05 April, 2010

Qasr Al Ma'een from the Outside

The building that has been most prominent and is the main tourist attraction in Al Mukalla for the last one hundred years, is undoubtedly the old Sultan's palace: Qasr Al Ma'een, some  times referred to as Qasr Al Qu'aity or Qasr Al Mukalla. The Palace is said to have been built in 1925 during the rule of Sultan Omar Bin Awadh Al Qu'aity. On and off, I have been trying to write a post with pictures on the Palace; but have always put it off. When I made that post on the palaces of Hadhramout, I had Al Mukalla's palace in mind. I have managed to take many photos of the Palace and below are several of these:

What one notices immediately, is how similar the Palace looks to South Asian buildings; especially Indian. This is the result of the Qu'aitys having strong relations and links with India. Omar Bin Awadh was a soldier in the army of the Nizam or Administrator of Hayderabad. To these days, many Hadharem still live in India, especially in Hyderabad.
People from Hadhramout have always been great scholars and traders. They have traveled to far distances and spread Islam and traded. Mukalla, as the main port, was of great importance. The Hadharem brought back not only things to trade back home, but some of the cultures and customs of the places they visited.
That influence from foreign lands can be found in Hadhramy music, cuisine and the way people dress; and can be seen in the architecture of buildings, especially along the coast.
Most old buildings in the old part of Mukalla have been very much influenced by Indian architecture. The Palace, is more so. Probably that is what the Sultan, then, wanted.
Indian architecture itself has been very much influenced by many cultures and civilizations; including Islamic. India's most known structure, the Taj Mahal, is very Islamic.
As very influenced as Qasr Al Ma'een is by Indian architecture, its three floors are still Hadhramy and Islamic in many ways. It has no statues or drawings of living things on it. It is white. The roof and the walls too, are a mixture of Hadhramy and Indian design. Note the elegant colonnaded verandas.
The palace is a unique architectural accomplishment that gives a unique cultural heritage to a city that has a long, rich history.
The beautifully protruding balconies, windows, tinted glasses and the styling of the wood, is very much Indian.
It is mainly the roof, the windows and the protruding balconies; and the colors used on the wood - that give the Palace its very Indian look.
Out, in the courtyard, is a beautiful garden. A part of the Palace now serves as a museum, with many ancient and old artifacts and items collected from different parts of Hadhramout. The Sultan's old furniture, some jewelery and some clothes are also intact within the building.
Like all palaces, Qasr Al Ma'een is meant to awe and dazzle; and to be a symbol of power. Not any more; what is left of the Palace today, is far from that. It is now old, weather beaten and not much care has been taken to preserve it.
As can be noticed, the wood, on the windows and balconies, is decaying and sagging.
I understand that, not only the wooden structures and frames are rotting and breaking up - the drainage system too, is not working properly.
The last heavy rains is what battered the building most. And without it being taken care of much, this outstanding building looks very dilapidated now.
Now, ravens have made the building their resting place in the evenings; at sunset, many of the birds can be seen on the roof and the balconies. Electricity cables can be seen hanging unsafely and haphazardly around the building.
If care is not taken soon, these exquisite windows will disintegrate. Due to its present worn out condition, no longer is the Palace attracting tourists as it used to; both local and international visitors to the building have very much dwindled.

Thankfully, I was informed that the Palace will soon be repaired and renovated. Most probably, a part of it will be a hotel. I have always thought that the Palace would be most suitable and best if turned into a five star hotel; not just any hotel. It would require lots of money and extensive repairs and renovation to do that. But with its excellent location and large compound, it would be a good investment. At the same time, Mukalla's most outstanding building would be well preserved.