Old City of Sana'a
Religion and trade.
Location and site
Sana’a is located in a fertile basin 2,300 m. above sea level, on a major communication axis that crosses the mountains of Yemen. Part of the African Horn, at the southwestern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, where the Red Sea meets the Indian Ocean, it is the ancestral heartland of the Arabs.
The network of streets within San’a is based on a hierarchy of public and private spaces. This hierarchy prevails over all of the nuances of the city’s layout, from its gates to the entrance doors of its houses, from the major streets to the souks (markets). Numerous gardens are integrated into the ensemble.
The city walls enclose a sacred, protected space. A variety of materials – stone, brick, plaster, alabaster, stained glass – present a harmonious display of apertures, colours and textures. Towered houses, with cheerful ochre facades with white highlights, are balanced by minarets and cupolas.
“Within its partially preserved wall,” Sana’a “offers an outstanding example of a homogeneous architectural ensemble whose design, and detail translate an organization of space characteristic of the early centuries of Islam which has been respected over time.” (IV) “The houses of Sana’a, which have become vulnerable as a result of contemporary social changes, are an outstanding and unique, traditional human settlement […].” (V) Sana’a is directly and tangibly associated with the history of the spread of Islam in the early years of the Hegira.” (VI)
- The citadel of Sana’a, Al-Qasr, was erected on an ancient Sabaean site. In the 3rd century A.D., the new royal residence, known as the Gumdan Palace, was constructed outside and to the west of the citadel. The city grew around the public buildings, which were erected first in the east and later towards the west.
- Between 525 and 575, the Ethiopians took over Sana’a and the Highlands of Yemen on the pretext of defending the Christians. They were later chased away by the Persians.
- From 628, Islam penetrated the south of the Arabian Peninsula. Sana’a became one of the principle centres of diffusion between Libya and Iraq. Its Great Mosque was constructed at the west of the Gumdan Palace in 630.
- Under the rule of the Abbasids of Bagdad, during the 8th and 9th centuries, a palace was constructed in the northern part of Sana’a.
- In 898, the Zaidite “imamat,” which played a major role in the history of Yemen, was founded.
- In the 12th and 13th centuries, under the Ayubits, a palace was erected to the west of the Great Mosque.
- During the first period of Ottoman rule, which began in the 16th century, a mosque was constructed west of the city in 1597, and residences were constructed in the north.