It’s more than just the housesOld Sana’a has overwhelming charm [Archives:2004/718/Culture]

March 8 2004

Ismail Al-Ghabiri
The legend, the mystery that comes from the fragrances of the past, there it stands the old city of Sana'a with its proud, historic buildings and smiling people.
Ancient, yet forever new in the hearts of its people and visitors describing long pages of history, battles, suffering and triumph in just one look, with its garden isles and the embracing of nature architecture and intriguing light colours.
This is no place for narrating the beauty of this old city or the history of its land. It is however, a unique description of the gates, streets, Turkish baths, markets and even lanes in an attempt to capture some of its details in a narrative style.
For no matter how much one could remember and write still remains much more unspoken and this is left for the reader to visit and eye witness the names and places mentioned herewith.

Sana'a gateways and streets
What is a better start than the doors themselves? Old Sana'a had originally four gates – or as in Arabic “Bab” – which finally concluded into seven as follows: “Bab Shoob” and “Bab al-Shaqadeef” to the North, “Bab al-Yaman”, “Bab al-Balaqa”, and “Bab Khuzaima” South, “Bab al-Qaser” or “Bab Sitran” East, and “Bab al-Room” in the North West.
Four streets penetrate through the whole city from the west to the east in an interesting design. If a map would be drawn it would narrate the following names: “al-Saila” leading to “al-Alimi,” “al-Filihi” to “al-Zumor” then “Sarhat al-Wadi” to “al-Tawashi” which takes you to the main road to “Bab Shoob” and “Ghamdan” Palace.
However if you take a turn at “al-Zomor” to “Aqeel” then “Sarhat Zabarah” to “al-Maidan” you will find your selfagain in the Palace of “Ghamdan” area.
The third route comes through “al-Kharaz” – “Talha” – “Sooq al-Baqar” the cow market then interesting the second route in “Aqeel” and merging with it.
Following “Broom,” “al-Abhar” you will find yourself in “Bab al-Yaman” which could take you to “al-Kharija”, “Sukara”, “al-Basha” then eventually “Ghamdan” Palace.
If you want to head from north to south then you have two options, one that goes from “Bab Shoob”, “al-Zumoor” then “Sooq al-Madar” the Pottery Market, “Sooq al-Hatab” the wood market, “Sooq al-Sarajeen” the lighters market, “Sooq al-Inab” the grapes market then the Great Mosque “al-Jami' al-Kabeer” and finally emerging at “Bab al-Yaman.”
But if you take it from “al-Zumoor” in the north to “Aqeel” you will take a shorter route to “Bab al-Yaman” through “al-Mubsata” from “Aqeel” then to “Sooq al-Qisher” the Coffee market to “Sooq al-Nohas” the copper market.

Here is the one of the best assets of the whole city, the endless markets and the legendry gatherings that take you centuries back. Daily, bi-weekly, weekly and occasional markets, it's all there, buy what you want and watching is for free.
Name it and it is there, a market for cows and the other for donkeys, one for Qat and another for water pipes. If you buy your wood from the wood market then you can pass by the carpentry market to get it made into specially designed furniture the Yemeni style. And for women is the gold and cloths market and many many others.

Mosques “al-Masajid”
Not only for prayer, mosques had been used traditionally for lectures and preaching, for serious gatherings and also a typical information centre. There are around forty mosques in the old city of Sana'a. And these vary in size and design although they all have a common architectural feature of the beautifully designed domes and high minarets and Islamic carvings on the ceilings and the walls.
The Great Mosque “al-Jami' al-Kabeer” as the name indicates is the largest of them all. There are several other important mosques such as “Masjid al-Haimi”, “Masjid al-Abhar”, “Masjid Mosa”, “Masjid al-Qala'a”, “Masjid al-Zumoor”, “Masjid al-Shahideen”, “Masjid Dawood”, “Masjid Aqeel” tc.
It is interesting to know that many of the mosques in the old city have a water well attached to them and gardens that reflect the beauty of the place.

Turkish baths, and more
And of course not to forget the Turkish style baths or what is called in Arabic “al-Hammam” which are distinguished with a large white dome and stone sinks as well as the underground room which feeds steam to the whole of the bath through an amazing ventilation system that allows the outside air to go out of the bath and not in. Of those baths are “Hammam al-Maidan”, “Hammam Saba”, “Hammam al-Tawashi”, “Hammam Shukor” and many others. The way these baths are designed helps in curing many illnesses relating to back pain, muscle aching and cold.
Now the houses. They range from two to five stories high on top of which is what is called “Mandhara” or “al-Mafraj” which is a large room with huge glass windows allowing to viewer to be enchanted with the beautiful sites while taking the evening rest or siesta.
The walls of the houses are usually made of mud bricks and painted with white Gypsum giving it the elegant white colour.
People of old Sana'a take great care of the appearance of their homes, the decorate all their homes above the windows with coloured glass called “Qamariya” and the betutiful carvings within the house in the ceilings and in the corners testify to this merit of their too. They also love keeping plants in their window lintels as well as having well taken care of gardens around the houses.
There is so much more that could be said, however let this be just an inviting introduction welcoming a visit to this exciting city to get a closer look.