We went to Dar al-Hajjar. The following write-up is stolen from A Little Bit Lighter, the blog of YCMES Arabic student Stan.
From the bluff, we drove down a switchbacked road, lower and lower into the wadi. A few cars were speeding back up the cliffside, coming perilously close to our vehicles but never eliciting a single response from our stoic driver. We also passed a motorcyclist pulling his associate’s motorcycle up the hill with a scarf tied to their two motorcycles. I still cannot decided whether I am most impressed by the skill of the tower, the skill of the towee, or the strength of the scarf.
On the far side of the village at the bottom of Wadi Dahar looms the Dar Al-Hajar, or “House of the Rock.” (Some translators prefer “palace.” Good for them.) The palace was built in the 1700′s by Ali bin Saleh Al-Amari, who was one of those Arabs you read about who was good at geometry and poetry and made up a key signature and invented cooking and also traveled to Iceland. You know the type. Somewhere between perfecting his tightrope dueling and breeding the leopard, he also decided he was going to build a really tall building on a rock.
(Thanks to these people.)
I’m a little sketchy on my history of Dar Al-Hajar, but somehow the palace (or a more modern version of the palace) became the summer retreat of Imam Yahya, the second to last ruler of the Yemeni Imamate. Today the house is a popular destination for tourists. You can hang out outside the entrance and eat fruit and corn to your heart’s delight, or pay 1000 riyal (~$5) to enter.
Up a sloping stone path from the gate, visitors come to a large flat courtyard in front of the house. When we arrived, a number of Yemenis were dancing the bara’. This wasn’t particularly suprising; Yemenis dance the bara’ all the time. We were surprised that Yemenis (different Yemenis, I suppose) were still dancing the bara’ when we left almost two hours later. I can only assume it’s an all-day bara’ party at the Dar Al-Hajar.
There will be many more posts on jambiyyahs and the bara’, but for now I’ll say that it’s an incredibly welcoming dance. Despite our insistence that we were just spectators, jambiyyahs were thrust into our hands and we were dragged into the circle, where we did our best to keep up with every twirl, backstep, and brandish.
We were almost the only foreigners there, though we encountered some Koreans on the roof and a few Italians in the “winter relaxation room for men.” (The Italians’ vehicle was parked just outside the gate when we left; two sharply dressed, alert young men stood posted on either side of the SUV, which had far more antennae than any vehicle should need. We walked back to our pickup truck and Mercedes and didn’t know how to feel.)
The house had enough twists and turns to make exploration exciting. Just when we thought we were done, we found the “kitchen access to ancient well (7th century), which in turn led to “burial cave” and “burial cave by ancient well.” Despite the throngs of tourists in the main stairwells, we had “burial cave by ancient well” to ourselves for a good ten minutes until a Yemeni tourist leaned his head in and told us to leave. We stepped out and his family piled in. Why we couldn’t share the “burial cave by ancient well,” or why they couldn’t have been satisfied in “burial cave,” I am not sure.
We lost track of exactly what we had seen somewhere between floors four and six. Perhaps that’s a Yemeni thing, though. Keep your words short and your buildings tall.
Stan (USA) [2013-06-24] Here, by the way, is a picture of Stan nailing the bara':