Recent French Publications

Reviewed by Noha Sadek

Yemen Update 42(2000):57

Ory, Solange. De l'Or du Sultan à la Lumière d'Allah : La Mosquée Al-'Abbas à Asnaf (Yémen), with contributions by Bernard Maury and Christian Robin. Damascus : Institut Français d'Études Arabes de Damas and Centre Français d'Études Yéménites, 1999.

This impressive volume (600 pages) is astudy of the 12th century mosque of Abû al-Abbâs,beautifully restored by a team led by Marylène Barret under the auspices of the French Center for Yemeni Studies and the General Organization for Antiquities, Museums and Manuscripts. Situated nearthe village of Asnâf in Khawlân (SE of Sanaa), this small cubical monument with a splendid painted and gilded coffered wooden ceiling has a puzzling history which has baffled for many years Yemeni and non-Yemeni researchers alike. Despite an inscription in the mosque with the name of the patron (Sultan Mûsâ b.Muhammad al-Fittî), as well as the date of the construction of the ceiling (Dhû al-Hijjah 519/29 December 1125-26 January1126), no one had been able to identify this sultan who is absent from all known chronicles. Moreover, local oral tradition,attributing the mosque to a local saint (wâlî)Abû al-Abbâs whose tomb was destroyed by Imâm Ahmad around 1950, did not shed any more light on its date.

Thus, the first of the three parts of this book (written by Christian Robin based on material collected by Marie-Christine Danchotte) establishes the historical context of the mosque, and the identity of the patron through a discussion of the political and religious climate in Yemen during the 11th and 12thcenturies. The second part of the book is devoted to an architectural study, while the third part, which constitutes the bulk of the work,is a meticulous and detailed analysis of the calligraphy and the decorative elements. Solange Ory provides a painstaking investigation of the origins, variants, and chronological development of every single letter and motif. The repertoire presented here is impressive,and this dictionary of motifs and calligraphy will no doubt prove to be a valuable tool for those interested in the study of Yemen's rich Islamic architectural heritage.

Bonnenfant, Paul (ed.). Zabîd: Patrimoine Mondial. Volume 5-6 of Saba. Paris: Unesco and World Heritage, 1999.

This fourth volume of the Saba, a journal devoted to the arts, literature and history of SouthernArabia, was coordinated by Paul Bonnefant to commemorate the promotion of Zabîd to the World Heritage list of historical cities in late 1993. It consists of two parts: the first gathers ten short articles on various aspects of Zabîd: domestic architecture (P. Bonnenfant), the excavations of the Canadian Archaeological Mission (E.J. Keall), a historical outline (M.Al-Aroussi), the 18th century scholar and lexicographeral-Murtadâ al-Zabîdî (A. Regourd), the al-Ashâ'ir Library (Arafat al-Hadrami), Christianity in 13thcentury Zabõd (C. Robin), linguistics (M. Cl. Simeone-Senelle and M.Vanhove), the indigo industry (J. Balfour-Paul), and the construction of a house roof (J. M. Gentilleau). The second part consists of a technical dossier (coordinated by J. M. Gentilleau) with thirty-four recommendations for the restoration of selected monuments and the construction of tourism facilities.

Bonnefant, Paul (ed.) Sanaa: architecture domestique et société. Paris: CNRS Éditions, 1995.

For those who have wandered through the old city of Sanaa admiring its magnificent houses, this large volume (644pages) offers a well of information on question they may have had onhow these houses were constructed and decorated, as well as how they were utilized. It is a worthy companion to the now classic and indispensable San‘â': An Arabian Islamic City,which adds an anthropological dimension to the organization of domestic space. It also includes detailed architectural studies with elevations of several important houses in the Old City, in addition to interesting chapters on the use of inscriptions, as well as the symbolism of decorative elements. The authors include Paul Bonnenfant, Guillemette Bonnenfant-Outrebon, Thierry Boissiére, Jean-François Breton, Christian Darles, Jean-Charles Depaule, Jean Lambert, Samia Naim-Sanbar, Pascal Marèchaux, and Michel Tuchscherer.

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