Continuing our series on Islamic cities, we now move on to Sana’a, which is not only the largest city but also the capital of Yemen, one of the most beautiful Arab countries.
Capital in the Southern Arabian Peninsula
Yemen is located in the southern Arabian Peninsula, and its capital, Sana’a, is situated in the country’s west. Sana’a is divided into the “Old City” and the “New City.” The historical sites are found in the smaller Old City. The modern city, which has been growing since the 1960s, is located in the New City. The UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site includes the ancient settlements in the Old City, making it one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited cities.
City Founded by the Son of Prophet Noah, Sam
We previously mentioned that Sana’a, the country’s largest city and capital, is one of the oldest inhabited places on Earth. Naturally, this raises the question, “How far back does its history go?” The city of Sana’a is associated with the oldest historically known state, dating back to the mid-3000s BCE. However, it is also believed that the city was established as the settlement of Sam, the son of Prophet Noah. Hence, it’s sometimes referred to as the City of Sam.
From the Era of Bliss to Present-day Islamic Rule
As we mentioned earlier, Sana’a has seen the rise of many states over time and has hosted various civilizations. The oldest ruling state in Yemen was the Kingdom of Ma’in, dating back to around 3000 BCE. In the 600s, during the early years of Islam, Yemen was under the rule of the Sassanians. Since Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) sent Mu’adh ibn Jabal (may Allah be pleased with him) as an administrator to Yemen, Islamic rule has continued in the country.
Cultural Heritage in Sana’a
The Old City of Sana’a has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1986. However, the significance of Sana’a is not solely due to its status as an ancient settlement. The Old City of Sana’a is also important for its structures from the early days of Islam. The city houses over 100 mosques and 6000 houses dating back to before the 11th century. These multi-story structures made of red basalt rock, adorned with ornate arched windows, are noteworthy.
The National Museum in Sana’a is one of the largest museums on the Arabian Peninsula. Originally an old military hospital, the museum was transformed into a place where people can learn about Yemen’s history through displayed artifacts after restoration. One section of the museum features statues from the pre-Islamic kingdoms of Sheba and Hadramaut. Sheba, a famous kingdom ruled by a queen during the time of Prophet Solomon, is part of this history. The other section of the museum houses artifacts from the medieval era of Islam.
Massive Historical Gate: Bab al-Yemen
Bab al-Yemen, translated as Yemen Gate in Turkish, is one of the seven historic entrances to the Old City of Sana’a. This monumental historical structure is the only gate that remains standing among the seven. The final version of Bab al-Yemen, standing today, was built by the Ottoman Empire in the 17th century.
A Mosque with 13 Centuries of History
Sana’a’s Great Mosque is one of the mosques in the Old City of Sana’a. Constructed in the Umayyad architectural style, the mosque dates back to 715 CE. It is said that the mosque was partially built from materials of the Ghumdan Palace, which is situated to the east of the mosque.
Symbol of Sana’a: Al-Saleh Mosque (Salih Mosque)
One of Sana’a’s largest and most modern mosques, it is named after Yemen’s President at the time, Ali Abdullah Saleh. The mosque, which opened for worship in 2008, covers an area of 27,300 square meters and can accommodate up to 40,000 worshippers simultaneously. With its five domes and six minarets, the mosque blends Arab architectural style with modern design, creating a masterpiece. Alongside its architecture, its flawless craftsmanship is also dazzling.
Population and Religious Structure
As of 2017 population data, Yemen has a population of 28 million. Sana’a, the capital, has a population of around 3 million. In terms of religious structure, the entire population is Muslim. Of these, 60% are Sunni Muslims, while 40% belong to the Zaidi branch of Shia Islam.