This area has been intensely refined for centuries and is the site of many of the major towns. Sana’a, the modern capital and long an important fortress along the trade route between Aden and Mecca, dates back to the 1st century and, according to popular legend, to early biblical days.
The citadel, Qasr al-Silah, was rebuilt after the arrival of Islam in the 7 th century and is still intact. The old centre is bordered by the remains of the city walls, which can be seen in the south along Zuberi Street before Bab al-Yemen, in the east along Mount Nugum starting from the walls of the citadel, and in the north on the road from Bab Sha’oob to Taherir Square.
The 1,000 year old Bab al-Yemen Market is divided into 40 different crafts and trades. The spice market is 1 of the best to visit, standing out from the rest by the rich aroma of incense and famed Arabian spices.
Other markets include the Souk al-Nahaas, once the copper market, now selling embroidered belts, head dresses and jambias (curved daggers). The Great Mosque of Sana’a is the oldest and largest of the mosques in Sana’a and 1 of the oldest in the Muslim world, constructed in the lifetime of the Prophet and enlarged in AD 705.
The layout is representative of early Islamic architecture, with an open, square courtyard, surrounded by roofed galleries. The National Museum is situated in Taherir Square in Dar al-Shukr (or the ‘Palace of Gratefulness’), it contains engravings of pre-Islamic times, bronze statues, a spectacular mashrabia (cooling place for water) and many examples of folk art. It offers a great view of Taherir Square and the Muttawakelite Estate from the roof.
Some 8 kilometres (5 miles) north of Sana’a is Rawdha, a garden city famous for its sweet grapes, the mosque built by Ahmed ibn al-Qasim and the Rawdha Palace, now used as a hotel.
Amran, north of Rawdha, lies on the border of the fertile basin of al-Bawn. The city is surrounded by the old clay city walls of pre Islamic, Sabean origin.
Hajjah is a day’s journey to the west of Sana’a. The countryside is made up of high mountains and large valleys, including the Wadi Sherez, 1,000 metres (3,280 feet), and Kohlan, 2,400 metres (7,875 feet).
Hajjah itself is a citadel, located on the central hill of Hajjah, famous for underground prison cells used by the Imams. Hadda Mountain, south of Sana’a, is dotted with villages and orchards growing peaches, apricots, walnuts and almonds. The village of Hadda has 2 old Turkish mills.
Wadi Dhar, 10 kilometres (6 miles) from Sana’a, is an idyllic valley filled with grapes, pomegranates and citrus fruits, surrounded by a barren plateau.
Shibam, 36 kilometres (22 miles) from Sana’a, is a pre Islamic settlement, protected by the great reinforcement of Koukaban.