Historic Town of Zabid
University (Islamic), politics and trade.
Location and site
Zabid is situated in the narrow, torrid Tihama plain, which follows the Red Sea. At a distance of 25 km. from the coast, and closer to the upper plateaus, it is near the road linking the port of Hodeïda to the city of Taïz, which is at a higher altitude. On a broader scale, it used to be located on the Aden-Mecca route, part of the road between India and the Mecca.
Zabid’s network of streets and lanes, which occupies 135 ha. and is enclosed within an oval-shaped fortification wall, is still organised according to its very early plan. Wider streets, almost circular in their form, seem to reproduce the lines of the earlier ramparts. The Citadel, the Great Mosque and the Asaïr Mosque constitute the main focal points of the urban landscape.
Baked brick covered with white stucco is the main material of this homogeneous architectural ensemble. It provides an excellent support for the geometric drawings and calligraphy that embellish the buildings, in particular on the numerous religious buildings, including 86 mosques and madrassas. The courtyard house is the basic element of the city’s domestic architecture, which also includes mud brick dwellings with thatched roofs; this architectural style, which appears in its most accomplished form in Zabid, can be found throughout the Tihama plain.
C (ii) (iv) (vi)
- Zabid already existed in the 7th century when, in the lifetime of the Prophet, Muslim power was established in the Tihama plain.
- Ibn Ziyad, founder of the Ziyadite Dynasty (818-1018), made Zabid a capital city. He erected fortifications and constructed a system of canals. His descendants founded the Great Mosque and enlarged the earlier Asaïr Mosque. After being destroyed and reconstructed twice, the city underwent further destruction by the Najahids (1021-1156) and the Mahdids (1159-1173). Its fortifications and palaces were damaged and its area was reduced.
- The reign of the Rasulids over the Tihama plain and southern Yemen, between 1228 and 1454, was the most prosperous period in the country’s ancient and medieval history. Zabid became the political and cultural centre once again. The influence of its university spread throughout the Muslim world and across the Indian Ocean. Like the Ayyubids who ruled before them (1173-1229), the Rasulids were builders; they constructed mosques, madrassas, fountains and roads. Their architectural innovations, such as the cupola, have perpetuated. Of this period, few architectural vestiges have been preserved; in Zabid, only the Fatiniya madrassa remains.
- The decline of Zabid, which started under the Tahirids (1454-1517), was accentuated during the first Ottoman Conquest (1545-1638).