San’a was reputedly founded by Noah’s son Shem after the flood subsided and it vies with Damascus* in claiming to be the longest inhabited city in the world. It’s certainly a remarkably magical and well-preserved city.
The layout of the old city is typical of the region: it has massive perimeter walls, a large and thriving market, a great mosque and hidden well-watered gardens*.
Up until the 60s, San’a was still confined to its ancient fortified city walls. Since then San’a has doubled in growth every 4 years – making it at one time the fastest growing capital city in the world!*
What Old San’a is best known for is its tower houses that reach up to 7 stories high –the world’s first ever skyscrapers!
The layout of the tower houses is usually the same – the ground floor is for stables and storeroom, 1st floor for entertaining, 2nd floor for women and children, 3rd & 4th for bedrooms, bathroom and kitchen and the mafraj on the top floor.
The lower third of the house is made up of stone and burnt mud brick is used for the upper floors. Considered the best insulator in the world, the mud keeps the interior cool during the summer and warm during the winter.
Wooden shutters that protrude on the outside of houses mean women can look out without being seen and stained-glass windows feature geometric patterns.
The ancient skills needed to keep the tower houses of Old San’a are dying out. Windows are often made using alabaster but there is now only one alabaster-window maker in San’a.