In the mid – 1970s UNESCO declared Sana’a one of the most endangered cities in the world – endangered by redevelopment. In 1986 it was given World Heritage status – a testimony to the importance of its mosques and minarets, schools, suqs (markets), samsarahs (hostelry-warehouses), palaces, hammams (public baths) and the tower houses.
The historian Al –Hamdani writes that the Sabaean king Sha’r Awtar built the city wall and the amous Ghumdan Palace. It is said that Sana’a was also once know as Azal; Yemeni genealogists relate this to the name of Uzal, the sixth son of Joktan (Arabic Qahtan), great-great grandson of Shem mentioned in Genesis 10:27.
Sana’a has been a major administrative centre, if not the capital centre, if not the capital, for successive powers in Yemen, be they Sabaean, Himyarite, Abyssinian, Persian, Zaidi or Turkish.
There are many gardens in the city. Large garden areas are often sited near mosques, to provide waqf (charitable donations for the mosque) by selling products to the local people or into the market.
The Old City’s dressed stone, hand-made bricks and buildings decorated with an array of gypsum patterns reflect a tradition of urban living which goes back to the Sabaeans and an idea of town planning that is ageless.
The heart of the Old City of Sana’a is the large and thriving suq, of pre-Islamic origin. It extends from the Bab al-Yemen gate past the Great Mosque. Unlike many other well-known markets in the Middle East, it is open to the sky. The suq has traditionally housed forty different crafts and trades.
At its hub, traders sell coffee beans and their husks for qishr, and raisins, corn and cereals. The spice market is redolent with rich aromas of cinnamon, cumin, cloves, fenugreek and incense. The central part of the market was the Jewish quarter before it was moved to Bir al Azab suburb. Its buildings reflect the ancient Jewish prohibition on higher building and none exceeds two storeys.
It was called the Suq al Milh (salt market) and this name is now applied to the whole suq. It has been a centre for handicraft industries such as jewelry and , most importantly, the making of the south Arabian dagger, the Jambia.
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