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Sana'a is the capital of Yemen, located in the Yemeni Mountains and generally the first destination for travellers to that country.
Under the Yemeni constitution, Sana'a is the capital of the country, although the seat of the internationally recognised government moved to Aden in the aftermath of the 2014–15 Yemeni coup d'état. Aden was declared as the temporary capital by President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi in March 2015.
Sana'a is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. At an altitude of 2,300 metres (7,500 ft), it is also one of the highest capital cities in the world. Sana'a has a population of approximately 1,937,500 (2012), making it Yemen's largest city.
The old city of Sana'a, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has a distinctive visual character due to its unique architectural characteristics, most notably expressed in its multi-storey buildings decorated with geometric patterns. In the conflict that raged in 2015, bombs hit UNESCO sites.
|POPULATION :||City: 1,937,451 / Metro: 2,167,961|
|TIME ZONE :||GMT+3|
|RELIGION :||Muslim including Shaf'i (Sunni) and Zaydi (Shia), small numbers of Jewish, Christian, and Hindu|
|AREA :||126 km2 (49 sq mi)|
|ELEVATION :||2,250 m (7,380 ft)|
|COORDINATES :||15°20′54″N 44°12′23″E|
|SEX RATIO :||• Male: 50.42% |
• Female: 49.58%
|ETHNIC :||predominantly Arab; but also Afro-Arab, South Asians, Europeans|
|AREA CODE :||1|
|POSTAL CODE :|
|DIALING CODE :||+967 1|
One of the oldest continuously-inhabited cities in the world (others being Jericho, Damascus and Aleppo), Sana'a is traditionally said to have been founded by Shem, the son of Noah. As a result, the city has the unlikely nickname of "Sam City".
Sana'a will start surprising you the moment you arrive at the airport. All the policemen and the civilians wear jambiya, the unique Yemeni dagger. Even small children are wearing little daggers. Everyone has a swollen cheek because of chewing qat leaves. Outside the airport, all buildings look the same because of uniformly painted windows and walls.
The old fortified city has been inhabited for more than 2,500 years and contains many intact architectural gems. It was declared a World Heritage Site by the United Nations in 1986. Efforts are underway to preserve some of the oldest buildings some of which, such as the Samsarh and the Great Mosque of Sana'a, are more than 1,400 years old. Surrounded by ancient clay walls which stand 9–14 metres (30–46 ft) high, the old city contains more than 100 mosques, 12 hammams (baths) and 6,500 houses. Many of the houses resemble ancient skyscrapers, reaching several stories high and topped with flat roofs. They are decorated with elaborate friezes and intricately carved frames and stained-glass windows.
One of the most popular attractions is Suq al-Milh (Salt Market), where it is possible to buy salt along with bread, spices, raisins, cotton, copper, pottery, silverware, and antiques. The 7th-century Jami' al-Kabir (Great Mosque) is one of the oldest mosques in the world. The Bāb al-Yaman (Yemen Gate) is an iconized entry point through the city walls and is more than 1,000 years old.
A commercial area of the old city is known as Al Madina where development is proceeding rapidly. In addition to three large hotels, there are numerous stores and restaurants. The area also contains three parks and the President's palace.
Sana'a is one of the oldest populated places in the world. According to popular legend, it was founded by Shem, the son of Noah. It was known as "Azal" in ancient times, which has been connected to Uzal, a son of Qahtan, a great-grandson of Shem, in the biblical accounts of Genesis. Its current name likely derived from the South Arabian word for "well-fortified", a name that echoes the meaning of the Ethiopian name—recorded in a Syriac account as Auzalites—the city held in the 6th century.
From the dawn of Islam until the founding of independent sub-states in many parts of the Yemen Islamic Caliphate, Sana'a persisted as the governing seat. The Caliph's deputy ran the affairs of one of Yemen's three Makhalifs: Mikhlaf Sana'a, Mikhlaf al-Janad and Mikhlaf Hadhramawt. The city of Sana'a regularly regained an important status and all Yemenite States competed to control it.
In 1062 Sana'a was taken over by the Sulayhid dynasty led by Ali al-Sulayhi and his wife, the popular Queen Asma. He made the city capital of his relatively small kingdom, which also included the Haraz Mountains. The Sulayhids were aligned with the Ismaili Muslim-leaning Fatimid Caliphate of Egypt, rather than the Baghdad-based Abbasid Caliphate which most of Arabia followed. Al-Sulayhi ruled for about 20 years but he was assassinated by his principal local rivals, the Zabid-based Najahids. Following his death, al-Sulayhi's daughter, Arwa al-Sulayhi, inherited the throne. She withdrew from Sana'a, transferring the Sulayhid capital to Jibla, where she ruled much of Yemen from 1067 to 1138. As a result of the Sulayhid departure, the Hamdanid dynasty took control of Sana'a.
In 1173 Saladin, the Ayyubid sultan of Egypt, sent his brother Turan-Shah on an expedition to conquer Yemen. The Ayyubids gained control of Sana'a in 1175 and united the various Yemeni tribal states, except for the northern mountains controlled by the Zaydi imams, into one entity. The Ayyubids switched the country's official religious allegiance to the Sunni Muslim Abbasids.
The Ottoman Empire entered Yemen in 1538 when Suleiman the Magnificent was Sultan. With Ottoman approval, European captains based in the Yemeni port towns of Aden and Mocha frequented Sana'a to maintain special privileges and capitulations for their trade. In 1602 the local Zaydi imams led by Imam al-Mu'ayyad reasserted their control over the area, and forced out Ottoman troops in 1629. The Zaydi imams maintained their rule over Sana'a until the mid 19th-century, when the Ottomans relaunched their campaign to control the region. In 1835, Ottoman troops arrived on the Yemeni coast under the guise of Muhammad Ali of Egypt's troops. They did not capture Sana'a until 1872, when their troops led by Ahmed Muhtar Pasha entered the city. The Ottoman Empire instituted the Tanzimat reforms throughout the lands they governed.
In 1904, as Ottoman influence was waning in Yemen, Imam Yahya of the Zaydi imams took power in Sana'a. In a bid to secure North Yemen's independence, Yahya embarked on a policy of isolationism, avoiding international and Arab world politics, cracking down on embryonic liberal movements, not contributing to the development of infrastructure in Sana'a and elsewhere and closing down the Ottoman girls' school. As a consequence of Yahya's measures, Sana'a increasingly became a center of anti-government organization and intellectual revolt.
Imam Ahmad's inheritance of power in 1948. That year, Sana'a was replaced with Ta'izz as capital following Ahmad's new residence there. Most government offices followed suit. A few years later, most of the city's Jewish population emigrated to Israel. Ahmad began a process of gradual economic and political liberalization, but by 1961 Sana'a was witnessing major demonstrations and riots demanding quicker reform and change. Pro-republican officers in the North Yemeni military sympathetic of Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt's government and pan-Arabist policies staged a coup overthrowing the Imamate government in September 1962, a week after Ahmad's death. Sana'a's role as capital was restored afterward.Neighboring Saudi Arabia opposed this development and actively supported North Yemen's rural tribes, pitting large parts of the country against the urban and largely pro-republican inhabitants of Sana'a. The North Yemen Civil War resulted in the destruction of some parts of the city's ancient heritage and continued until 1968 when a deal between the republicans and the royalists was reached, establishing a presidential system. Instability in Sana'a continued due to continuing coups and political assassinations until the situation in the country stabilized in the late 1970s.
Following the unification of Yemen, Sana'a was designated capital of the new Republic of Yemen. It houses the presidential palace, the parliament, the supreme court and the country's government ministries. The largest source of employment is provided by the governmental civil service. Due to massive rural immigration, Sana'a has grown far outside its Old City, but this has placed a huge strain on the city's underdeveloped infrastructure and municipal services, particularly water.
Sana'a was chosen as the 2004 Arab Cultural Capital by the Arab League. In 2008, the Saleh Mosque was completed. It holds over 40,000 worshipers.
On 21 May 2012, Sana'a was attacked by a suicide bomber, resulting in the deaths of 120 soldiers.
Recently, during the Houthi insurgency, the Houthis have seized, and currently control, Sana'a.
On 12 June 2015, Saudi-led airstrikes targeting Shiite rebels and their allies in Yemen destroyed historic houses in the center of the capital. A UNESCO World Heritage site is severely damaged.
Sana'a features the very rare mild version of a desert climate.
Sana'a sees on average approximately 200 mm of precipitation per year.
However, due to its high elevation, temperatures are much more moderate than many other cities on the Arabian Peninsula. In fact, average temperatures remain relatively constant throughout the year in Sana'a, with its coldest month being January and its warmest month in July.
The city seldom experiences extreme heat or cold. However, some areas around the city can see temperatures fall to around 15 °F or 20 °F (−9 °C or −7 °C) during winter. Frost usually occurs in the early winter mornings, and there is a slight wind chill in the city at elevated areas that causes the cold mornings to be oddly bitter, including low humidity. The sun warms the city to the high 60s °F (15-20 °C) and low 70s °F (21-26 °C) during the noontime but it drops drastically as night falls in.
The city experiences many microclimates from district to district because of its location in the Sana'a basin and uneven elevations throughout the city.
Summers are warm and can cool rapidly at night, especially after rainfall. Sana'a receives half of its annual rainfall during the months of July and August.
|Daily highs (°C)||19.8||20.2||22.8||25.5||26.0||27.1||27.7||25.9||23.7||22.0||20.7||19.7|
|Nightly lows (°C)||5.1||8.0||9.7||11.5||13.6||15.8||16.7||16.3||12.4||9.1||6.8||6.2|
Historically, Sana'a had a mining industry. The hills around Sana'a were mined for onyx, chalcedony, and cornelian.The city was also known for its metalwork, which the British described as "famous" in the early 20th century, but declining in popularity.As of 1920, Sana'a was described by the British as being "well supplied with fruit and grapes, and has good water."
As the capital city of Yemen, 40% of jobs in Sana'a are in the public sector. Other primary sources of formal employment in the city are trade and industry. Like many other cities in the developing world, Sana'a has a large informal sector which is estimated to constitute 32% of nongovernmental employment. However, while there is a greater variety of jobs in Sana'a as compared to other cities in Yemen, there is also greater poverty and unemployment. It is estimated that 25% of the labor force in Sana'a is unemployed.
Generally, Sana'a is divided into two parts: the Old City District ("al-Qadeemah") and the new city ("al-Jadid.") The former is much smaller and retains the city's ancient heritage and mercantile way-of-living while the latter is an urban sprawl with many suburbs and modern buildings. The newer parts of the city were largely developed in the 1960s and onward when Sana'a was chosen as the republican capital.
Al Wahdah District
As Sabain District
At Tahrir District
Bani Al Harith District
Old City District
Prices in Sana'a
MARKET / SUPERMARKET
|Milk||1 liter||$ 1.40|
|Tomatoes||1 kg||$ 1.39|
|Cheese||0.5 kg||$ 3.50|
|Apples||1 kg||$ 2.35|
|Oranges||1 kg||$ 2.10|
|Beer (domestic)||0.5 l||$|
|Bottle of Wine||1 bottle||$|
|Coca-Cola||2 liters||$ 1.35|
|Bread||1 piece||$ 0.80|
|Water||1.5 l||$ 0.90|
|Dinner (Low-range)||for 2||$ 25.00|
|Dinner (Mid-range)||for 2||$ 45.00|
|Dinner (High-range)||for 2||$ 68.00|
|Mac Meal or similar||1 meal||$ 6.50|
|Water||0.33 l||$ 0.30|
|Cappuccino||1 cup||$ 2.80|
|Beer (Imported)||0.33 l||$|
|Beer (domestic)||0.5 l||$|
|Coca-Cola||0.33 l||$ 0.45|
|Coctail drink||1 drink||$ 9.00|
|Men’s Haircut||1 haircut||$|
|Mobile (prepaid)||1 min.||$ 0.07|
|Pack of Marlboro||1 pack||$ 1.75|
|Tampons||32 pieces||$ 5.50|
|Deodorant||50 ml.||$ 4.90|
|Shampoo||400 ml.||$ 4.20|
|Toilet paper||4 rolls||$ 3.00|
|Toothpaste||1 tube||$ 1.15|
CLOTHES / SHOES
|Jeans (Levis 501 or similar)||1 pair||$|
|Dress summer (Zara, H&M….)||1 pair||$|
|Sport shoes (Nike, Adidas…)||1 pair||$|
|Leather shoes||1 pair||$|
|Gasoline||1 liter||$ 0.80|
|Taxi||1 km||$ 1.00|
|Local Transport||1 ticket||$ 0.50|
Transportation - Get In
Sana'a International Airport is the hub for Yemenia, Yemen's national airline. It is also served by other airlines, such as Emirates, Turkish Air, Royal Jordanian Airlines, Egypt Airlines, Syrian airlines, Qatar Airways, and Lufthansa. Also budget airlines, such as Air Arabia (www.airarabia.com) and FlyDubai now service Sana'a. There are two flights weekly from London-Heathrow. Emirates and Qatar Airways connect Sana'a to larger hubs in Doha and Dubai.
Yemen has a few bus companies. Sana'a is connected by all major cities (Aden, Ta'izz, Marib, Sayun, etc) via bus. Perhaps the best bus company in Yemen is the new-ish Raha (established in 2008). Raha buses are in good condition and fares are reasonable. The buses are still new. Note that travelers must obtain a travel permit (tasirih in Arabic) from the Ministry of Tourism before embarking on over-land adventures. Each town has a military checkpoint that will ask for a travel permit and will likely refuse travelers entry if they have forgotten to get one. Travel permits are issued free of charge. When applying, travelers should bring their passport, a list of places they are going to visit, and the time period for travel. Travelers should make many photocopies of their travel permit as each checkpoint may ask for a copy. Travelers should also have copies of the biographical information page (that contains their photo) of their passport handy. Often foreign passengers give a pile of travel permit copies to the bus driver so that he can provide them to officials at checkpoints. Travelers should let the bus driver or military personnel know of their nationality as they need to know. Note that there are also many traffic police checkpoints. They are not interested in your permit; only those with green uniforms and big guns are.
Transportation - Get Around
Sana'a is a big city which, in common with many other developing-world capitals, is spreading in all directions at once. Visitors will almost certainly have to use taxis or hired cars to get around, as the street maps often leave much to be desired.
There are many "Dabaabs" or mini vans that go on different routes around the city. They serve as public buses and are quite cheap. They have fixed routes and cost 15-30 riyals/ride.
Taxis to the airport from the centre should cost 1000 rials (August 2008). Be prepared to bargain with your taxi driver for a reasonable fare. Usually fares can be reduced by a third of the price after a bit of haggling.
Cars are used a lot but they are mostly 4x4s or pick up trucks. Drivers tend to use the horn excessively which is normal in this beautiful congested city.
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Almost everywhere you look, you will have the chance to buy the curved dagger (jambiya) worn by local men. This purchase can be simply of the dagger and its accompanying sheath, however handmade belts and silver pouches are also for sale, with many tourists opting to purchase each item separately. When purchasing a jambiya, remember first and foremost that it counts as a weapon for customs purposes, even though it is not used as one anymore. Secondly, bear in mind that the sheath is predominantly leather with either a base metal or (in more expensive models) silver working added. Traditionally, handles were made of animal horn or even ivory. While it is doubtful that the handles sold today as being made from either of these products are the real thing, a wooden or amber handle may be a better option. If a real jambiya seems too much, there are also pendants and brooches commonly available in the shape of the knife and its sheath.
Necklaces and jewellery are also common souvenirs, and many of these will in fact be made of the semi-precious stones the souvenir sellers claim. Nevertheless, a healthy grain of salt should be added to any belief that one is actually purchasing a necklace of lapis lazuli or anything like that.
Bargaining is expected and worthwhile. If you are with local guides, a common approach is to have them ask for the "Yemeni price", however any bargaining on the part of the tourist will result in discounts. Bear in mind, too, that what may seem an absurdly cheap price for an item in Western terms will still be a great return for many locals.
Yemen's currency, the rial (riyal), is subject to high inflation. As a result, many prices (particularly those quoted to white-skinned visitors) will be given in American dollars or Euros. Any of these three currencies will be accepted by the seller, so ask for the cost in whichever currency is preferred. Discounts for paying in one currency or the other are not high enough to warrant only paying in local money, but luck may be on your side.
Visitors should be careful when eating from street stands and the like, as the same warning which applies to tap water applies to poorly-prepared food. Salta is a popular Yemeni lunch dish that is served very hot.
Nearly all Yemeni food is budget. An average meal at a Sana'a restaurant will cost less than 2 dollars. Chicken is ubiquitous. A tuna steak served with rice costs 150-200 riyals.
- Al Shamiri Plaza hotel (next to Central bank of Yemen on Ali Abdull Mugni St.) has a rooftop restaurant on 8th floor which offers great views over old and new part of Sanaa. Menu is also in English and prices are very reasonable.
Hadda Street is where the more "upscale" restaurants are located. Clean restaurants with a large range of food include:
- Merkato Ethiopian Food, Across from Al-Hudda grocery.
- Karmouche Pizza, Iran street.
- Al-Hamra. Popular fast food place.
- Pizza Hut, Sabeen Street.
- KFC, Hadda Road.
- Khaleej Restaurant (popular traditional place)
- Shalal Wadibana, Tahrir street.
The five star hotels (Sheraton and Mövenpick) have decent, but pricey western food (and beer!). In the Haddah neighborhood you will find a number of more expensive restaurants like Grill 101 (American), Deja Vu restaurant and coffee shop, Zorba's (Greek) and Mehraja (Indian).
Coffe & Drink
As in the rest of the country, the tap water should be avoided at all costs. Bottled water, both chilled and at room temperature, is readily available and very cheap - as is the normal range of fruit juices and soft drinks.
Nice tea and coffee house is "Friends Kafeteria" in Al-Tahrir area, Mocka Intersection. Here you can involve yourself into interesting conversations with Yemeni men. Also food is available. It looks like this place never closes down.
Near the Shumaila Hari Supermarket you will find the Coffee Trader, a place where you can get an excellent latte or cappuccino at Starbuck's prices and eat a piece of carrot cake while checking your e-mail on their wireless internet hotspot.
Sights & Landmarks
The Old City of Sana'a is World Heritage Listed and makes a great place to see the uniquely Yemeni style of architecture - multiple-storey tower houses with the distinctive qamariyawindows. Within the Old City is the Souk al-Milh, arguably the best souk (marketplace) in the Arabian Peninsula.
- Bab al-Yemen. One of the city's most important landmarks, it is the gate leading into the Old City, which is surrounded by ancient walls. The souk and many excellent restaurants are located nearby.
- National Museum of Yemen. 9AM-12PM. The museum is located in a former palace that was restored and converted into a museum. Here you can learn about the nation's history and culture. Most exhibits include English descriptions along with Arabic. YR500.
- Military Museum. morning from 9AM-1:30PM, afternoon from 3-8PM. Displays artifacts related to the Yemeni military. Explanations are all in Arabic; however, there is a part outside where they have English explanations about some of the more modern artifacts. YR200.
- Wadi Dhahr. A valley a few kilometers outside of Sana'a with green fields, villages, and the face Rock Palace of an Imam of Yemen.
- Great Mosque of Sana'a (الجامع الكبير بصنعاء, Al-Jāmiʿ al-Kabīr bi-Ṣanʿāʾ). One of the oldest mosques in the world. The oldest known written copy of the Quran was found here.
- Al Saleh Mosque (جامع الرئيس الصالح). Located near the heavily-guarded Presidential Palace, it is one of the largest mosques in the world.
- Thilaa. An ancient hidden village located just outside Sana'a on the way to Kawkaban.
Jabal an-Nabi Shu'ayb is the highest mountain in the Arabian Peninsula and one of the most prominent mountains in the world. It is 3,666 meters (12,028 feet) high and is located on the Sana'a-Al Hudaydah highway about 30 km away from the city.
Things to do
Sana'a is a great place for people-watching and culture observing. The unhurried pace of Yemeni life, coupled with the almost total lack of industrialisation seen in nearby countries, means that it's quite possible to pull up a chair in a coffee shop and watch the world go by for hours on end.
If you want an experience you can only get in Yemen (and are prepared to risk your health): participate in a qat session. Qat (khat) is a mild narcotic chewed by most males in Yemen. They spend their afternoons hanging out, chewing the leaf, and conversing. A bag will cost no more than 5 dollars, and you can get "inferior" product for a cheaper price. Side effects are lack of appetite and insomnia. Qat is considered by many as the prime cause of Yemen ranking as the poorest country in the Middle East. Note that Qat is considered a controlled substance in the United States and other countries (i.e. it is illegal and those trying to bring it into such countries risk arrest).
Things to know
Unless you have work lined up as an expat, work in Sana'a (and elsewhere in Yemen) will be very hard to come by. The majority of the locals sitting by the road will be waiting to be hired as manual labourers or domestic staff - in the latter role competing with guest workers from across the Red Sea. Those with good abilities in Arabic may be able to find work teaching English, however this will be informal and exceptionally temporary work. Schools such as AMIDEAST, MALI, and YALI hire English teachers, but you will likely need a Bachelor's and some sort of teaching certification.
Yemen is a great place to study Arabic for several reasons: 1. Languages other than Arabic are much less commonly spoken than they are in nearby countries; 2. The low cost of living; and 3. There are several excellent Arabic language institutes that offer both group and private courses with flexible schedules and reasonable prices.
The Yemen College of Middle Eastern Studies (YCMES) [www] offers courses in Arabic language as well as academic seminars in English language about the contemporary Middle East. With over 20 years of experience, YCMES is the first and only accredited program in Yemen (i.e. students can transfer credit to their home universities). Regular tuition packages include accommodation, meals, excursions, cultural activities, wireless internet, library, etc. The YCMES can also help with international and domestic travel arrangements.
Additionally, Yemen Institute for Arabic Language (YIAL) a teacher owned institute that offers similar courses outside the Old City, although it also has very good accommodations in the Old City and in the institute itself. YIAL primarily offers private courses. YIAL also organises activities and trips.