This is the historical and political capital of the Republic of Yemen lying in the heart of Yemen highlands and in the center of Sanaa basin between Jabal Nugum and Aiban at a height of 2200m above sea level while old Sanaa is located at the western foot of Jabal Nugum.
The heritage books begin with what is provided for in them about Sanaa by the Story of Shem the son Noah, who came from the north of the south looking for a better homeland for settlement till he finally found the appropriate place and founded the palace of Ghamdan and thereafter the city was named Sam City City of Shem and that means it is the oldest town.
While other Books mention another name for the city, i.e. Azal as provided for recurrently in the poems and indications about the antiquity of the city too, because Azal is one of the sons of Joktan Bin Amir Bin Shalik Bin Arfakhashed Bin Shem Bin Noah. It is a name that is provided for the Old Testament. From the name Azal comes the present verb Yazl meaning fortified , Storing and Manufacture. The same meaning in Amhric (a Yemenite Dialect spoken in Ethiopia) Manufacture. May be due to the lapse of time there has been confusion concerning the name but generally the name of town, as Azal has always been ubiquitous in the poetry. But the name that always accompanied the city and its history events since 20 centuries age is Sanaa and its root is in the Sabaeic Encyclopedia and is referred to as Hasna when in adjective mode meaning (Beauty).
The first ever found inscription mentioning Sanaa dates to 70 AD as one of the Sabaeaic towns following Marib in importance as per the context of its reference in the inscription, while Ghamdan Palace was the second after Salheen in Marib. From the inscriptions also it has been found thatDhu Nawas , the last Himyarite King was the first to establish Sanaa as his capital in 525 AD and remained so during the Abyssinian occupation for almost half a century. Whilst when Sanaa fell under the Persian Empires Control it remained as the capital of the Persian Ruler.
As of the dawn of Islam till the beginning of independence of Islamic sub-state in many parts of Yemen detaching from the Capitals of the Islamic Caliphate from Madina at the Time of the Disciples Caliphs , to the Umayyad in Damascus and the Abbasids in Baghdad up till the outset of the third Hegira Century (9th Century AD) Sanaa persisted begin the Capital City of the Ruler , who himself is Caliphs deputy in running the affairs of one of Yemens Three Makhalifs i.e . Mikhlaf Sanaa, Mikhlaf Al-Janad and Mikhlaf Hadhramawt, The city of Sanaa recurrently assumed an important status and all Yemenite States competed to control it of which is the famous competition between the Zaidite and Qarmatite States or was at times adopted as capital of a Sultanate.
The Sullaihiad Kings (One of the Biggest Yemenite States during the Islamic Reign) were the first to adopt Sanaa as Capital for the Sullaiyhid Dynasty before transferring the capital to Jiblah between the years 1047, and 1083. Then it became a capital of Hatimite State (a tribe of Hamdan) from 1098 till 1173.They were partisans of the Sullaiyhids and were in war with the Zaidites Imams in Sadah and were allies of the Zaidites in Aden during their wars with Al-Mahdi in Zabid till the Hatimate State demised at the hands of the Ayyubides (1174-1229 AD. Also Sanaa remained important during the Ayyubides and the Zone named Bostan A-Sultan in Sanaa refers to Sultan Taghtakin Bin Ayub whose capital was Taiz . The Status of Sanaa didnt change during the region of the Rasoulides 1226-1454 and this was the strongest Islamic Sub-state in Yemen which covered most of Yemen .i.e. Greater Yemen. Their capital was Taiz. Also during the Tahiride Rule of Yemen Sanaa remained as an important city.
The Mamelukes arrived in Yemen following the Portuguese Invasion of Yemenite Coasts in 1517 AD following the collapse of the Mamelukides in Egypt at the hands of the Ottoman Turks, Yemen fell under the Ottoman Rule and during the first Ottoman rule of Yemen between 1538-1635 Sanaa became the capital of the Ottoman Vilayet. Albeit the Zaidite expansion following the first Ottoman exodus to the extent that it covered Greater Yemen but Sanaa was not the capital of that State and the condition in later times deteriorated till the number of Imams in Sanaa and its surroundings were five at the same times. Then again came the Ottomans and controlled Yemen with Sanaa as capital as of 1872-1918.After the Ottomans Sanaa was the capital of Imam Yehya who ruled North Yemen till 1948 and during Imam Ahmeds rule it was the capital of Sanaa Province till the break out of Revolution in 1962 where after it become the capital of the Arab Republic of Yemen till the Reunification declaration of Yemen was proclaimed on 22 May 1990 and it was dubbed as the Historical Capital of Yemen.
The Current Status of Sanaa and its main Tourists Attractions:
Sanaa is one of the ancient Yemen cities dating date back to the Sabean dynasty. The oldest reference to its existence is found in inscriptions dates back to the late the 1st Century AD. The inscriptions also refer to the historical Palace of Ghamdan associated with Salheen Palace in Marib . This suggested that Sanaa was the capital of the Himyrate dynasty at the onset of the 6th century AD when king Yousef Athar Dhu Nawas the last of the Himyarite kings was in power . It was also the capital of the Abyssinian rules and after them the Persians who also made Sanaa their capital.
Sanaa in the various stages of its history continued to be an important city or capital for a ruling State. I t was an important station on the trade route which started at Aden passing through the mountains through Sanaa. This route was known as Asad Route or the Route of the Elephant Owners. During the Islamic period Sanaa entered another stage and put on a new fashion with the Holy Mosque replacing the Church of Ibraha (Al-Qillis). Thus, the minarets and domes dominated the skyline of the city. Schools and steam baths (Hamamat) were built. Gardens were expanded to become luscious outlets for the surrounding houses. The houses of Sanaa are old and some are 500 years old. It is believed that the foundations of some of those houses today dates back to more 1000 years taking into consideration the tradition to rebuild on top of collapsing houses.
The houses of old sanaa are known as tower houses with some reaching eight stories. In old Sanaa there are more than 14000. Such houses from the middle of old Sanaa (Cattle market) one can walk 500m in any direction with coming across new building. The ground and first floors of the old city houses are built of stone with the upper floors being built of cooked bricks. The floors are separated from one another with a strip of the same building material. The rooms are lit with marble arched stained-glass windows. The exterior walls are decorated with ornaments coated with lime in an updated architectural style and similar material. The ground floors are used as stores, while the large first floors are used for entertaining. These as also rooms allocated for women and children. The Mafraj is the male domain, located at the top of the house, and is a rectangular room with broad windows allowing good sight of the surroundings. It is the most decorated and beautiful room in the house.
Old Sanaa as exposed to many natural disasters and war calamities the most severe of which was the sweeping floods in the late 9th century. However, It was rebuilt and restored to its original condition and then expanded during the Aubbide Reign in the 12th century AD, when they built what is called Sultan Orchard. The city also witness expansion under the first Ottoman period, and a new quarter was added to Sanaa called Quarter of Beer al-Azab , which was populated by the Senior officials. This quarter was distinct in its architectural Style differing from that of old Sanaa with regard to orchards and fountains. In the middle of the 16th century, Sanaa expanded again by adding the Qaa Al-Yahud, a rampart dating back to the first century encircled The Jewish Quarter Old sanaa but it grew with the expansion of the city to include the new quarters. The rampart was in the shape of an 8,and used to have six gates four of which were used for the old city. These gates were closed each night at 8:00 oclock and were opened before the dawn prayer at 4:00 am
Today only the southern gate rampart together with its towers have collapsed but still some parts exist, particularly eastern and the southern parts adjacent to Bab Al-Yemen. The wall of the city had towers of which the thickness was enough to tow a cannon or tow walking knights.
Sanaa is the most beautiful city in Yemen and in the Arabian Peninsula. It is a miraculous city with matchless architectural style. It can be said that it is a fantastic Islamic museum and international cultural Center in the Same way as Jerusalem (Al-Qawds Fez,Venice, and Florence).UNESCO has considered Sanaa as an international patrimony and undertook an international camping to protect, Safeguard and maintain it in 1984.
Most Important Features of the City Mosques:
In Sanaa there are more than 50 mosques, five with domes and many with minarets, most Important of which is the Great Mosque, built during the life of Prophet Mohammed and ordered by him in the Eighth Hegira year 630 AD. This mosque was built, near the market place of stones from the famous Palace of Ghamdan and its pillars considered to be rare and wonderful masterpieces. They are believed to have been reused after they were moved from Ghamdan Palace of from a Sheba Temple the present building dates back (without the present annexes), to the period of Yafurriya State in the late third century AD (9th century AD). Queen Arwa Bint Ahmad AL-Sulayhi and other participated in expanding it. The ceiling of the Great Mosque itself is considered as one of the important scientific and, ideological schools throughout the Islamic History until today. The Western library, the most famous manuscript library in Yemen, is annexed to this Mosque.
There are many other mosques which are not less beautiful or wonderful with
respect to the style of minarets, domes and artistic embellishments, such
as Al-Mehdi Abbas Dome dating back 18th century AD and Bakirriya dome which
dates back to the first Ottoman period, and which was renovated in the late
19th century by order of the Ottoman Sultan, Abdul-hameed.
The market is considered to be one of the significant components of the Arab Islamic city the markets of old Sanaa are regarded as a living example of this. There are ten such markets, each specializing in a certain craft or merchandise such as the Cloth market, Grain market, Silk market, Raisins market, Cattle market, Thread market, Coffee Husk market, Caps market, Carpet market, Salt market, Brassware market, Silverware market, Firewood market, all perfumed with the scents of the East and a reminder of the tales of One Thousand and one Night.
Steam Baths (Hammamat):
There are in old Sanaa about 15 steam baths, which are a fundamental feature of the city, as baths are associated with cleanliness. It is said that the Persians introduced the baths. The style of steam baths in Yemen is similar to that of North Africa but still some suggest that they were introduced during the Umayyad Period in the late first century Hegira (7th century AD).
In old Sanaa there were a number of inns (Khans) which used to perform specific functions that were complementary to the business of the market, such as services of accommodation, storage, safekeeping of deposits and precious items. Such facilities had a specific architecture style characterized by arches and terraces in the interior, the ground floor of which was usually used for camels and horses there are now samples of such brokerage inns one of them is Al-Nahas Caravansary at the entrance of Salt Market, Bab AL-Yemen (Yemen Gate), which is now used as a center for the training of craftsmen and displaying their products. Nearby is another example called Samsarat Al-Mansour, which is presently a center for the painting artists.
Rawdah is 8km away to the north of the city and for the residents of Sanaa it is a place where they can spend some time away from the city, especially during grape season. The farms of Rawdah are well known for excellent grapes called Al-Rawdah grape in this area a weekly market is held every Sunday. There is an ancient mosque in Rawdah with artistically decorated minarets dating back to 17th century AD. Rawdah is characterized by a special architectural style which heavily depends on adobe (straw mixed clay). There is also a historic palace dating back to the early twentieth century.
Wadi Dhahr is located 14 km to the northwest of Sanaa and is considered to be the most important recreation area for the city of Sanaa. Here all kinds of fruit are grown. In the center of the wadi perches Dar Al-Hajar (Rock Palace), a palace built on top of an enormous rock dating back to 1786 AD, and ordered by Imam Mansour Ali Bin Mehdi Abbas. In the 1930s, Imam Yahya Hameed Al-Din added the upper stories and annexes and used it as a rest house. There is an ancient well piercing the rock from top to bottom as well as an old rocky graveyard. It is nowadays on of the main tourist attractions. In addition there are a number of ancient monuments scattered within the wadi.
A typical old village, Bait Baws is located 7km to the south of Sanaa. Existing inscriptions found in the west of village show that the area was an important center in the ancient history of Yemen. The village is naturally fortified with only on entrance to the south.
The most renowned mountains in the Old Sana'a is Nugom Mountain on which part of Sanaa is located on its western foot, it is its guardian and has got a traditional fortress and is 3000m above sea level.