Abha – Traditional Architecture

Posted on December 19, 2010


Amidst the mountain tops of the Asir region in the far south-west of Saudi Arabia lies the town of Abha. The place is green and a good ten degrees cooler than the desert, only half an hour’s drive below. The air is clean and pure and from your lofty foothold you frequently face fantastic thunderstorms eye to eye. At this point, close to the border, indeed once a part, of Yemen western influence is less evident. There’s no trace of the fast burgers and coffee chains that have established themselves in the bigger cities, there’s not a word of English on the road signs (fortunately for me the word ‘Abha’ is small and easy to read). The people are friendly and proud.

Abha is a special place and I could go on, but for now I just wanted to share some photographs from a research project into the local traditional architecture. We start with some ‘mud’ based two storey adobe houses near the centre of town. One is crumbling away as mud has a tendency to do when left to the elements, and presents a perfect opportunity to gain a good understanding of the building’s construction. For example, in the picture above; the slates, inserted to channel the rain away from the surface of the walls, are seen not to penetrate the full width of the wall so as to minimise disruption to the continuing makeup of the wall and the decorative capping of the roof reveals itself to be made of concrete in a further attempt to protect the earth construction.

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The second study is a collection of houses nestled in a valley reachable via cable car or a great twisting plunge of road with no barriers and plenty of sheer drops. The Almah village buildings are multi-story dry stone buildings that have now been converted into a community-run museum.