The Old City of Sanaa in Yemen

The Old City of Sanaa in Yemen is one of the oldest cities in the world, continuously inhabited for more than 2500 years. Meaning 'fortified palace', the city is a work of art in itself, & remains one of the greatest treasures of Arabia.


Although an exact date for the establishment of Sana’a is unknown, according to Yemeni legend, it was founded by Shem, one of the three sons of Prophet Noah.


Defined by distinct rammed earth and burnt brick tower-houses, the walled city has been inhabited for over 2,500 years and is home to the ancient pre-Islamic fortress of Ghumdan, a 20-story palace believed to be the world's first ever 'skyscraper'.

Once a seat of government for the early Islamic caliphs, it is today the capital city of Yemen. Its Islamic heritage is reflected in its 106 mosques, 12 hammams (bath houses) and 6,500 houses built before the 11th century.


As you step through the iconic 'Yemen Gate', the only one of the city's seven historic gates left standing, you will feel as though you have taken a step back in time.


Like an elaborate work of art in an expansive open-air museum, more than 6,000 houses built before the eleventh century lie within the old city walls, tucked close together and connected by a comprehensive network of narrow streets and alleyways.


The city has remarkably retained its historical ambience and splendor over the centuries and remained unspoiled by modern architecture, maintaining a comfortable rhythm between its traditional architectural fabric and the requirements of modern life.


More than 1,000 years ago & preceding most of the world’s cities, the old city of Sana’a presented a model of green architecture in its 6,500 buildings (UN-Habitat /2020), constructed with local environment friendly materials, such as stones, mud, baked bricks, wood & gypsum.


The architectural heritage of Sana'a consists of multi-story buildings decorated with geometric shapes and horizontal bands rendered in gypsum, narrow streets, urban gardens, elegant minarets and imposing monuments.


Typical houses in Sana'a rise to as many as nine stories. The lower levels are usually built of stone, and the upper ones of lighter brick. The windows are outlined in white gypsum and have fan lights of alabaster or coloured glass held in gypsum tracery.


The stained glass windows on the houses and buildings in the old city of Sana’a glisten in the night.


The Great Mosque of Sana'a (Arabic: الجامع الكبير بصنعاء, al-Jāmiʿ al-Kabīr bi-Ṣanʿāʾ) is an ancient mosque in Sana'a, Yemen, and one of the oldest mosques in the world. The mosque is said to have been founded in the early Islamic period, suggested to be in 633.


The Dar al-Hajar is a former royal palace located in Wadi Dhar about 15 kilometres from Sana‘a. Built in the 1920s as the summer retreat of Yahya Muhammad Hamid ed-Din, ruler of Yemen from 1904 to 1948 it sits on top of a structure built in 1786 for scholar al-Imam Mansour.


Even If the buildings are demolished, the ruins will not be harmful to the environment or health. The construction method of the old city of Sana’a focused on creating large green areas in the outskirts & centers of the city neighborhoods, which are about 69 neighborhoods.


In every neighborhood, there is a garden (Mqshama), and in general, there exist around 40 gardens (Mqashama) across the old city of Sana’a. These gardens used to ensure self-sufficiency of homegrown vegetables.


The old city of Sana’a adopted a wonderful technique for environmentally appropriate drainage of water from residential & public buildings, sewage water, as well as water from mosques, which go in a drainage system to irrigate the green spaces centered all the neighbourhoods.

The old city of Sana’a retains many environmental features in terms of planning & design that can be applied to modern architecture. Additionally, Old Sana’a has adopted the implementation of environmental practices, recently known as the principles of green architecture.

The city's architecture has been damaged, demolished and rebuilt through flooding, wars and prosperity. Yet, it wasn't until the modernization in the 1970s that the city's architectural fabric was truly in danger of disappearing.


In 1972, the Italian writer and film director, Pier Paolo Pasolini, said, “From the architectural point of view, Yemen is the most beautiful country in the world, and Sanaa is Venice of the Arabia”.


In the early 1980s, at the request of the Yemeni government, UNESCO launched an international campaign to conserve the city. Sana'a city was designated as an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988 and given an Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 1995.


Sana'a's architectural vocabulary was already well formed by the tenth century when Ibn Rustah wrote that most of the houses "are adorned with gypsum, baked bricks, and symmetrical stones.


Recently, heavy rains lashing at the old city of Sana'a, which dates back to ancient times, have caused the collapse of 10 buildings. The preservation of this beautiful ancient architecture for the future generations is so important.