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Yemen: Old San'a

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Old San'a | Yemen | Asia

[Visited: May-June 2004]

I arrived in San'a after midnight, when the streets were almost empty and the city was asleep. I saw the decorated houses in the scarse street lights, light shining through stained glass windows, and I immediately fell in love with it. Walking in the city is marvellous during the day, and becomes like a fairy tale in the evening. According to the Yemenis, San'a is one of the oldest human settlements in the world. It has a long history of wars and sieges, and it is only since a few decades that it has started to grow to the size of a real capital city.

Picture of Old San'a (Yemen): Detail of house in Old San'a

But while the suburbs contain modern buildings, traffic jams and other inconveniences of modern cities, the old city has very much retained its character. There is little traffic and walking around the city you can perfectly be led to think that you are walking in a medieval town. Every corner holds surprises, a small mosque, an especially beautifully decorated building, a small arch hiding an inner coutyard, gardens which are still used for agriculture. But the most obvious attraction of the old city is the tower houses. Made of stone, they are all decorated and painted with white paint. No house is the same, they all have their unique character.

Picture of Old San'a (Yemen): House in Old San'a

I decided to stay in one of the old houses turned into a hotel, to experience the way the houses are built. They are all high, the stairs have high steps and if you walk directly to the top floor it will often leave you out of breath, also because San'a sits at over 2200 metres above sea level. The best room is the mafraj, it is located on the top floor and has windows on all sides. This is where the owner of the house will lead his guests to chew qat in the afternoon. Since the roofs are always flat, it is possible to enjoy a panoramic view from the roof of the houses.

Picture of Old San'a (Yemen): Old San'a: detail of old house
Picture of Old San'a (Yemen): Agriculture right in the heart of Old San'a
Picture of Old San'a (Yemen): Typical houses of San'a near the Saila
Picture of Old San'a (Yemen): Light coming through stained glass windows of Old San'a house
Picture of Old San'a (Yemen): More typical houses of Old San'a
Picture of Old San'a (Yemen): Painter at work outside one of Old San'a's houses
Picture of Old San'a (Yemen): Detail of house in Old San'a
Picture of Old San'a (Yemen): Windows in house in Old San'a
Picture of Old San'a (Yemen): Window of Old San'a house
Picture of Old San'a (Yemen): Detail of minaret in Old San'a

Around the World in 80 Clicks

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