Incessantly inhabited for more than 2500 years, Sanaa in Yemen is one of the oldest cities in the world. The old city of Sanaa, meaning “fortified palace,” attracts attention with its fascinating mud-brick houses. The city contains 103 mosques, 14 hammams, and over 6,000 houses built before the 11th century. The architecture of the settlement also carries traces of Christian architecture from the sixth century.
The 20-story pre-Islamic palace of Ghumdan is considered the world’s oldest skyscraper.
Over 1,000 years ago the old city of Sana’a adopted an eco-friendly architecture model using local materials, such as stones, mud, burnt bricks, wood, and gypsum. These multi-story structures were decorated with traditional geometric patterns and horizontal bands made with gypsum. There are also gardens in each neighborhood, enabling self-sufficiency in growing vegetables. Moreover, the irrigation system utilizes drainage water.
A typical Sanaa house can rise up to nine stories. The lower floors are generally built of stone, while the upper ones are of lighter brick. The window frames are embellished with white gypsum and some windows have stained glass glistening in the dark.
Built-in the 1920s, the Dar al-Hajar is a former royal residence of Yahya Muhammad Hamid ed-Din, ruler of Yemen from 1904 to 1948. It stands atop another building constructed for scholar al-Imam Mansour in 1786.
Built in 633, the Great Mosque of Sanaa is the first mosque built outside of Mecca and Medina.
As a result of the modernization started in the 1970s and heavy rains, the traditional mud-brick houses of Sanaa are in danger of disappearing. This is why UNESCO started an international campaign to protect the ancient city in the 1980s. It was also declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988.