Ancient city crumbling in civil war

Story highlights

  • Photographer Lorenzo Meloni documented the devastation in Sanaa, Yemen
  • The capital city has been under assault for months

(CNN)The city of Sanaa, Yemen's capital, has been inhabited for more than 2,500 years. Its rich religious significance and distinctive architecture -- multistory buildings with geometric patterns -- earned the city a spot on UNESCO's World Heritage List. Sanaa is considered by historians and scholars as an epicenter of Islam, boasting 103 mosques.

Thousands of years later, Sanaa is now a graveyard of things that once were.
The city has been savagely assaulted by airstrikes and suicide bombings stemming from a bitter conflict between Houthi rebels and pro-government fighters supported by a Saudi-led coalition.
    "The main infrastructure of Sanaa is destroyed," said Lorenzo Meloni, a photographer who began documenting the devastation in April. His work captures haunting images of the aftermath -- dead bodies, sick refugees, skeletons of ancient buildings.
    Photographer Lorenzo Meloni
    Meloni said most of the airstrikes occur in civilian areas and have random patterns without target or purpose. "When I was there, I saw an airstrike on a truck carrying tanks of water," he said.
    But some of them are planned.
    In the fourth picture above, fighters stand in the rubble of a sheik's home. According to Meloni, it was destroyed after the sheik turned on deposed Yemeni President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi.
    "It was kind of like a punishment," Meloni said.
    Because of the rampant explosions, the death toll is ever climbing. According to the United Nations, more than 5,400 people have been killed in Yemen. Hospitals are overcrowded, poorly staffed and relatively void of resources, Meloni said.
    "They don't have places for the bodies," he said. "They have to wait for the family to recognize them, but most of the bodies are not in one piece."

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    The amount of unclaimed bodies compromises space at the morgue, forcing workers to put two, maybe three inside a space at a time.
    "So what they do is like trying to pack a body inside a refrigerator," Meloni said.
    In Sanaa, losing a family member is common. In photo No. 8 above, a young bride wearing an abaya is alone.
    "Her husband was killed in an airstrike," Meloni said. "She was very young."
    The school in which she sits is now her home.
    Another refugee (No. 2 above) seeks shelter in a camp. Dressed in royal blue, a regal color, she lays seemingly lifeless and frail -- "too ill to speak," Meloni said.
    "On her hands is something black. And that is mud, which will help to lower her temperature."
    There is one place in Sanaa considered relatively safe: the Sheba Hotel.
    "It's where international organizations and journalists go to stay and sleep at night because the rest of the city is under airstrike," Meloni said.
    Nearly everywhere else is vulnerable.
    "Even if you stay far away from the front lines, you cannot ever know where the next target is," he said.
    When asked how he managed to stay safe, Meloni's response was, "That's a good question." In Yemen, he said, the people are very suspicious of Westerners.
    "They assume you're either an American or a spy," he said.
    Meloni worked with the Houthis to strategize safe ways of navigating the country. But he said that didn't guarantee his safety.
    "Every moving object is considered a target."