Sana’a: City of Arab culture [Archives:2003/657/Culture]
From a publication by the General Authority of Tourism, Yemen
The old city
There is an opinion saying that “Yemeni architecture is a mirror of its civilization”. If this is true the old city of Sana'a could be the best example. Although the houses of the city are not very old (large numbers of them date back to 400 years ago), however the new ones were rebuilt according to the same design adopted earlier. The current city is originally built on the ruins of the older city. The numbers of its houses are about 14000. Nowadays any person can walk from the center of the city, (Al-Baqar market), for a distance of 500m towards any direction, without seeing any modern building or western designed building.
In the old city, there exist about 50 mosques, most of them are with minarets, and a lot of them are next to gardens. The most important of which is the “Grand Mosque” whose building dates back to the days of Prophet Mohammed (Peace be upon him). It is considered one of the most ancient mosques in Islam. The mosque's original building dates back to the year 270 A.H. (9th century A.D). At least some of the materials used in building were taken from the ruins of Ghumdan Palace, such as well-cut stones, pillars, etc.
Houses: The height of some of its houses reaches 8-9 storeys with an average of 5 storeys. The ground floor is used as a warehouse and was also used for cattle. The first floor is used as ” Diwan” (reception hall for social occasions). The second floor is allocated for women and children, whereas the upper floors are only used by men. Relaxation place lies at the top of the house. It is a rectangular room with wide windows to enable the sitters to see the fields and gardens of Sana'a, the room is called “Mafraj”. The Mafraj played an important role in enhancing the literary deliberations, sense of humor, and music, all of which Sana'a become famous of.
The ground floors and some of the first floors are built with stones, while the upper floors are built with bricks. The floors are separated by a belt of artistic designs and wonderful decorations. The wooden windows are topped by transparent marble or by colored glass. There are also about 9 stream public baths in the city. The city has about 40 markets, each one is specialized in a certain commodity or handicraft, such as the market of wood, cows, coffee, copper, etc. and all are full of life and fragrance of the orient.
The city was surrounded by a solid wall fortified by towers, some of which are still standing. The city used to have four main gates closing every night after evening prayer at 8 P.M. and opening before dawn prayer at 4 A.M. nothing remained of them except the southern gate (Bab al-Yemen). The old city of Sana'a has been considered a unique example of world heritage for many reasons, among which, Sana'a is one of the largest ancient cities which is still standing, its architectural style is different, distinguished, and an unequal among the ancient cities of the world. For these reasons, UNESCO adopted a resolution to initiate an international campaign for the protection of the ancient city of Sana'a in 1984. There are also a number of ancient buildings, each one is called “Samsara” which is similar to Khan “Inn” in other countries. One of them is currently rehabilitated to become a training center for those working in handicraft industries and an exhibition for their products. (It lies on the way connecting between Bab Al-Yemen and the middle of Souk). Another one is, not so for from the first, turned into a center for arts.
It is about 14 km north west of Sana'a. it is one of the fertile beautiful valleys surrounding Sana'a. it is nearly 6km long. There, grow different kinds of fruit trees. The historian Al-Hamadani (10th century AD) mentioned that there were more than 18 kinds of grapes in this wadi. On the top of a high rock at the middle of the wadi lies Dar al-Hajar. It is a big beautiful palace consisting of 5 storeys containing 17 rooms. It is believed to be built on an ancient historical site. The oldest building dates back to the end of 18th century (around 1786 AD), built by Imam Al-Mansour Ali Bin Al-Mahdi Abbas. Imam Yahya Hamid al-Deen added (during the thirties of the 20th century) a number of storeys, Imam Yahya used to spend autumn there. The palace is today a tourist at traction. Through a passage from inside the building, there is an access to an ancient rock cemetery, not far away from the palace.
It is about 7km from Haddah town. It is one of the ancient sites. This can be deduced through the Sabaean inscription at the entrance of the village. There exist a dam to reserve water. It was used in providing the village with water in the past.
The ruins of this city are located 20 km southeast Sana'a, at Bani Bahloul directorate, on the top of Ghaiman mountain which is 200m above the level of the Wadi. Ghaiman was one of the ancient Yemeni cities, which played a major role, and deserved to be historically and archaeologically notified, as the case with other Himyarite cities like Dhafar, Bainun, and Waalan.
It is an example for the skills of Yemenis, in various fields particularly the field of architecture. The people of Ghaiman cut their rock graves in the hill opposite to the site. Remains of Ghaiman represent remaining walls of the fortified city and some parts of a stone paved road leading to the entrance of the city. The golden period of Ghaiman was in the first three centuries AD.
The most important sight on the top of Ghaiman Mountain is a group of water reservoir cut in rock. Their rock graves are distinctive from others in Yemen. The metropolis is highly reputed because it contains the grave of the famous Himyarite king (Al-Karib Asaad) which encouraged so many people to dig there in search for treasures. Among those people was Imam Ahmed Bin Yahya Hamid Aldin who ruled Yemen from 1948 until 1962. His efforts led to discover some archaeological findings like heads of bronze statutes, bowls and jewelry, some of them are exhibited in the National Museum in Sana'a.