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Sana`a – Capital City of Yemen

Geography

Sana’a lies in the heart of Yemeni highlands on a plateau at an altitude of 2,200 m (7,220 ft) surrounded by several mountains. It has a cool and dry climate and in the winter time light frost is possible. Extreme recorded temperatures are −3 °C (27 °F) and 34.4 °C (93.9 °F). The city enjoys a fair weather during the months of April to October. Afternoon thunderstorms are common which brings much of Sana’a's annual rainfall. The city is around 370 km (230 mi) north of Aden, the economic and financial center of Yemen.

History

The heritage books begin the history of Sana’a with the story of Shem the son Noah, who came from the north looking for a better homeland.  He finally found the place of Ghamdan and thereafter the city was named Sam City “City of Shem” and that means it is the oldest town.

Other books mention another name for the city: Azal as mentioned in poems and other records of antiquity; Azal is a name that is provided for the Old Testament. From the name Azal comes the verb yazl meaning fortified. The same word in Amharic (a Yemenite Dialect spoken in Ethiopia) means manufacture. The name that always accompanied the city and its history events since 20 centuries age is Sana’a, its root is in the Sabaean language and is also referred to as in its adjective form Hasana, which means beauty.

The first inscription that mentions Sana’a dates back to 70 AD.  From the inscriptions also it has been found that Dhu Nawas , the last Himyarite King was the first to establish Sana’a as his capital in 525 AD, and remained so during the Abyssinian period, almost half a century. When Sana’a fell under the Persian Empire’s control it remained as the capital of the Persian ruler.

The city of Sana’a recurrently assumed an important status and all Yemenite States competed to control it of which is the famous competition between the Zaidite and Qarmatite States or was at times adopted as capital of a Sultanate.

The Sullaihiad Kings (One of the Biggest Yemenite States during the Islamic Reign) were the first to adopt Sana’a as Capital for the Sullaiyhid Dynasty before transferring the capital to Jiblah between the years 1047, and 1083. Then it became a capital of Hatimite State (a tribe of Hamdan) from 1098 till 1173.They were partisans of the Sullaiyhids and were in war with the Zaidites Imams in Sadah and were allies of the Zaidites in Aden during their wars with Al-Mahdi in Zabid till the Hatimate State demised at the hands of the Ayyubides (1174-1229 AD. Also Sana’a remained important during the Ayyubides and the Zone named Bostan A-Sultan in Sana’a refers to Sultan Taghtakin Bin Ayub whose capital was Taiz . The Status of Sana’a didn’t change during the region of the Rasoulides 1226-1454 and this was the strongest Islamic Sub-state in Yemen which covered most of Yemen .i.e. Greater Yemen. Their capital was Taiz. Also during the Tahiride Rule of Yemen Sana’a remained as an important city.

The Mamelukes arrived in Yemen following the Portuguese Invasion of Yemenite Coasts in 1517 AD following the collapse of the Mamelukides in Egypt at the hands of the Ottoman Turks, Yemen fell under the Ottoman Rule and during the first Ottoman rule of Yemen between 1538-1635 Sana’a became the capital of the Ottoman Vilayet. Albeit the Zaidite expansion following the first Ottoman exodus to the extent that it covered Greater Yemen but Sana’a was not the capital of that State and the condition in later times deteriorated till the number of Imams in Sana’a and its surroundings were five at the same times. Then again came the Ottomans and controlled Yemen with Sana’a as capital as of 1872-1918.After the Ottomans Sana’a was the capital of Imam Yehya who ruled North Yemen till 1948 and during Imam Ahmed’s rule it was the capital of Sana’a Province till the break out of Revolution in 1962 where after it become the capital of the Arab Republic of Yemen till the Reunification declaration of Yemen was proclaimed on 22 May 1990 and it was dubbed as the Historical Capital of Yemen.

Old City

The old city has been inhabited and fortified for more than 2,500 years and contains a wealth of  architectural gems. It was declared a World Heritage City by the United Nations in 1986. Efforts are underway to preserve some of the oldest buildings, some of which are over 400 years old. Surrounded by ancient clay walls which stand six to nine metres (20-30 ft) high, the old city boasts over 100 mosques, 12 hammams (baths) and 6,500 houses. Many of the houses look rather like ancient skyscrapers – reaching several stories high and topped with flat roofs, they are decorated with elaborate friezes and intricately carved frames and stained glass windows.

One of the most popular attractions is Suq al-Milh (Salt Market), where it is possible to buy not only salt but also bread, spices, raisins, cotton, copper, pottery, silverware, both fake and real antiques and formerly, slaves. The majestic seventh century al-Jami’a l-Kabir (The Great Mosque) is one of the oldest in the Muslim world. Bāb al-Yeman “Yemen Gate” is an iconized entry point through the city walls and is over 700 years old.
Sana’a main tourists attractions:

Sana’a is one of the ancient Yemen cities dating date back to the Sabean dynasty. The oldest reference to its existence is found in inscriptions dates back to the late the 1st Century AD. The inscriptions also refer to the historical Palace of Ghamdan associated with Salheen Palace in Marib . This suggested that Sana’a was the capital of the Himyrate dynasty at the onset of the 6th century AD when king Yousef Athar Dhu Nawas the last of the Himyarite kings was in power . It was also the capital of the Abyssinian rules and after them the Persians who also made Sana’a their capital.

Sana’a in the various stages of its history continued to be an important city or capital for a ruling State. It was an important station on the trade route which started at Aden passing through the mountains through Sana’a. This route was known as As’ad Route or the Route of the Elephant Owners. During the Islamic period Sana’a entered another stage and put on a new fashion with the Holy Mosque replacing the Church of Ibraha (Al-Qillis). Thus, the minarets and domes dominated the skyline of the city. Schools and steam baths (Hamamat) were built. Gardens were expanded to become luscious outlets for the surrounding houses. The houses of Sana’a are old and some are 500 years old. It is believed that the foundations of some of those houses today dates back to more 1000 years taking into consideration the tradition to rebuild on top of collapsing houses.

The houses of Old Sana’a are known as tower houses with some reaching eight stories. In Old Sana’a there are more than 14000. The ground and first floors of the old city houses are built of stone with the upper floors being built of cooked bricks. The floors are separated from one another with a strip of the same building material. The rooms are lit with marble arched stained-glass windows. The exterior walls are decorated with ornaments coated with lime in an updated architectural style and similar material. The ground floors are used as stores, while the large first floors are used for entertaining. These as also rooms allocated for women and children. The Mafraj is the main domain, located at the top of the house, and is a rectangular room with broad windows allowing good sight of the surroundings. It is the most decorated and beautiful room in the house.

Old Sana’a as exposed to many natural disasters and war calamities the most severe of which was the sweeping floods in the late 9th century. However, It was rebuilt and restored to its original condition and then expanded during the Aubbide Reign in the 12th century AD, when they built what is called Sultan Orchard. The city also witness expansion under the first Ottoman period, and a new quarter was added to Sana’a called Quarter of Beer al-Azab , which was populated by the Senior officials. This quarter was distinct in its architectural Style differing from that of old Sana’a with regard to orchards and fountains. In the middle of the 16th century, Sana’a expanded again by adding the “Qa’a Al-Yahud”, a rampart dating back to the first century encircled “The Jewish Quarter” Old sana’a but it grew with the expansion of the city to include the new quarters. The rampart was in the shape of an 8,and used to have six gates four of which were used for the old city. These gates were closed each night at 8:00 o’clock and were opened before the dawn prayer at 4:00 am

Sana’a is the most beautiful city in Yemen and in the Arabian Peninsula. It is a miraculous city with matchless architectural style. It can be said that it is a fantastic Islamic museum and international cultural Center in the Same way as Jerusalem (Al-Qawds Fez,Venice, and Florence).UNESCO has considered Sana’a as an international patrimony and undertook an international camping to protect, Safeguard and maintain it in 1984.

City Mosques

In Sana’a there are more than 50 mosques, five with domes and many with minarets, most Important of which is the Great Mosque, built during the life of Prophet Mohammed and ordered by him in the Eighth Hegira year 630 AD. This mosque was built, near the market place of stones from the famous Palace of Ghamdan and its pillars considered to be rare and wonderful masterpieces. They are believed to have been reused after they were moved from Ghamdan Palace of from a Sheba Temple the present building dates back (without the present annexes), to the period of Ya’furriya State in the late third century AD (9th century AD). Queen Arwa Bint Ahmad AL-Sulayhi and other participated in expanding it. The ceiling of the Great Mosque itself is considered as one of the important scientific and, ideological schools throughout the Islamic History until today. The Western library, the most famous manuscript library in Yemen, is annexed to this Mosque.

Markets

The market is considered to be one of the significant components of the Arab Islamic city the markets of old Sana’a are regarded as a living example of this. There are ten such markets, each specializing in a certain craft or merchandise such as the Cloth market, Grain market, Silk market, Raisins market, Cattle market, Thread market, Coffee Husk market, Caps market, Carpet market, Salt market, Brassware market, Silverware market, Firewood market.

Steam Baths (Hammamat)

There are in old Sana’a about 15 steam baths, which are a fundamental feature of the city, as baths are associated with cleanliness. It is said that the Persians introduced the baths. The style of steam baths in Yemen is similar to that of North Africa but still some suggest that they were introduced during the Umayyad Period in the late first century Hegira (7th century AD).

Samsarah (Caravan stops)

In old Sana’a there were a number of inns (Khans) which used to perform specific functions that were complementary to the business of the market, such as services of accommodation, storage, safekeeping of deposits and precious items. Such facilities had a specific architecture style characterized by arches and terraces in the interior, the ground floor of which was usually used for camels and horses there are now samples of such brokerage inns one of them is Al-Nahas Caravansary at the entrance of Salt Market, Bab AL-Yemen (Yemen Gate), which is now used as a center for the training of craftsmen and displaying their products. Nearby is another example called Samsarat Al-Mansour, which is presently a center for the painting artists.

 

Area around Sana’a

Rawdah

Rawdah is 8km away to the north of the city and for the residents of Sana’a it is a place where they can spend some time away from the city, especially during grape season. The farms of Rawdah are well known for excellent grapes called Al-Rawdah grape in this area a weekly market is held every Sunday. There is an ancient mosque in Rawdah with artistically decorated minarets dating back to 17th century AD. Rawdah is characterized by a special architectural style which heavily depends on adobe (straw mixed clay). There is also a historic palace dating back to the early twentieth century.

Wadi Dhahr

Wadi Dhahr is located 14 km to the northwest of Sana’a and is considered to be the most important recreation area for the city of Sana’a. Here all kinds of fruit are grown. In the center of the wadi perches Dar Al-Hajar (Rock Palace), a palace built on top of an enormous rock dating back to 1786 AD, and ordered by Imam Mansour Ali Bin Mehdi Abbas. In the 1930s, Imam Yahya Hameed Al-Din added the upper stories and annexes and used it as a rest house. There is an ancient well piercing the rock from top to bottom as well as an old rocky graveyard. It is nowadays on of the main tourist attractions. In addition there are a number of ancient monuments scattered within the wadi.

Bait Baws

A typical old village, Bait Baws is located 7km to the south of Sana’a. Existing inscriptions found in the west of village show that the area was an important center in the ancient history of Yemen. The village is naturally fortified with only on entrance to the south.

New Sana’a

Sana’a is also starting to modernize. Skyscrapers are also being built and new bridges are under construction which are supported by the Yemeni national bank. Hadda is also expanding rapidly since wealthy Yemenis are putting millions in to building mansions and other buildings into Hadaa. New highways are also being built to connect to Sana’a. Finally, the new mosque at Yemen has been completed which is one of the biggest mosque in the world today