Sana’a Capital of the Nine Gates One of the World’s 7 Wonders [Archives:2001/29/Reportage]

July 16 2001

Adel Ahmad Al-Selwi
The city of Sana’a, one of the sites of world civilization and a human heritage, ranked on top of the world opinion poll conducted by UNESCO on its web site. The poll was conducted to choose seven of the world’s historic monuments to be new seven world wonders. The polling included 25 world’s historic monuments competing to be named as one of the world’s seven wonders. The city of Sana’a has ranked fourth in this poll which has been extended to the end of the current year.
The Old City of Sana’a
It is one of the biggest cities of the ancient world which is still existing up to the very moment. It has been classified as one of the most distinguished capitals of the old world for its unique architecture which has made it one of the world attractions. In a book written by the famous Arab historian, Bade’a al-Zaman al-Hamadani entitled ‘Description of the Arab Peninsula’ he mentioned that the city of Sana’a was established by Sam the son of Noah. While, Polo Costa the Italian scholar and orientalist mentioned in his papers is based on the engravings and some historical sources, that the city has been in existence for the past 2500 years. Some historical sources say that the city dates back to the 5th Century B.C. On the other hand, some Sabaian ruins and engravings have proved that the city underwent a period of prosperity during the first century B.C. The oldest reference to the old city of Sana’a is found in the old Yemeni engravings during the reign of Halak Amar Bin Karbael Watar Yahnoum, the king of Sheba and Thu Redan who lived during the first century A.D. Sana’a was also mentioned in some engravings after the turn of the first century, especially in the 3rd century during the reign of two Sabain kings, All Sharaeh Yahsub and Yazil Been during the mid of the said century. Irrespective of the differences regarding the date of origin of the city of Sana’a, there is a kind of consensus among the historians that the old city of Sana’a is the oldest city of Arabia.
Unique architecture
The old city of Sana’a is distinguished by a series of interconnected and door-to-door houses and old monuments. It is estimated to have 14 thousand old houses on land estimated at 3700 sq. m. Looking to the city you will notice from the first sight the unique attractions of this city. These attractions are representative of the special architecture of this city distinguished by the harmonious angles and shapes of its buildings.
These buildings are a showcase of the Yemeni architecture. The attraction surrounding the city of Sana’a has made some orientalists think that it has been influenced by the architecture used in Ethiopia, Syria, Iran, and Turkey. But all the evidences mentioned in history about Ghamdan and Salheen Palace and in some Yemeni Temples in Mareb Barakesh and Shabouh refute these allegations. This approach has been supported by some orientalists such as Leu Cook and Sir Surgent who affirmed that the architecture in the Highlands is unique and a special product of Arabia.
Ibin Batutah the well-known Arab traveler said thus about the beauty of Sana’a “Sana’a is a big and beautiful city. It is built of Yajour ‘red mud’ and plaster and it is full of trees and fruits.” “The streets of Sana’a are built of stones. So if rain falls, it cleans all the streets” he added.
Historical Names
The old city of Sana’a has many names by which it used to be called. Some of these names are still used upto this moment such as the city of Sam referring to the Sam, the son of Noah. As some old accounts say Sam is the founder of the city. Another name for Sana’a is Azal, this name was used during the reign of Yaqton bin A’ar. The stem of this name comes from the old Yemeni language meaning ‘strength’. While the name of Sana’a is derived from the old stem ‘sana’ meaning castle which is similar to the meaning of Azal. In the Yemeni engravings the verb ‘tasana’a’ means to be fortified.
The city of the nine ‘babs’ or gates
The old city of Sana’a has seven gates which are as follows: Bab al -Sabah, Bab al-Balaqah, Bab al-Alqa’a, Bab al-Satrat, Bab Khuzaemah Bab al-Roum Bab shu’ub Bab al-Shaqaeq and Bab al-Yemen which is the main gate and the most well-known. The current structure of Bab al-Yemen was built by the Ottoman commander Ahmed Fedhi Basha. However it has undergone several renovations.
The old wall of the city
The name of the old wall has been mentioned in many references concerned with the history of Yemen. The old wall is one of the most significant monuments of the city. It is built of mud but is still strong and attractive.
Due to its strategic site the city of Sana’a was subject to many invasions carried out by tribesmen. This endorses the view that this wall was built to keep the city from these attacks.
Center of civilization
The old city of Sana’a was a destination for the seekers of knowledge as it was famous for its well-reputed scholars such as Wahb bin Munbeh, Abdu al-Razaq al-Sana’ani, Bishir al-Balwi and Wathah al-Yemen.
The first skyscrapers
The Palace of Ghamdan, one of the most distinguished monuments of the city of Sana’a, has attracted the attention of so many poets and writers. Many narratives and legends surround this palace. The palace of Ghamdan has been said to be built of twenty storeys and that each of its facets is built with a different color of stones.
Monuments of the city
One of the most well-known monuments of the old city of Sana’a is the Grand Mosque which dates back to the sixth year of hijra. It was built according to a directive of Prophet Mohammed (PBUH), while there are differences of opinion about the person who built it.
Sana’a, Cathedral ‘al-Qelis’
This monument is surrounded by many mysteries, but it was demolished during the mid 8th century, around 753-775) AD. This cathedral reminds us of the Ethiopian invasion of Yemen.
A distinguished economic system
The markets of the old city of Sana’a can be said to have a unique economic system. It is considered to be the first of its type in Arabia. The souks of the old city of Sana’a are multi-purposed one.
Folkloric Heritage
In 1984 UNESCO launched an international campaign for preserving the old city of Sana’a and its unique architecture, especially after some indications showing that the old city of Sana’a is facing a real danger by the ‘modernization’ which came as a natural result of the people’s attempts to change their mode of living. This trend is noticeable especially after the social openness Yemen has undergone in the beginning of the 70s. UNESCO formed along with the competent local authorities a working team which succeeded to a remarkable extent to restrict this phenomenon prior to its spread. The old city of Sana’a has been given special attention to prevent any further modernization which may affect the type and the model of architecture of the city.