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The Architecture of Old Sana'a, Yemen


Sana'a, the capital of Yemen, is situated in a mountain valley at an altitude of 2,300m and has been inhabited for more than 2,500 years. It was one of the few cities that existed when there were only tents to be found in the Arabian Peninsula. It is therefore considered to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world.

However, I did not just decide to go to Yemen on holiday. I was fortunate to visit for a work trip but being a young foreign female I had bodyguards to accompany me; scary yet exciting at the same time for the adventure seeker in me.

One afternoon, my only sightseeing time, my bodyguards played tour guides and took me through Old Sana'a. I seem to have a knack for visiting UNESCO World Heritage sites. Old Sana'a was no exception, it was declared a World Heritage site in 1986. It was an experience like no other but a place I would love to revisit once it becomes politically stable.

Before even entering the gateway, I was pointed to the top of the right entry gate - the big hole was the result of a bomb attack.


Old Sana'a's many multi-storeyed houses that were built of compact earth and geometric patterns add to the beauty of the city and are very well preserved today despite modern versions being built outside of the old city for the expanding population. The city was also  major centre for the propaganda of Islam in the 7th-8th centuries and this was visibly seen in the design of the various mosques, hammams and thousands of houses; all built before the 11th century and still inhabited today.

Amazed by the historical architecture, here are some photos of these old yet well maintained buildings within Old Sana'a.







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Lucky you!  Yemen is high on my wish list but I may have missed my chance on this one.  I sailed past not long ago but not the same, by a long shot, as my dream of staying in one of those beautiful buildings in Sana'a.


For those wanting to get a feel for the city, there's an excellent documentary about English writer, Tim Mackintosh-Smith, who has lived in Sana'a for years, 'The English Sheik and the Yemeni Gentleman'.  Also, 'New Day in Old Sana'a', by a Yemeni director.  Both available on Netflix.

Lucky on one hand, disappointed on the other. Locals were friendly yet cautious especially towards me as I am brown skinned like them. They were confused as to why I'm not in local dress (complete black) as their women. I had a couple kids even throw stones at me but again I was with bodyguards so it wasn't that big a deal to me. When I was with the older white men I worked with, people there considered me the "hired escort." Culture shock really do come in all forms.

Indeed, confusion is especially common in societies where cultural homogeneity is encouraged or even required.  I found it to be true, even though I wore local dress, in Pakistan.  Again, skin color seemed to be the issue, the only clue, and while not hostile, men in particular seemed completely at a loss about what to do when they encountered me, even though I was in the company of local friends, in essence my bodyguards.  Both Pakistan and Yemen have been off the tourist track for years now so, for that reason as well, I suppose such reactions are inevitable.  There are reasons to hope things will change, but also reasons to hope they won't.

Fantastic pictures of a very old city. One can imagine how many people over the centuries have looked at the exact same scene but were unable to share with others. Thank you for sharing them with us.

Traveling Canuck


“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” – St. Augustine

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