1902 Encyclopedia > Arabia > Arabia - Arab Towns, Arab Dwellings.

(Part 31)


(31) Arab Towns. Arab Dwellings.

Arab Towns

An Arab town, or even village, except it be the merest hamlet, is invariably walled round; but the ramparts are low, and seldom of any stronger material than dried earth; they are occasionally flanked by towers of like construction, such as befit a country where cannon are unknown and fire arm are yet at the matchlock stage. A dry-ditch often surrounds the whole. The streets are utterly irregular- some broad, some narrow, all tortuous; the houses are of one or two storeys, very rarely of three, with flat mud roofs, little windows, and no external ornament. If the town be large, the expansion of one or two streets becomes a market-place, where are ranged a few shops of eatables, drugs, coffee, and, very rarely, cottons or other goods. Many of these shops are kept by women. The chief mosque is always near the market-place; so is also the governor’s residence, which, except in size and in being more or less fortified Arab fashion, does not differ from a private house. Drainage is unthought of; but the extreme dryness of the air obviates the inconvenience and disease that under other skies could not fail to ensue, and which in the damper climates of the coast make themselves seriously felt. But the streets are roughly swept every day, each householder taking care of what lies before his own door. Whitewash and colour are occasionally used in Yemen, Kejza, and Oman; elsewhere a light ochre tint, the colour of the sun-dried bricks, predominates in an Arab town or villge, which looks at a distance like a large dust-heap in the centre of the bright green ring of gardens and palm-groves all around. Baked bricks are unknown in Arabia, and stone buildings are rare, especially in Nejd. Palm branches and the like, woven in wattles, form the dwellings of the poorer classes in the southern districts. Many Arab towns possess watch-towers, like huge round factory chimneys in appearance, built on sun-dried bricks, and varying in height from 50 to 100 feet, or even more. Indeed, two of these constructions at the town of Birket-el-Mawj, in Oman, are said to be each of 170 feet in height, and that of Nazwah, in the same province, is reckoned at 140; but these are of stone. Some of these watch-towers are so built as to serve also for citadels or places of refuge; but none could offer a minute’s resistance to any kind of artillery, though formidable obstacles to men whose only means of attack are lances and matchlocks.

Interior of an Arab Dwelling

The principal feature in the interior of an Arab house is the "kahwah," or coffee-room, as from its destination it is commonly called. It is a large apartment spread with mats, and sometimes furnished with carpets and a few cushions. At one extremity is a small furnace or fire place, for preparing coffee. In this room the men congregate; here guests are received, and even lodged; women rarely enter it, except at times when strangers are unlikely to be present. Some of these apartments are very spacious, and supported by pillars; one wall is usually built transversely to the compass direction of the kaabeh; it serves to facilitate the performance of prayer by those who may happen to be in the kahwah at the appointed times. The other rooms are ordinarily small, and appropriated to the use of the females of the family and to domestic life.

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