mosque’s garden isn’t simply a thing of beauty to add to the scenery. The garden is a vegetable garden meant to financially sustain the mosque and provide food for the people.

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Vegetable garden in old town of Sanaa, Sanaa Governorate, Yemen, Middle East.


The phenomenon of symbiosis presented here describes an intimate relationship between many of the mosques, their water supply and use for ritual purposes in ablution (bathing) pools and hammams (bath house), and the operation of commercially viable gardens irrigated by waste water. Practical as well as social reasons have linked the three elements: mosque, bath, and garden.

You can read the full article for free when you register on JSTOR.

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