Sanaa (Arabic: صَنْعَاء, Ṣanʿāʾ [sˤɑnʕaːʔ], Yemeni Arabic: [ˈsˤɑnʕɑ]; Old South Arabian: 𐩮𐩬𐩲𐩥 Ṣnʿw), also spelled Sanaʽa and Sana, is the capital and largest city in Yemen and the centre of Sanaa Governorate. The city is not part of the Governorate, but forms the separate administrative district of "ʾAmānat al-ʿĀṣima" (أمانة العاصمة). Under the Yemeni constitution, Sanaa is the capital of the country, although the seat of the Yemeni government moved to Aden, the former capital of South Yemen in ...Read more

Sanaa (Arabic: صَنْعَاء, Ṣanʿāʾ [sˤɑnʕaːʔ], Yemeni Arabic: [ˈsˤɑnʕɑ]; Old South Arabian: 𐩮𐩬𐩲𐩥 Ṣnʿw), also spelled Sanaʽa and Sana, is the capital and largest city in Yemen and the centre of Sanaa Governorate. The city is not part of the Governorate, but forms the separate administrative district of "ʾAmānat al-ʿĀṣima" (أمانة العاصمة). Under the Yemeni constitution, Sanaa is the capital of the country, although the seat of the Yemeni government moved to Aden, the former capital of South Yemen in the aftermath of the Houthi occupation. Aden was declared as the temporary capital by President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi in March 2015.

At an elevation of 2,300 metres (7,500 ft), Sanaa is one of the highest capital cities in the world and is next to the Sarawat Mountains of Jabal An-Nabi Shu'ayb and Jabal Tiyal, considered to be the highest mountains in the country and amongst the highest in the region. Sanaa has a population of approximately 3,937,500 (2012), making it Yemen's largest city. As of 2020, the greater Sanaa urban area makes up about 10% of Yemen's total population.

The Old City of Sanaa, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has a distinctive architectural character, most notably expressed in its multi-storey buildings decorated with geometric patterns. In the conflict that raged in 2015, bombs hit UNESCO sites in the old city. The Al Saleh Mosque, the largest in Sanaa, is located in the Old City.

Sanaa has been facing a severe water crisis, with water being drawn from its aquifer three times faster than it is replenished. The city is predicted to run completely out of water by around 2030, making it the first national capital in the world to do so. Access to drinking water is very limited in Sanaa, and there are problems with water quality.

Ancient period

According to popular Abrahamic religions, Sanaa was founded at the base of the mountains of Jabal Nuqum[1] by Shem, the son of Noah,[2][3][4] after the latter's death.

The name Sanaa is probably derived from the Sabaic root ṣnʿ, meaning "well-fortified".[5][6][7] The name is attested in old Sabaean inscriptions, mostly from the 3rd century CE, as ṣnʿw.[5] In the present day, a popular folk etymology says that the name Sanaa refers to "the excellence of its trades and crafts (perhaps the feminine form of the Arabic adjective aṣnaʿ)".[5]

The 10th-century Arab historian al-Hamdani wrote that Sanaa's ancient name was Azāl, which is not recorded in any contemporary Sabaean inscriptions.[5] The name "Azal" has been connected to Uzal, a son of Qahtan, a great-grandson of Shem, in the biblical accounts of the Book of Genesis.[8]

Al-Hamdani wrote that Sanaa was walled by the Sabaeans under their ruler Sha'r Awtar, who also arguably built the Ghumdan Palace in the city. Because of its location, Sanaa has served as an urban hub for the surrounding tribes of the region and as a nucleus of regional trade in southern Arabia. It was positioned at the crossroad of two major ancient trade routes linking Ma'rib in the east to the Red Sea in the west.[4]

Appropriately enough for a town whose name means "well-fortified", Sanaa appears to have been an important military center under the Sabaeans.[5] They used it as a base for their expeditions against the kingdom of Himyar further south, and several inscriptions "announce a triumphant return to Sanaa from the wars".[5] Sanaa is referred to in these inscriptions both as a town (hgr) and as a maḥram (mḥrm), which according to A. F. L. Beeston indicated "a place to which access is prohibited or restricted, no matter whether for religious or for other reasons".[5] The Sabaean inscriptions also mention the Ghumdan Palace by name.[5]

When King Yousef Athar (or Dhu Nuwas), the last of the Himyarite kings, was in power, Sanaʽa was also the capital of the Axumite viceroys.[citation needed] Later tradition also holds that the Abyssinian conqueror Abrahah built a Christian church in Sanaa.[5]

Islamic era
The Sanaʽa manuscript, found in Sanaʽa in 1972, is one of the oldest Quranic manuscripts in existence

From the era of Muhammad (ca. 622 CE) until the founding of independent sub-states in many parts of the Yemen Islamic Caliphate, Sanaa persisted as the governing seat. The Caliph's deputy ran the affairs of one of Yemen's three Makhalifs: Mikhlaf Sanaʽa, Mikhlaf al-Janad, and Mikhlaf Hadhramaut. The city of Sanaa regularly regained an important status, and all Yemenite States competed to control it.[citation needed]

Imam Al-Shafi'i, the 8th-century Islamic jurist and founder of the Shafi'i school of jurisprudence, visited Sanaa several times. He praised the city, writing La budda min Ṣanʻāʼ, or "Sanaa must be seen." In the 9th–10th centuries, the Yem separate from each other, empty of ordure, without smell or evil smells, because of the hard concrete (adobe and cob, probably) and fine pastureland and clean places to walk." Later in the 10th-century, the Persian geographer Ibn Rustah wrote of Sanaa "It is the city of Yemen — there cannot be found ... a city greater, more populous or more prosperous, of nobler origin or with more delicious food than it."

In 1062 Sanaa 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 that 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 Sanaa, 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 Sanaʽa.[9] Like the Sulayhids, the Hamdanids were Isma'ilis.[5]

In 1173 Saladin, the Ayyubid sultan of Egypt, sent his brother Turan-Shah on an expedition to conquer Yemen. The Ayyubids gained control of Sanaʽa in 1175 and united the various Yemeni tribal states, except for the northern mountains controlled by the Zaydi imams, into one entity.[9] The Ayyubids switched the country's official religious allegiance to the Sunni Muslim Abbasids. During the reign of the Ayyubid emir Tughtekin ibn Ayyub, the city underwent significant improvements. These included the incorporation of the garden lands on the western bank of the Sa'ilah, known as Bustan al-Sultan, where the Ayyubids built one of their palaces.[10] However, Ayyubid control of Sanaa was never very consistent, and they only occasionally exercised direct authority over the city.[5] Instead, they chose Ta'izz as their capital while Aden was their principal income-producing city.

While the Rasulids controlled most of Yemen, followed by their successors the Tahirids, Sanaa largely remained in the political orbit of the Zaydi imams from 1323 to 1454 and outside the former two dynasties' rule.[11] The Mamelukes arrived in Yemen in 1517.

Ottoman era
Ottoman map of Sanaa, 1874

The Ottoman Empire entered Yemen in 1538 when Suleiman the Magnificent was Sultan.[12] Under the military leadership of Özdemir Pasha, the Ottomans conquered Sanaa in 1547.[11] With Ottoman approval, European captains based in the Yemeni port towns of Aden and Mocha frequented Sanaa 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,[12] and forced out Ottoman troops in 1629. Although the Ottomans fled during al-Mu'ayyad's reign, his predecessor al-Mansur al-Qasim had already vastly weakened the Ottoman army in Sanaʽa and Yemen.[11] Consequently, European traders were stripped of their previous privileges.[12]

The Zaydi imams maintained their rule over Sanaa 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.[12] They did not capture Sanaa until 1872 when their troops led by Ahmed Muhtar Pasha entered the city.[11] The Ottoman Empire instituted the Tanzimat reforms throughout the lands they governed.

In Sanaa, city planning was initiated for the first time, new roads were built, and schools and hospitals were established. The reforms were rushed by the Ottomans to solidify their control of Sanaʽa to compete with an expanding Egypt, British influence in Aden and imperial Italian and French influence along the coast of Somalia, particularly in the towns of Djibouti and Berbera. The modernization reforms in Sanaa were still very limited, however.[13]

North Yemen period
Dar al-Hajar, the residence of Imam Yahya in the Wādī Ẓahr (وادى ظهر) near Sanaʽa

In 1904, as Ottoman influence was waning in Yemen, Imam Yahya of the Zaydi imams took power in Sanaa. 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 Sanaa and elsewhere and closing down the Ottoman girls' school. As a consequence of Yahya's measures, Sanaa increasingly became a hub of the anti-government organization and intellectual revolt.[13]

In the 1930s, several organizations opposing or demanding reform of the Zaydi imamate sprung up in the city, particularly Fatat al-Fulayhi, a group of various Yemeni Muslim scholars based in Sanaʽa's Fulayhi Madrasa, and Hait al-Nidal ("Committee of the Struggle.") By 1936 most of the leaders of these movements were imprisoned. In 1941 another group based in the city, the Shabab al-Amr bil-Maruf wal-Nahian al-Munkar, called for a nahda ("renaissance") in the country as well as the establishment of a parliament with Islam being the instrument of Yemeni revival. Yahya largely repressed the Shabab and most of its leaders were executed following his son, Imam Ahmad's inheritance of power in 1948.[13] That year, Sanaa 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.[14]

Ahmad began a process of gradual economic and political liberalization, but by 1961 Sanaa 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.[13] Sanaa's role as a capital was restored afterward. [14] Neighbouring 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 Sanaa.[13] 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,[14] establishing a presidential system. Instability in Sanaa continued due to continuing coups and political assassinations until the situation in the country stabilized in the late 1970s.[13]

A 1958 view of Taizz Road, just outside the Bab al-Yaman

The new government's modernization projects changed the face of Sanaa: the new Tahrir Square was built on what had formerly been the former imam's palace grounds, and new buildings were constructed on the north and northwest of the city. This was accompanied by the destruction of several of the old city's gates, as well as sections of the wall around it.[15]

After the end of the civil war in 1970, Sanaa began to expand outward.[15] This was a period of prosperity in Yemen, partly due to the massive migration of Yemeni workers to the Gulf states and their subsequent sending of money back home. At first, most of the new development was concentrated around central areas like al-Tahrir, the modern centre; Bi'r al-Azab, the Ottoman quarter; and Bab al-Yaman, the old southern gate. However, this soon shifted to the city's outskirts, where an influx of immigrants from the countryside established new neighbourhoods. Two areas in particular experienced major growth during this period: first, the area along Taizz Road in the south, and second, a broader area on the west side of the city, between Bi'r al-Azab and the new avenue called Sittin.[16] A new ring road, built in the 1970s on the recommendation of the United Nations Development Programme, encouraged land speculation and further contributed to the rapid expansion of Sanaa.[15]

View of Wadi as-Sailah street in 1988, with the minaret of the al-Mahdi Mosque visible in the background

Sanaa's new areas were physically different than the quarters of the old city. Many of the Yemenis who had migrated to the Gulf states had worked in construction, where they had become well-acquainted with Western and Egyptian techniques. When they returned to Yemen, they brought those techniques with them. New construction consisted of concrete and concrete block houses, with multi-lite windows and plaster decorations, laid out in a grid pattern. Their amenities, including independence from extended families and the possibility of owning a car, attracted many families from the old city, and they moved to the new districts in growing numbers. Meanwhile, the old city, with its unpaved streets, poor drainage, lack of water and sewer systems, and litter (from use of manufactured products, which was becoming increasingly common), was becoming increasingly unattractive to residents. Disaster struck in the late 1970s — water pipes were laid to bring water into the old city, but there was no way to pipe it out, resulting in huge amounts of groundwater building up in the old city. This destabilized building foundations and led to many houses collapsing.[15]

Contemporary era
Attabari Elementary School, Old City of Sanaʽa

Following the unification of Yemen, Sanaa 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 governmental civil service. Due to massive rural immigration, Sanaa 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.[13]

Sanaa was chosen as the 2004 Arab Cultural Capital by the Arab League. In 2008, the Al Saleh Mosque was completed. It holds over 40,000 worshippers.

In 2011, Sanaa, as the Yemeni capital, was the centre of the Yemeni Revolution in which President Ali Abdullah Saleh was ousted. Between May and November, the city was a battleground, in what became known as the 2011 Battle of Sanaa.

On 21 May 2012, Sanaa was attacked by a suicide bomber, resulting in the deaths of 120 soldiers.

On 23 January 2013, a drone strike near Al-Masna'ah village killed two civilians, according to a report[17] issued by Radhya Al-Mutawakel and Abdulrasheed Al-Faqih and Open Societies Foundations.

Houthi control (2014-present)
Government 3 times, Yemen 1990 – 2012. 

On 21 September 2014, during the Houthi insurgency, the Houthis seized control of Sanaa.

On 12 June 2015, Saudi-led airstrikes targeting Shiite rebels and their allies in Yemen destroyed historic houses in the middle of the capital. A UNESCO World Heritage Site was severely damaged.[18]

On 8 October 2016, Saudi-led airstrikes targeted a hall in Sanaa where a funeral was taking place. At least 140 people were killed and about 600 were wounded. After initially denying it was behind the attack, the Coalition's Joint Incidents Assessment Team admitted that it had bombed the hall but claimed that this attack had been a mistake caused by bad information.[19]

In May 2017, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross, an outbreak of cholera killed 115 people and left 8,500 ill.[20] In late 2017, another Battle of Sanaa broke out between the Houthis and forces loyal to former President Saleh, who was killed.

On 17 May 2022, the first commercial flight in six years took off from Sanaa International Airport as part of a UN-brokered 60-day truce agreement struck between the Houthis and the internationally-recognized government the prior month.[21]

^ Cite error: The named reference Laughlin2008 was invoked but never defined (see the help page). ^ Al-Hamdāni, al-Ḥasan ibn Aḥmad, The Antiquities of South Arabia - The Eighth Book of Al-Iklīl, Oxford University Press 1938, pp. 8-9 ^ Minaret Building and Apprenticeship in Yemen, by Trevor Marchand, Routledge (27 April 2001), p.1. ^ a b Aithe, p.30. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Smith, G.R. (1997). "ṢANʿĀʾ". In Bosworth, C.E.; van Donzel, E.; Heinrichs, W.P.; Lecomte, G. (eds.). The Encyclopaedia of Islam, Vol. IX (SAN-SZE) (PDF). Leiden: Brill. pp. 1–3. ISBN 90-04-10422-4. Retrieved 18 March 2022. ^ Bosworth, C. Edmund (2007). Historic Cities of the Islamic World. BRILL. p. 462. ISBN 9789047423836. Archived from the original on 14 April 2021. Retrieved 16 October 2020. ^ Albert Jamme, inscriptions from Mahram Bilqis p.440 ^ Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Sana" . Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 24 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 125–126. ^ a b McLaughlin, p.16. ^ Elsheshtawy, p.92. ^ a b c d Bosworth, p.463. ^ a b c d Dumper, p.330. ^ a b c d e f g Dumper, p.331. ^ a b c Cite error: The named reference R&S631 was invoked but never defined (see the help page). ^ a b c d Lamprakos, Michele (2005). "Rethinking Cultural Heritage: Lessons from Sana'a, Yemen". Traditional Dwellings and Settlements Review. 16 (2): 17–37. JSTOR 41747744. Archived from the original on 17 April 2021. Retrieved 14 February 2021. ^ Stadnicki, Roman; Touber, Julie (2008). "Le grand Sanaa Multipolarité et nouvelles formes d'urbanité dans la capitale du Yémen". Annales de Géographie. 117 (659): 32–53. doi:10.3917/ag.659.0032. JSTOR 23457582. ^ "Death by Drone report" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 23 December 2018. Retrieved 20 May 2018. ^ Gubash, Charlene; Smith, Alexander (12 June 2015). "UNESCO Condemns Saudi-Led Airstrike on Yemen's Sanaa Old City". NBC News. Archived from the original on 7 January 2019. Retrieved 7 October 2019. ^ "Saudi-led coalition admits to bombing Yemen funeral". The Guardian. 15 October 2016. Archived from the original on 31 January 2017. Retrieved 3 February 2017. ^ "Houthis declares state of emergency in Sanaa over cholera outbreak". Al Arabiya. 14 May 2017. Archived from the original on 17 May 2017. Retrieved 15 May 2017. ^ "First commercial flight in six years leaves Yemen's Sanaa amid fragile truce". France 24. 16 May 2022. Archived from the original on 26 May 2022. Retrieved 17 May 2022.
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