What to See in Sana’a (Yemen)

By | July 9, 2022

According to ITYPEMBA, the capital of Yemen – Sanaa – is located in the western part of the country in the center of a mountainous region at an altitude of 2286 m. It is one of the oldest still inhabited cities in the world. Scientists believe that the time of its foundation falls on the 6th century BC, when the kingdom of Saba dominated here, and local legends say that the city was founded by Shem, one of the three sons of Noah. Sana stood at the crossroads of trade routes that ran between the deserts and the Red Sea and between the major cities of the highlands of the region. From the 10th century AD here were the residences of the imams of the Shia Zaidis, who more than once proclaimed themselves the rulers of North Yemen. The city became the capital of Yemen in 1990 after the formation of the Republic Yemen.

The main attraction of Sana’a is the well-preserved Old City. It was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1986 and is now the largest protected Old City in the Arab world. It is surrounded by restored sections of fortress walls 6 to 9 meters high, and inside there are more than 100 mosques, 12 hammams and about 6,500 buildings made in the traditional Arabic style. Some buildings of the Old City are about 400 years old.

The entrance to the Old City is decorated with the main gate of Bab el-Yemen, which were erected in the southern part of the city about 700 years ago. In the 19th century, the gate was rebuilt by the Turks and is now the only surviving gate of the Old City. From them stretches the central market Suk el Mil, which means Salt Market. The market has been operating for over 1000 years. Today, you can buy not only salt here: the market consists of several dozen small markets, each of which specializes in a particular product. Souq El Mil is considered one of the best khat markets in the country. Also in the Old City, it is worth visiting the Jambia and Souq al Nahaa markets. The Great Mosque adjoins the Souq el Mil market from the west(Al-Jami-al-Kabir). It is the largest mosque in the city and one of the oldest mosques in the Islamic world. It is believed that it was erected under the Prophet Muhammad in the 7th century AD, in the 12th century it was rebuilt. Non-Muslims are not allowed to enter the mosque. Also in the Old City, it is worth seeing the Al-Bakiliya Mosque, which was built under the Turks in the 16th century and reconstructed in the 19th century. Its domes are made in the Turkish style, and the minaret is built in Yemeni traditions.

In the Old Town, the abundance of old tower houses, which resemble modern skyscrapers, is striking. Here you can see several thousand of these buildings. The number of floors in such houses reaches 9. Traditionally, a shop or workshop is located on the first floor, grain is stored on the second floor, living quarters begin from the third floor, and the upper floor is used by men as a place to relax, where in the evening they gather in order to to smoke hookah and chew cat. Attract the attention of the windows of houses. They consist of two parts: the window itself and the upper part separated from it, also made of glass. The upper parts of the windows are decorated with carved inserts or are multi-colored mosaics. Often near residential buildings and mosques you can see gardens where fruits and vegetables are grown for sale in the markets. Sana’a University, which was founded 1000 years ago.

To the west of the Old City is the Bir el Azab area . It appeared in the 14th century and since its inception has become the seat of government offices and the residence of the nobility. The center of this area is Tahrir Square or Liberation Square, surrounded by gardens and villas. Bir al-Azab is home to the National Historical Museum, which is housed on three floors of the Dar al-Shukr Palace. It has about 75,000 exhibits that tell about the history of the region before the declaration of the Republic of Yemen. Also in Bir al-Azab are the Military Museum, which contains an extensive collection of weapons, and Museum of Applied Arts.

15 km west of Sanaa in the Dhar valley, on a high rock, stands the former summer residence of the imam – Dar al-Hajar. The time of the foundation of the first palace is not known, however, scientists believe that it crowned a high rock in the pre-Islamic period. Dar al-Hajar was completely destroyed under the Turks and rebuilt at the end of the 18th century. In 1930, under Imam Ihya, the palace was significantly expanded. Now it is not used as a residence, but is a whole museum. The palace has 7 floors with 35 rooms, a large living room and several halls. Its windows offer beautiful views of the Dhar valley, which is occupied by orchards. The villages of the Dhar Valley are known for their distinctive wedding ceremonies. Weddings start on Friday morning and continue for 3 days.

40 km northwest of Sana’a in the province of Al-Mahwit stretches the valley of Al-Munakab, over which mountains rise. This region is known for its mountain fortress cities. One of them is the city of Shibam (not to be confused with Shibam in Hadhramaut province). This is an ancient city, on the gates of which you can see inscriptions from the times of the kingdom of Saba. Shibam is home to one of the oldest mosques in Yemen. It was built about 1000 years ago on the site of an ancient Hamyarite temple. From Shibam, along the steps laid in the rocks, you can go to the village of Kavkaban, which stands at an altitude of 2750 m. Kavkaban is one of the most significant historical places in Yemen, where the Shia Zaidis lived and where the Yemeni kings rested and hid from persecution. Walking along the winding streets of Kavkaban, you can see ancient mosques, houses, fortress walls and gates. 30 km to the west is another fortified city – At-Tavila. Here are interesting residential buildings built of large stone blocks. The ruins of the Mutakhar-bin-Sharaf-Uddin fortress of the 5th century AD are located on the plateau towering above the city. In general, the mountainous province of Al Mahwit is a great place for hiking. In every city in the province, you can find a guide who will take you to the main attractions.

To the north extends the province of Al-Hajja, where you can also engage in hiking. The provincial capital is the city of Hajja.. It is located among the mountain ranges at an altitude of 1800 m. Here, the fortress of the Zaidis has been preserved, under which there was a prison in ancient times. A little to the east, the city of Amran is interesting with its houses built of clay and straw. 35 km southwest of Haji in the cities of Al-Tour and Aslam there are hot springs, the waters of which are used in the treatment of skin diseases and rheumatism. 50 km north of Haji, on two mountain peaks towering over the Wadi Vaar valley, one of the most famous Yemeni fortress villages, Shakhara , is located.. In the 16th and 17th centuries, it was the main headquarters of the Yemenis who opposed the Ottoman Empire. Shakhara is located at an altitude of 2600 m and consists of two parts, located on the neighboring mountain peaks. Both parts of the village are connected by a bridge built in the 17th century from limestone blocks across the gorge.

Sana'a (Yemen)