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  • 7/9/2003


Sana'a he capital city ofYemen, is located in a high altitude basin (2,300 meters) in the central mountainous region.

It is a city gathering more than 1 million people (1998). In the foreground we see the walls of a samsara, an old warehouse and hotel (equivalent to khan or caravansery), partly ruined and located in the central suq district (Suq al Milh). Thin minarets and tall residential houses are remarkable in the urban landscape of the old town ofSanaa.A new house of bricks under construction is visible. It shows the same shape but different materials; this construction could be surprising, Sanaa being a UNESCO World Heritage City.


Sana'a is one of Arabia's oldest living cities, supposedly founded by Shem, one of the three sons of Noah.
In the second century it was the main highland garrison town of the Sabean Kingdom, whose capital, Mareb, was situated 100km to the east, at the edge of the desert. The city's name, Sana'a, meant "fortified place".

Sana'a was twice conquered for the King of Persia and was ruled for fifty years by the Abyssinians. During this time a great cathedral was built there with the help of two architects sent by the Byzantine emperor Justinian. The cathedral is the largest Christian building south of the Mediterranean and Sana'a was, for a time, the centre of Christian pilgrimage inArabia.
A hundred years later in 628A.D. Yemen embraced Islam and all non-Muslim palaces were destroyed, so that mosques could be built. Historians tell us that the Prophet Mohammed gave strict instructions for the exact positioning of the main mosque and for the open prayer space outside the city.
Sana'a continued as Yemen's capital throughout the development of Islam and was only replaced occasionally and temporarily by another centre.
In the late sixteenth century, Sana'a was conquered by Turansha, brother of Sala al Din, after Yemen had been chosen by the Turks as a secure retreat, should their power in Egypt crumble. Turansha built a palace in the west of the city, where his troops were stationed, an area later incorporated within the city walls at Harat al Sultan.
After 55 years of rule by the Ayyubids, power passed to a family of their adherents, the Rasulids, who moved the capital to Ta'izz.
Sana'a's importance did not diminish, however, and the city was a major target of Ottoman conquest during the reign of Suliman the Magnificent. The Ottoman governors ruled from Sana'a, residing at the Qasr al Silah, in the east of the city. One governor, Sinan Pasha, had a large Turkish mosque built nearby, together with a very fine public bath. Both these buildings are still in use today.
The Ottomans were expelled when Yemeni power grew stronger under the Imams. A new period of prosperity commenced then in Sana'a. A building boom in the 17th century is evident from the number of houses still standing, which date from this period.

By the 18th century, the fame of legendary Sana'a had spread toEurope, leading to the first visit of an important scientific mission, the Danish expedition. This resulted in an accurate observation of the city in the journals and publications of the Danish writer Niebuhr. Other European visitors followed, but these were few, as non-Muslim visitors were discouraged at this time -- a state of affairs which continued until the end of the Civil War in 1969.
The city's recent history begins in 1872, with its second conquest by the Turks. A modernization program was introduced, beginning with the building of a hospital, a high school and a stone bridge across the Sailah. The Turks always needed to maintain their position by a strong military presence, as one can see from the large numbers of surviving barracks dating from this period.

Eventually, in 1919, Turkish rule came to an end and the whole country entered a time of peace and prosperity under the guidance of the benevolent Imam Yahya, who ruled until his unfortunate assassination in 1948. His son, Imam Ahmed, took revenge on the perpetrators of the plot by transferring the capital to Ta'izz.
After Ahmed's death in 1962, theYemen Araba Republic was first proclaimed. This resulted in a civil war between the republican forces and those of the new Imam Badr -- clashes which lasted until 1969.
After this war, the Republican allies, Egypt and Russia, provided much expertise in new urban planning. This led to the creation of a new city centre and main shopping street, immediately to the west of the old city wall. From this nucleus, a modern city has developed, extending into the old garden suburb of Bir al Azab in the west and, in recent years, to the north and south also. It is probably due to this new urban centre outside the city walls that we owe the excellent level of preservation of the old city as a complete and fascinating unit. Of Sana'as total population of 250,000, it is estimated that approximately 50,000 people live in the old city today, with about 42,000 of these living within the old walls themselves. Many of these inhabitants are old families. But there is a steady influx of people from country districts, replacing Sananis who have chosen to move to more modern-style housing outside the city walls.

Old Sana'a Conservation

Since its founding 2,000 years ago, Sana'a has been a major trading centre for south-easternArabia and Once a seat of government for the early Islamic caliphs. Typical houses in Sana'a rise to as many as nine stories. The lower levels are usually built of stone, and the upper ones of lighter brick. The windows are outlined in white gypsum and have fan lights of alabaster or colored glass held in gypsum tracery. Because the urban expansion of the 1970's and 1980's had begun to threaten and eventually destroy the old city, in 1984 the Republic ofYemen created the General Organization for the Preservation of Old Sana'a.

By 1987, it extended its responsibilities to all of Yemen and became the General Organization for the Preservation of the Historic Cities of Yemen (GOPHCY). UNESCO and UNDP assisted the preservation planning process, while technical assistance and funding were provided by the Yemeni government and by Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, North Korea, Norway, Switzerland, and the U.S.A. About 50 percent of the city's streets and alleys have been paved with patterned bands of black basalt and white limestone, and the repair continues. Old water supply and drainage systems were upgraded, and craftsmen are restoring the city's mud walls. Numerous buildings dating from the 14th, 17th, and 19th centuries have been restored. The jury notes that "this project has saved old Sana'a."

Dar al-Hajjar Restoration

It's a pre-Islamic structure which was rebuilt in the 17th century as the summer residence of Imam Yahya, and renovated in the 1930's. It has been fully restored in 1997 as a tourist and cultural site. A new restaurant has been added. It is a typical Yemeni palatial structure constructed from mud. Today it is used for gatherings and as a tourist attraction.

Bab Al-Yaman(Gate of Yemen)

The Bab al-Yaman was built by the occupying ottoman forces in 1870 and now provides a focal Point for the trading activity of the town. Just inside the gate is a courtyard where a hundred  or so young men fight through the crowds to try sell you bolts of cloth which they carry over their arms like walking fabric shops. outside the gate  is a very  basic "no sheet " h  hotel  where one can sit on worryingly unstable balcony and drink hot tea.

Al-Sabahi Residence

A house designed to combine the spatial features of traditional Sanani houses with a contemporary architectural approach, and adapted to current housing needs. It uses local materials and building skills.

City Mosques

For Muslims only, these mosques are well worth a visit: al-Jami'al-Kabir (the Great Mosque) on the western side of the main souk; Salah al-Din in the city's eastern quarter; Qubbat Talha which has an interesting Turkish influence; al-Aqil, a small mosque with a beautiful minaret which is delicately lit at night; and Qubbat al-Bakiliya in the eastern part of the city, which was built by the Turks in the 17th century and restored in the latter half of the 19th century.

The National Museum

Sanaa, National Museum: traditional beehives in wood

National Museum is located next to al-Mutwakil mosque, about 100 meters north of Tahrir Square. The House of Good Luck (Dar as-Sa'd) in which it is housed, was once a royal palace dating from the 1930's. The museum contains artefacts from the ancient kingdoms of Saba, Ma'rib, Ma'in and Himyar, and is open daily from 9am till12 noon and from 3 till5pm Fridays; mornings only.

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