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Yemen's mud-brick palace 'at risk of collapse' 

Seiyun Palace, the world's largest mud-brick structures in Yemen on 15 October 2020 [AFP/Getty Images]
Seiyun Palace, the world's largest mud-brick structures in Yemen on 15 October 2020 [AFP/Getty Images]

Yemen's iconic Seiyun Palace, one of the world's largest surviving mud-brick structures, is at risk of collapse after heavy rains and years of neglect amid the ongoing war in the country.

The 19th-century palace is known formally as Sultan Al-Kathiri Palace and is named after the British-allied sultan who lived there. It was originally a fort but the palace was finished in the 1920s when the central Hadhramout region in which it is located was part of the British protectorate of Aden. It is featured on Yemen's 1,000 riyal banknote.

However, the seven-storey building, which became a museum in the 1980s, is at risk of collapsing, according to an engineer who specialises in restoring historic buildings. "There is damage to the base of the structure, the walls, the roofs, and it needs to be fixed and then routinely maintained," Abdullah Barmada told AFP.

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The provincial head of the department of antiquities and museums, Hussein Aidarous, is quoted by AFP as saying that the Seiyun is one of the most important mud-brick buildings in Yemen and maybe even the whole Arabian Peninsula.

The palace is the latest Yemeni heritage site at risk from floods which have killed many local people. Extreme weather conditions have also damaged the mud-brick "sky-scrapers" in the nearby 16th century Old City of Shibam, a designated UNESCO World Heritage site known as the "Manhattan of the desert".

In the city of Taiz, the National Museum which was recently renovated and once served as an Ottoman palace, collapsed due to heavy rains. It had also faced bombardments in the ongoing fighting between Houthi forces and those with the Saudi-backed Yemeni government-in-exile, as well as looting.

Several 11th century tower houses in the Old City of the capital Sanaa have also collapsed due to flooding. Some had been damaged by Saudi-led coalition air strikes.

The director of the Seiyun Palace Museum, Said Baychout, said that precious artefacts from the palace including Stone Age tombstones, Bronze Age statues and pottery has been hidden since 2014 due to fears of looting, pillaging and damage. That is when the Houthi and allied forces in the army took control of Sanaa.

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