Old City of Sana’a, glory and pride (Final part) [Archives:2004/703/Last Page]

January 15 2004

Of the main and important features of Sana'a is Ghamdan's Palace, the Great Mosque, Salt Market, Old Samsara, Bab al-Yemen, the National Museum, the Military Museum, the old Steam Baths and valley of Wadi Dhahr.
Sana'a is also composed of a number of palaces and forts and protected villages. And these are famous for handicrafts and small industries such as gold smithery, silver making, embroidery and others. Some of these villages are significantly important historically and have a long history that goes back to the pre-Islamic era such as Shibam al-Gharas village which is famous for its stone graveyards reaching 4 meters high. These were the graves of kings and royal families who governed the area during the second century AD.
Forts are also of the interesting features of Sana'a, and these spread over a large area in the governorate and date back to the third century AD.
And the city also embraces a number of schools and mosques where Islamic studies used to be taught and are still taught today, of which the Great Mosque is the most famous built in the 8th year of Hegira according to the architectural style of the Mosques in Mecca during those times.
The city is surrounded by a chain of mountains called al-Sarat from all directions, these are of the highest in the whole region such as Prophet Shuaib Mountain which is 3766 meters above sea level.
Sana'a contains around 6500 stone houses, 106 mosques, 20 steam/ Turkish baths, 20 old markets dating to the 11th century AD.

Architectural beauty
Sana'a as a city has a hidden touch of beauty symbolized through its liveliness along with its obvious beauty through its architecture. There are various structures composing the city, there is the Samsara which is a place where travellers stay over night and where goods are stored, the market places, the steam Turkish baths, schools and mosques, all together making this city fulfill all demands that could come from the people or the visitors. All these monuments form together or individually a rich heritage that narrates historical stories and legends.
Historians could not tell exactly the date of which this kind of architectural style, which is influenced by the Himiari style of construction almost seven centuries old.
Construction is Sana'a basically consists of a huge foundation underground basement which is supported by Habash stone, these are small black irregular shaped stones known for their strength and resistance to humidity. The houses are generally composed of a number of stories sometimes reaching eight floors, with a fence that surrounds them. The ground floor is generally used as store, the first floor generally as living rooms and guest rooms where spacious rooms are made to accommodate many people in meetings and celebrations. The second floor is generally dedicated to women and children and the men are generally at the highest floors where there is what is called in Yemen “al-Mafrag” which is a room at the top of the house with glass windows through which they can view the outside gardens while they are in Qat sessions. The design of houses is done carefully taking care regarding the weather changes and the temperature.
The distinguished architectural designs for old buildings in Sana'a are always considered of the architecture wonders worldwide. Starting from the foundation stones in order to keep the balance of the building and its strength to support the many stories. Also the construction using the special stones is effective for the environment and does natural cooling and ventilation effects. The stories are connected with spiral staircases that link to all rooms in the house. An interesting part is that the higher the building is the narrower or the smaller the rooms are built, perhaps for an engineering purpose. And the building rocks of the houses are fitted with cement and other materials that maintain its strength in a way that resists earthquakes and storms.
The city really is worth becoming one of the world's architecture wonders, especially that the closeness and characteristics of the people are reflected in the beauty, pride and proximity of the buildings.

Markets revealing a past commercial activity.
Sana'a has represented distinguished commercial activities during many historical periods of time for it served old Markets before the Yemenites embraced Islam, of those markets which it served as a pivotal point are:-
Okaz, Domat Al-Jandal, Hajar and Aden . Sana'a was the most crucial point on the Laudanum, Myrrh and Incense Caravan Routes particularly those coming from Aden passing through Sana'a all along to Mecca . Of the main routes Darb Asaad Al-Kamil (later termed as Darb Al-Feel). The Souk in Sana'a used to be held around the time of Mid-Ramadan and was the most prominent .Other prominent Arab ancient Markets are “Al-Moshqar'' now named Hofuf , Sohar and Daba on the Arabian Sea, Shahar Mahrat on the Arabian Sea, Aden & Okaz.

The old city of Sana'a now holds markets named as follows:-
Souk Al-Milh, Souk Al-Zabeeb, Souk Al-Kat, Typical Yemeni Daggers Market, Al-Mikhlas, Silver Souk, Loqma Souk, Textiles Souk, Copper Souk, Traditional Costumes Souk, Autumn Souk, Fruits Souk , Nadara and embroidery Souk.
These souks represent a popular heritage, as Sana'a was renowned since yore for its distinguished dagger industry, Silver, Copper and Yemeni Agate in addition to land cultivation tools and pottery of all types.
Some handicrafts date back more than 2000 years and are inherited from father to Son throughout the years such as Smithery, Tanning, Dyeing, Textiles and Leather.

An International Patrimony:
In The last two decades ,namely in 1984, Sana'a was proclaimed an International Cultural Patrimony by the UNESCO and an International Campaign was declared in order to preserve this patrimony with its tremendously distinguished architecture after sensing that the city is apt to fade away due to the modernization process which came only natural due to the fact that the people wanted to change their life patterns particularly following the boom witnessed by this country during the seventies of the past century.
The cooperation by the UNESCO with the local state organs was able to a large extent to foil all attempts aiming at changing the architectural and city external and internal appearance .
Now, the old city of Sana'a contains a number of museums and important places which reflect the great cultural heritage of this country. Thus, the protection of all historical, architectural and cultural sites as well as the archaeological excavations to come and the constant need for readying the city to receive tourists, is considered to a large extent the responsibility of everybody.
All in all, Sana'a remains the most prominent historical Arab City in the Arabian Peninsula, given its being a living museum and its architectural, spiritual, historical and exceptional nature, which requires more protection and restoration aiming at preserving its true identity.