Queen Arwa Mosque is one of the oldest and most beautiful mosques in Yemen. At the start of its construction in 1056, this building was not meant to be a mosque, but a palace. It was Queen Arwa who repurposed it.
Queen Arwa is an extremely interesting figure in Yemeni history. Born in 1048 in Haraz, she was the niece of Yemen’s ruler. She lost both parents at a young age and was brought up by the royal side of her family in Sana’a. Described as beautiful, well-educated, and highly intelligent, Arwa at the age of 17 married her cousin Ahmad al-Mukarram bin Ali, thus acquiring the title of Sayyada Arwa.
In accordance with the Yemeni rules of inheritance, Arwa’s husband become the ruler of Yemen, but, being unable to rule due to his poor health, he delegated all his powers and authority to Arwa, who co-reigned the state with her mother-in-law until she died in 1087. Holding a position of authority, Arwa did not shy away from her duties, which meant that she often had to mix with men—which was not unheard of, but is certainly a significant fact.
The year 1087 was a turning point for Arwa, as she became the only de facto ruler of Yemen. One of her first actions was to move the capital of Yemen from Sana’a to Jibla, about 155 miles (250 kilometers) to the south of Sana’a. And one of the first actions Arwa took in Jibla was to repurpose Dar al-Ezz palace, which was still under construction at that point, into a mosque.
After her first husband died in 1091, Arwa married her late husband’s cousin Saba ibn Ahmad. It seems that the marriage was a politically motivated, as by doing this, Arwa managed to maintain power and authority. When her second husband died in 1101, Arwa became the sole ruler, a position she retained until her death in 1138. She was buried in Queen Arwa Mosque, which became an important pilgrimage site for pious Yemenis.
Queen Arwa Mosque, which stands as an architectural testimony to her legacy, has a rectangular base with an open courtyard delimited by four corridors running under archways. It is accompanied by two beautifully ornate minarets.
Know Before You Go
No matter which direction one arrives in Jibla from, Queen Arwa Mosque is impossible to miss. The mosque is still active today. Be sure to dress appropriately if you choose to visit.