The glories of old Sana’a [Archives:2008/1151/Community]

May 1 2008

By: Ghaleb Hassan Al-Ahlasi
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[email protected]

If you love delving deeply into history or have ever wished to live during the periods of the last 3,000 years, then visit Sana'a, the city of history, beauty and magic.

From the first moment, even before entering the city, as you stand before its obsolete door known as Bab Al-Yemen, you'll find yourself standing where the first cannonball of freedom was fired on the morning of Sept. 26, 1962 and you can relive the moments when real men witnessed the dawn after the long night before.

Upon passing through that massive door, you'll breathe in history and afford your eyes unlimited pleasures. Then, automatically, your eyes will move among its side alleys and buildings with the greatest surprise at their beauty and magic and you'll behold the most perfected architecture on the planet.

You'll see the most beautiful and well-made perfection you've ever seen – these hundreds of year old buildings, which usually are from three to seven floors. The first two or three are built of black stone known as habash and then comes red limestone, called yagoor.

Between these floors are beautifully engineered belts of a very attractive form drawn by a career artist.

Over these charming belts are the most wonderful windows you've seen or ever will see, but these windows aren't like any made of glass because two things make them special.

First, these windows have small wooden doors for many reasons such as moderating the weather, although Sana'a's weather is warm and great year round. Second, the amazingly engineered forms made of colored glass and placed precisely atop the windows are known as qamariyyas and mirror light into the room.

Additionally, on the rooftop of every home is a single room with a large window, furnished with a carpet and some cushions and pillows usually different in colors. This room is for receiving guests and for sessions and meetings between friends. These beautiful rooms are called mafraj or mandhir in Sana'a and there isn't a single building without one.

Another unique aspect about these buildings is their doors, which are like a Picasso drawing – and maybe even more beautiful. You may not believe it, but when you see how fantastic the sculptures on them are, you'll say they are even greater than that.

Then, impulsively, you'll move deeper into the Old City only to find yourself in the world's oldest organized market named for the goods sold there. For example, there's the spice market fragranced with the great smile of its spices.

The gold market includes all types of jewelry and many very professional jewelers. There's also the silver market – or the market of “the new old” – containing antique jambiyyas, necklaces and everything crafted by the most perfect silversmiths – some of whom are just teenagers.

Other markets for copper, jambiyyas, iron and others share just one thing in common – their organization.

Then, if you're lucky, you'll be in the area at prayer time when you'll be thrilled by the tender, soul-stirring call from the more than 50 mosques all around the Old City, which gives a spiritual feeling and transports you to heaven, even if you can't speak Arabic.

If you should visit one of these mosques, you'll discover a perfection of architecture, one striking aspect of which is the large and clean open space with pillars and a beautiful dome adorned with Qur'anic verses and written in ancient Arabic script.

Another amazing thing is the bathrooms in these mosques. Upon entering, you'll find a stone floor and a higher stone upon which to sit. Just sit there if you desire to do ablutions or simply to wash. If you wish to shower, just in front of your head you'll find a large wooden nail where you may hang your clothes after removing them. No wondering at all, as they'll remain dry and just under your eye.

Sana'ani people are very kind, gentle and friendly, which you can see from their smiles and how they deal with foreigners. You'll never feel like you're a visitor far from your homeland.

So this is Sana'a, the city of history, art and beauty. The poet was absolutely right when he said, “Sana'a contains the entirety of art and beauty.” It's no wonder because it's more than 3,000 years old and many civilizations have stood there. In nearly every location, a war happened or there stood a history maker. It's no wonder that it's the star's sister and the meteor's neighbor!