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According to archaeological excavations, Zabid was probably a much larger city in the past than it is now. A magnificent old walled town in a fertile region watered by Wadi Zabid, the southern Tihama's major wadi, it lay in the coastal region's main north-south overland trade route and also had access to Red Sea ports and maritime trade, which brought influences from India, China and East Africa, It was the base for many foreign powers who sought to implant themselves in the region and was seen as a cultural centre during the Rasulid and Tahirid Dynasties.

The fourteenth-century Arab traveler Ibn Battuta wrote, "zabid is after Sana'a the largest and wealthiest town in Yemen." Today times have changed, and it is a quieter place. Although still and administrative centre for the area, it is not as central to the national economy and politics as it one was. All the same, it takes pride in its rich heritage: its past still important, and with 80 or so mosques it retains religious importance. Zabid flourished in the early years of Islam.

One of Zabid's principal historic buildings is the Al Nassir citadel built of fired bricks by the Rasulid ruler Nassir Ahmed (reg. 1401 – 26). There are also many mosques in Zabid, though the most impressive ones are non-Yemeni in origin. The Iskandar mosque, next to the town's main square, can be seen from a long way off, its elegant minaret ( built around 1530) and large dome dominating the view of the city.

Its architecture shows Egyptian and Turkish influences and some, pointing to similarities to Rasulid building techniques and floor plans, claim that its architects may have drawn inspiration from them too.

 The Ash'ir mosque, or the Great Mosque, is the spiritual centre of Zabid. It was built by Mohammed bin Ziyad, credited as the founder of Zabid, in the ninth century on the site of an earlier foundation of the tribal leader Abu Musa bin Asha'ri, sheikh of the Asha'ir tribe in Wadi Zabid, who returned to Yemen after visiting the Prophet Mohammed and built a mosque near a well in AD 630 . Based on the Great Mosque in Mecca, it has a similar simple colonnaded courtyard and a few decorative arches.

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Yemen Tourism Promotion Board.