“Sanaa Must be Seen,  However Long the Journey..” [Archives:1999/26/Last Page]

June 28 1999

Historical Background
Sanaa, one of the precious gems in the crown of human civilization, was called the City of San and the City of Azal by the Arab chroniclers. Both are progeny of Noah. Therefore, it is considered by many historians, both Arab and Foreign, to be one of the oldest cities in the history of mankind. The name San itself is believed to be the name of the son of Azal, grandson of prophet Noah.
Architecture and Construction
The old city of Sanaa was built in a unique and original way. Its foundations were made up of massive boulders, tremendously heavy and strong. The houses were built of black stones of Al-habash, carefully cut, and deftly adorned with smaller pieces of red, white and green stones which were brought from different places. Some houses were built up of Yajoor: red bricks made out of burnt mud. Most houses in Old Sanaa are high ( five to nine stories ) and each story is marked with a rocky belt designed as a hand ring which adds a touch of elegance. Small openings are dug in the widows of the old houses as a means of ventilation and sightseeing. Above the windows, a half-spherical shape of marble and glass is built. This shape is known as Al-Kamariah from the Arabic word Kamar or the moon. The function of this shape is derived from its name, i.e. to let the light of the moon come inside the rooms during the nights where there is a full moon. The pure transparency and variety of colors of Al-Kamariah glass creates a magical atmosphere during moony nights.
As a rule, the areas around the windows are painted white; usually the paint is drawn up to a point at the top of the window, or the semicircle may be flanked by paintings with abstract floral ornaments on either side. Between the windows, extending from one horizontal border to the next, there are sometimes vertical geometrical ornaments in brick with semi-circular termination. They bear a similarity to the tree of life on carpets.
In most houses of Old Sanaa, a small and square room is built on the top floor and is designed to host qat-chewers. This room is lavishly decorated with beautiful shapes of arabesque. It’s called the Mafraj. The windows of the Mafraj are spacious and always kept clean for the purpose of providing open views of the city’s landscape.
Old Sanaa’s Gates
A few decades ago, Sanaa had many gates that were closed after sunset for purpose of security and other cultural reasons. They were part of the slow pace of life in pre-revolutionary Yemen. Now, there are only two main gates that are never closed. The one to the north is called Bab-Sha’oub. The southern gate is more impressive. It is called Bab Al-Yemen, or the gate of Yemen. It was given this name because Yemenis used to use the word Yemen to mean south.
Crafts and Trades
The people of old Sanaa are famous for their handicrafts. that require a great deal of skills and imagination. Gold and silversmiths, carpenters and ironsmiths, architects and designers used to form major part of the population.Even now, jambias are made by hand, and there are many expert craftsmen in the old city.
The Weather
The weather in Sanaa is perhaps the finest in the world. It is among the few places where the need for air conditioning devices does not exist. In the summer, temperatures do not exceed the 30s, while in the winter they invariably do not go below teens. One can count on breezes if he/she strolls the streets, especially at night. Sanaa’s rain falls early in the spring and during mid-summer. Many houses have yards where a fruits are grown,including grapes, peaches, and apricots.
For many reasons, Sanaa has become the country’s main attraction. The unique mix of the past and present, as well as its fine weather, are reason enough for thousands of foreign tourists to come and visit. Long ago, when means of transportation were still primitive, an Arab poet summarized his hankering for Sanaa by saying:
“Sanaa must be seen, however long the journey,
Though the camel droops, legworn in the way.”
By: Mohammed Abbas
Yasser M. Ahmed,
Yemen Times