Yemeni tribesmen from the Popular Resistance Committees, who supports forces loyal to the Saudi-backed Yemen president, walk around the Awwam Temple area, also known as Mahram Bilqis, in the province of Marib, northeast of the country, on February 9, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / ABDULLAH AL-QADRY (Photo credit should read ABDULLAH AL-QADRY/AFP/Getty Images)Embed from Getty Images
A picture taken on February 9, 2018 shows the Awwam Temple area, also known as Mahram Bilqis, in the province of Marib, northeast of Yemen. / AFP PHOTO / ABDULLAH AL-QADRY (Photo credit should read ABDULLAH AL-QADRY/AFP/Getty Images)
UNESCO has shared the coordinates of around 50 historical sites with those involved in the fighting hoping to protect them from the war. After 3 years, the war is affecting Yemen’s historical and archaeological sites. Even the shockwaves of an explosion in the distance can damage structures.
The war has also caused archaeologists to flee and stop work on their sites. One of those sites was Mahram Bilqis, which has parts that date back to the 7th century BC and has been linked to the legendary Queen of Sheba. The city of Marib, the capital of the Saba dynasty, is located along Yemen’s ancient spice and incense trade routes and is responsible for building the Great Marib Dam (another of Yemen’s historical sites).
A fence surrounds the temple. The heavily guarded road outside leads to a Saudi-led coalition air base and an oil refinery.
Along a narrow road in Yemen choked by natural gas tankers and heavily armed soldiers lies an ancient temple neglected and threatened in a nation now at war.
The Awwam Temple links a region now on the front lines of the Saudi-led war against Shiite rebels to Arabia’s pre-Islamic past, a time of spice caravans and the mysterious Queen of Sheba.
Experts fear the temple, as well as other historic and cultural wonders across Yemen beyond those acknowledged by international authorities, remains at risk as the country’s stalemated war rages on.
“All the villages are historic in a way,” said Anna Paolini, the director of UNESCO’s regional office in Qatar that oversees Yemen and Gulf Arab nations. “They’re still heritage of the country. It’s sad to see what’s happening.”
The nearly three-year-old Yemen war has killed more than 10,000 people, displaced 2 million and helped spawn a devastating cholera epidemic in the Arab world’s poorest country. Amid its humanitarian crises, Yemen’s culture and historical sites also have been affected.
Saudi-led airstrikes have destroyed historic mud homes in Saada, the birthplace of the Shiite rebels known as Houthis. Airstrikes also have hit the over 2,500-year-old Old City in Yemen’s rebel-held capital of Sanaa, a UNESCO World Heritage site for its intricately decorated burnt-brick towers. Shelling and airstrikes also have struck museums and other sites in the country. In 2015, airstrikes damaged part of the Great Marib Dam, near the Awwam Temple and built by the same civilization, according to UNESCO.