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 Sana'a, is located in the Old City.
Sanaa faces 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.
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.
When King Yousef Athar (or Dhu Nuwas
), the last of the Himyarite kings, was in power, Sanaʽa was also the capital of the Axumite
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.
, 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 Yemeni geographer al-Hamdani
took note of the city's cleanliness, saying "The least dwelling there has a well or two, a garden and long cesspits separate from each other, empty of ordure, without smell or evil smells, because of the hard concrete (adobe
, 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.
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.
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.
Despite Sanaʽa's strategic position, the Ayyubids 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.
arrived in Yemen in 1517.
Ottoman map of Sanaa, 1874
The Ottoman Empire
entered Yemen in 1538 when Suleiman the Magnificent
Under the military leadership of Özdemir Pasha
, the Ottomans conquered Sanaa in 1547.
With Ottoman approval, European captains based in the Yemeni port towns of Aden
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,
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.
Consequently, European traders were stripped of their previous privileges.
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
They did not capture Sanaa 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 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
. The modernization reforms in Sanaa were still very limited, however.
North Yemen period
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.
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.
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.
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
's government and pan-Arabist
policies staged a coup overthrowing the Imamate government in September 1962, a week after Ahmad's death.
Sanaa's role as a capital was restored afterward. 
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.
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 Sanaa continued due to continuing coups and political assassinations until the situation in the country stabilized in the late 1970s.
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.
After the end of the civil war in 1970, Sanaa began to expand outward.
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
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.
View of Wadi as-Sailah street in 1988, with the minaret of the al-Mahdi Mosque
visible in the background
Sanaas 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.
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.
On 21 May 2012, Sanaa was attacked
by a suicide bomber, resulting in the deaths of 120 soldiers.
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.
Geography and climate
Jabal Nuqm (Arabic
: جَبَل نُقْم
) or Jabal Nuqum (Arabic
: جَبَل نُقُم
) of the Yemeni Sarawat
in the area of Sanaa. Local legend has it that after the death of Noah
, his son Shem
built the city at the base of this mountain.
Sanaa is located on a plain of the same name, the Haql Sanaa
, which is over 2,200m above sea level. The plain is roughly 50–60 km long north-south and about 25 km wide, east-west, in the area north of Sanaa, and somewhat narrower further south. To the east and west, the Sanaa plain is bordered by cliffs and mountains, with wadis
coming down from them. The northern part of the area slopes gently upward toward the district of Arhab
, which was historically known as al-Khashab
. Much of the Sanaa plain is drained by the Wadi al-Kharid
, which flows northward, through the northeastern corner of the plain, towards al-Jawf
, which is a broad wadi that drains the eastern part of the Yemeni highlands. The southern part of the plain straddles the watershed
between the al-Kharid and the Wadi Siham
, which flows southwest towards the Yemeni Tihama
Sanaa itself is located at the narrowest part of the plain, nestled between Jabal Nuqum
to the east and the foothills of Jabal an-Nabi Shu'ayb
, Yemen's tallest mountain, to the west. The peak of Jabal an-Nabi Shu'ayb is 25 km west of Sanaa.
Jabal Nuqum rises about 500 metres above Sanaa.
According to the 10th-century writer al-Hamdani
, the mountain was the site of a iron
mine, although no trace of it exists today; he also mentions a particular type of onyx
which came from Nuqum. Muhammad ibn Zakariya al-Razi
described a dam located at Nuqum; its location is not known.
This dam probably served to divert the waters coming down from the western face of the mountain and prevent them from flooding the city of Sanaa.
Such a flood is known to have happened in 692 (73 AH), before the dam was built, and it is described as having destroyed some of Sanaa's houses.
Despite its proximity to the city, Jabal Nuqum does not appear to have been fortified until 1607 (1016 AH), when a fort was built to serve as a lookout point to warn of potential attackers.
The main mountain stronghold during the middle ages was Jabal Barash
, further to the east.
Parts of the Sanaa plain have signs of relatively recent volcanic activity (geologically speaking), with volcanic cones and lava fields. One such area is located to the north, on the road to the Qa al-Bawn
, the next plain to the north, located around 'Amran
. The modern route between the two plains passes to the west of Jabal Din
, a volcanic peak that marks the highest point between the two plains, although in medieval times the main route went to the east of the mountain.
Sanaa's Old City is renowned for its tower houses
, which are typically built from stone and fired brick and can reach up to 8 stories in height. The doors and windows feature are decorated with plaster
openings. They traditionally housed a single extended patrilineal family, with new floors being built as sons married and had children of their own. (New buildings would also sometimes be built on adjacent land.) The ground floor was typically used as grain storage and for housing animals. Most families no longer keep either animals or grain, so many homeowners set up shops on the ground floor instead. (This often leads to conflict with building inspectors, since doing so is prohibited by law.)
Tower houses continue to be built in Sanaa, often using modern materials; often they are built from concrete block with decorative "veneers" of brick and stone.
These "neo-traditional" tower houses are found in newer districts as well as the old city.
Most new residences built in Sanaa, though, use newer styles of architecture. The most common are "new villas", which are low-rise houses with fenced yards; they are especially common in the southern and western parts of the city. The other main archetype are smaller, "Egyptian-style" houses, which are usually built with reinforced concrete. These are most commonly found in the northern and eastern parts of Sanaa.
Several tower houses in Sanaa
Closer view of a single tower house, showing the plaster decoration
Street scene in the 1960s, showing newer concrete-based architecture
Sanaa Archaeological Library, showing a mix of styles: the windows evoke those of old tower houses, while the materials and structure are essentially modern.
Contemporary monument in Sanaa, as-Sab'in street
Generally, Sanaʽa 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 Sanaʽa was chosen as the republican capital.
In recent decades, Sanaa has grown into a multipolar city, with various districts and suburbs serving as hubs of commercial, industrial, and social activity. Their development has generally been unplanned by central authorities. Many of them were initially set up by new arrivals from rural areas. Increasing land prices and commercial rents in the central city has also pushed many residents and commercial establishment outwards, towards these new hubs. Souks
have been especially important in the development of these areas.
In 1983, as Sanaa experienced an explosion in population, the city was made into a governorate of its own, called Amanat al-Asimah
("the Capital's Secretariat"
), by Presidential Decree No. 13.
This governorate was then subdivided into nine districts in 2001, by Presidential Decree No. 2; a tenth district, Bani Al Harith District
, was added within the same year.
However, the exact legal status of the new Amanat al-Asimah Governorate, and the hierarchy of administrative authority, was never made clear.
Since then, the city of Sanaa encompasses the following districts:
was designed as the new urban and economic hub of Sanaa during the 1960s. It is still the symbolic centre of the city, but economic activity here is relatively low. In the 21st century, development here pivoted more towards making it a civic and recreational centre.
As part of central Sanaa, Bi'r al-Azab was one of the areas where new development was first concentrated during the 1970s. Today, it is mostly a residential and administrative district, with embassies, the office of the Prime Minister, and the chamber of deputies being located here.
Old City District
The 1,000-year-old Bab Al-Yemen
(Gate of The Yemen) at the centre of the old town
Evening in the Old City
Market in the Old City
Vegetable garden in the old city
The Old City
: مَدِيْنَة صَنْعَاء ٱلْقَدِيْمَة
: Madīnat Ṣanʿāʾ Al-Qadīmah
) is recognised as a UNESCO
World Heritage Site. The old fortified city has been inhabited for more than 2,500 years and contains many intact architectural gems. The oldest, partially standing architectural structure in the Old City of Sanaʽa is Ghumdan Palace
. The city 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 Sanaʽa
, is more than 1,400 years old. Surrounded by ancient clay walls that 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.
British writer Jonathan Raban
visited in the 1970s and described the city as fortress-like, its architecture and layout resembling a labyrinth
", further noting "It was like stepping out into the middle of a vast pop-up picture book. Away from the street, the whole city turned into a maze of another kind, a dense, jumbled alphabet of signs and symbols."
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 Jāmiʿ al-Kabīr
(the Great Mosque) is one of the oldest mosques in the world. The Bāb al-Yaman
("Gate of the Yemen") 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. The National Museum of Yemen
is located here.
Traditionally, the Old City was composed of a number of quarters (hara
), generally centred on an endowed complex containing a mosque, a bathhouse
, and an agricultural garden (maqshama
). Human waste from households was disposed of via chutes. In the mountain air, it dried fairly quickly and was then used as fuel for the bathhouse. Meanwhile, the gardens were watered using gray water
from the mosque's ablution pool.
The area roughly between the two main circular roads around the city (Ring Road and Sittin) is extremely active, with a high population density and very busy souks. These areas are crossed by major commercial thoroughfares such as al-Zubayri and Abd al-Mughni Street
, and are extensively served by public transport. Particularly significant districts in this area include al-Hasabah
in the north, Shumayla
in the south, and Hayil
in the west.
Al-Hasabah was formerly a separate village as described by medieval writers al-Hamdani
, but by the 1980s it had become a suburb of Sanaa.
The southwestern area on both sides of Haddah Road
is a generally affluent area with relatively more reliable access to utilities like water and sanitation. Many residents originally moved here from Aden after Yemeni reunification in 1990. Since the 1990s, there has been development of high-rise buildings in this area.
Sanaʽa features the very rare mild version of a desert climate
Sanaʽa sees on average 265 mm (10.43 in) of precipitation
per year. Due to its high elevation, however, temperatures are much more moderate than many other cities on the Arabian Peninsula
; average temperatures remain relatively constant throughout the year in Sanaʽa, with its coldest month being January and its warmest month July. Even considering this, as a result of its lower latitude and higher elevation, UV radiation
from the sun is much stronger than in the hotter climates farther north on the Arab peninsula
The city seldom experiences extreme heat or cold. Some areas around the city, however, can see temperatures fall to around −9 °C (16 °F) or −7 °C (19 °F) 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 bitter, including low humidity
. The sun warms the city to the high 15–20 °C (59–68 °F) and low 21–26 °C (70–79 °F) 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 Sanaʽa basin and uneven elevations throughout the city. Summers are warm and can cool rapidly at night, especially after rainfall. Sanaʽa receives half of its annual rainfall during July and August. Rainfall amounts vary from year to year; some years could see 500–600 mm (20–24 inches) of rainfall, while others can barely get 150 mm (5.9 inches). High temperatures have increased slightly during the summer over the past few years, but low temperatures and winter temperatures have dramatically fallen over the same period.
(sitting room) in Sanaa, 2013
Store models showing traditional Sanʽani women's clothes
Art gallery in Sanaa
Sanaa has a rich musical tradition and is particularly renowned for the musical style called al-Ghina al-San’ani
: الغناء الصنعاني
), or "the song of Sanaa", which dates back to the 14th century and was designated as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage
This style of music is not exclusive to Sanaa, and is found in other areas of Yemen as well, but it is most closely associated with the city.
It is often part of social events, including the samra
, or evening wedding party, and the magyal
, or daily afternoon gathering of friends.
The basic format consists of a singer accompanied by two instrumentalists, one playing the qanbus
(Yemeni lute) and the other playing the sahn nuhasi
, which is a copper tray balanced on the musician's thumbs and played by being lightly struck by the other eight fingers.
Lyrics are in both classical Arabic
and Yemeni Arabic
and are known for their wordplay and emotional content.
Skilled performers often "embellish" a song's melody in order to highlight its emotional tone.
Yemen has a rich, lively tradition of theatre going back at least a century. In Sanaa, most performances take place at the Cultural Center
which was originally designed as an auditorium instead of a theatre. It "possesses only the most basic of lighting and sound equipment, and the smallest of wings"
and lacks space to store props or backdrops. Yet despite the scarce resources, "dramatic talent and creativity abound"
and productions draw large, enthusiastic crowds who react on the action onstage with vigor: "uproarious laughter at clever lines, and deafening cheers for the victorious hero, but also occasional shouts of disagreement, cries of shock when an actor or actress breaks a taboo or expresses a controversial opinion." Katherine Hennessey
draws attention to the fact that Yemeni women act alongside men onstage, write and direct plays (Nargis Abbad
being one of the most popular), and make up a significant part of audiences, often bringing their children with them. She contrasts all these factors to the other countries on the Arabian peninsula: places like Qatar
or Saudi Arabia
have extensive resources and fancier facilities, but not much of a theatrical tradition, and casts and audiences are often segregated by gender.
Since Yemeni reunification in the early 1990s, the government has sponsored annual national theatre festivals, typically scheduled to coincide with World Theatre Day
on March 27. In the 21st century, the actors and directors have increasingly come from Sanaa.
In 2012, in addition to the festival, there was a national theatre competition, sponsored by Equal Access Yemen
and Future Partners for Development
, featuring theatre troupes from around the country. It had two rounds; the first was held in six different governorates, and the second was held in Sanaa.
Sanaa's theatre scene was disrupted by war and famine in the 2010s; additionally, since the Houthis gained control of the city in 2014, they "have imposed strict rules on dress, gender segregation, and entertainment in the capital." In December 2020, however, a performance was held in Sanaa by one troupe, in an effort to offer respite and entertainment to people in a city suffering from the civil war and the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic
. Directed by Mohammad Khaled
, the performance drew a crowd of "dozens of men, women and children."
People of Sanaʽa
A market scene in Sanaʽa
The city's population growth soared from the 1960s onward as a result of mass rural migration to the city in search of employment and improved standard of living.
Sanaʽa is the fastest-growing capital city in the world with a growth rate of 7%,
while the growth rate of the nation as a whole is 3.2%.
About 10% of the population resides in the Old City, while the remainder lives in the outside districts.
The population in Sanaa is very young, with almost 60% of people in the Amanat al-Asimah Governorate being under 18 years old.
Jewish children in Sana'a, Yemen (ca. 1909)
Yemeni Jewish family from Sanaʽa, ca. 1940
Jews have been present in Yemen since the 5th century BCE and form part of the historic Jewish diasporas
In Sanaʽa, Jews had initially settled within the enclosed citadel, known as al-Qaṣr
, near the ruins of the old tower known as Ghumdan Palace
, but were evicted from there in the late 6th century by the ruling monarch, and moved to a different section of the city, known as al-Marbaki
(also called the Falayhi Quarter). From there, they again uprooted and were made to settle in the section of the city known as al-Quzali
, and eventually moved and settled in the neighborhood of al-Sa'ilah
. In 1679, during the Mawza Exile
, they were once again evicted from their place of residence. Upon returning to the city in 1680, they were given a plot of land outside of the city walls, where they built the new Jewish Quarter, al-Qāʻ
(now Qāʻ al-ʻUlufi
), and where they remained until the community's demise in the mid-20th century.
In 1839 the Reverend Joseph Wolff
, who later went to Bukhara
to attempt to save Lieutenant Colonel Charles Stoddart
and Captain Arthur Conolly
, found in Yemen
, near Sana'a
, a tribe claiming to be descendants of Jehonadab.
After the creation of the political State of Israel in 1948, about 49,000 (of an estimated 51,000) of Yemenite Jews
were airlifted to Israel, almost 10,000 of whom were from Sanaʽa (see the English-language book Jews and Muslims in lower Yemen: a study in protection and restraint, 1918–1949
). There was then essentially no Jewish population in Sanaʽa until the Shia insurgency
broke out in northern Yemen in 2004. The Houthis
directly threatened the Jewish community in 2007, prompting the government of President Saleh
to offer them refuge in Sanaʽa. As of 2010, around 700 Jews were living in the capital under government protection.
In April 2017, it was reported that 40 of the last 50 Jews were in an enclave next to the American Embassy in Sana'a
, and they were subject to threats of ethnic cleansing
by the Houthis
On 28 April 2020 Yemenite Minister Moammer al-Iryani remarked the fate of the last 50 Jews
in Yemen is unknown
On 16 July 2020 5 Jews were allowed to leave Yemen by the Houthi leaving 33 Jews in the Country
In July 2020 the Mona Relief reported on their Website that as of July 19, 2020 of the Jewish Population in Yemen there were only a "handful" of Jews in Sana'a
Market stall in Sanaa
Historically, Sanaʽa had a mining industry
. The hills around Sanaʽa were mined for onyx
, 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, Sanaʽa 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 Sanaʽa 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, Sanaʽa has a large informal sector
that is estimated to constitute 32% of nongovernmental employment. While there is a greater variety of jobs in Sanaʽa as compared to other cities in Yemen, there is also greater poverty and unemployment. It is estimated that 25% of the potential workforce in Sanaʽa is unemployed.
Before the civil war, Yemen's electricity was primarily supplied by the Ma'rib
gas-fired power plant, which came online in 2009 and supplied 27 to 40 percent of the country's electricity while active.
(Before that, power came from six diesel power plants in Sanaa itself.)
The Ma'rib plant is connected to the Bani Hushaysh substation by a power line with a capacity of 400 kV, and the Bani Hushaysh substation is then connected to substations in Dhahban
by two 132-kV lines.
However, the Ma'rib-Sanaa power line was frequently targeted by attacks; there were 54 attacks on the power line between 2010 and 2013.
The Ma'rib plant ceased operations in 2015.
The Dhahban and Hizyaz substations also have generating capacity in addition to being supplied by the Ma'rib plant.
The Dhahban station is the main one in Sanaa; located 10 km northwest of the city, it had an original generating capacity of 20 MW, with another 30 MW installed during the 2000s, bringing the total to 50 MW.
The Hizyaz station consists of three power plants: the first, with a capacity of 30 MW, was completed in 2002.
Another 60 MW plant was added in 2004, and then in 2007 the third plant, with a capacity of 30 MW, was also completed.
While most of prewar Sanaa was connected to the electrical grid, including at least partial coverage in most of the city's 35 informal settlements, access to electricity was unreliable. Power outages
were common, and one 2011 report suggested that electricity was only available for one hour per day.
The civil war has severely impacted the energy sector in Yemen, due to several factors including damage from attacks, lack of funding for maintenance, and fuel shortages.
As of 2018, 43% of Sanaa's energy assets were completely destroyed, while another 38% had suffered partial damage; in addition, 81% of the facilities were not functioning.
As a result, the public power supply in Sanaa has become almost nonexistent: of the daily 500 MW electricity demand in the city, the city receives 40 MW.
The public electricity supply is now mostly or entirely supplied by the Hizyaz station, whose capacity has been reduced to 7 MW.
Public grid access covers around 2% of the population, mostly in nearby neighborhoods, and it is expensive for consumers.
Private services using their own generators also sell electricity to customers; they cover another 2.8% and cost about as much as the public supply.
The largest share of electrical supply in Sanaa came from privately-owned solar panels
and diesel generators, which together covered 30% of the population. Solar power
rapidly gained popularity in Yemen in 2015, and in 2016 it became the leading source of electricity in the country.
Prices of fuel and diesel in Yemen have risen dramatically since the start of the war; current prices are 150% of what they were in 2017.
The most recent crisis in Sanaa came in September 2019, leading to days-long lines at gas stations.
Black market prices can be three times higher than the official ones, leaving many unable to afford fuel.
Each of Sanaa's districts has its own educational district, with several government schools in each one.
The war in Yemen has severely affected education in Sanaa. After the internationally-recognized government relocated the national bank from Sanaa to Aden in 2016, it stopped paying salaries to public-sector employees in Houthi-controlled areas.
Many teachers quit teaching because of this, and they were replaced by inexperienced volunteers.
was established in 1970 with the goal of preparing Yemenis to work as teachers.
As of 1984 it remained the only higher education
institute in Yemen.
In that time its enrolment had grown from 68 students in 1970-71 to around 9,700 in 1983-84.
During its early years, Sanaa University was largely financed by Kuwait
, and most professors, administrators, and teaching materials came from Kuwait as well.
As of the 1980s, most professors came from Ain Shams University
At that time, 10% of students at the university were female.
The university's academic year consists of two 18-week semesters as well as an 8-week summer session.
As of 1984, instruction was in Arabic in all faculties except for the Faculty of Science, where it was done in English.
The then-planned Faculties of Engineering and Medical Sciences were also planned to have instruction done in English.
As of 1984, one in five freshmen at Sanaa University went on to graduate in four years (the statistic for students who graduated after more than four years was not given).
As of October 2016, there are 88 health facilities in the Sanaa metro area.
These include 5 primary-level health units (covering 1,000-5,000 people each), 56 health centres (covering over 50,000 people each — higher than the national average of 36,340, as well as the recommended standard of 5,000-20,000 per health centre), and 19 hospitals (covering on average some 390,000 people, over twice the recommended amount of 150,000 each).
The hospitals have on average 6.9 beds per 10,000 people, which is slightly above the national average of 6.2 but well below the recommended minimum of 10.
As of 2016 there are also 25 ambulances
in the city.
As of 2019, 77 healthcare facilities in Sanaa are supported by Health Cluster partners, including provision of outpatient consultations
, medical interventions, fuel and water support, and staff training.
The ongoing conflict has severely affected the health sector in Sanaa.
In 2018, the total cost of damage to the health sector in Sanaa was estimated to be between 191 million and 233 million USD.
As of 2016, there was a ratio of 20 health care workers for every 10,000 people; this ratio had decreased to 14 by 2018, well below the World Health Organization
's recommended minimum of 22 health staff per 10,000 people.
There are severe shortages of medicines in Sanaa, with 57 types of cancer
medicines and 8 kidney dialysis medicines being commercially unavailable.
Those medicines that are available are subjected to large price increases.
On 27 April 2018, As-Sabeen Maternal Hospital was hit by an airstrike and made inoperational.
As of 2020, no information is available about its status.
Additionally, the closure of Sanaa International Airport
to commercial flights in August 2016 prevented Yemenis from traveling abroad to receive specialized medical treatment unavailable in the country.
Before it shut down, an estimated 7,000 Yemenis traveled through the airport to do so, including treatment for heart, kidney, and liver conditions, blood conditions, and cancer.
In May 2020, during the coronavirus pandemic
, the local Houthi authorities responded by closing down several markets and locking down streets in 10 districts after suspected cases rose.
At the same time, however, they have been suppressing all information about the scale of the outbreak, refusing to release positive test results and intimidating medical staff, journalists, and families to prevent them from speaking out about cases.
Speaking about the coronavirus testing results, one official quipped, "When it's negative, they give the results to us."
As of May 2020, the only hospital in Sanaa that has the full capacity to treat coronavirus is the Kuwait University Hospital
An influx of patients entered this hospital in the first week of May, and health workers believe many of them had coronavirus; Houthi authorities never revealed the test results, but an internal document from 4 May 2020, showing three positive test results, was circulated widely on social media.
Transport and communications
A few of Sanaa's many dababs
Transport in Sanaa is divided by gender, with a slight majority (51%) of male commuters using public transport
and a similar majority (56%) of women travelling on foot.
In both cases, using personally-owned cars
was less prevalent than public transport (51% vs. 29% for men, and 25% vs. 20% for women).
Use of bicycles
is less; only 5% of male commuters and a negligible percentage of female commuters reported using them as primary modes of transport.
Public transport in Sanaa is primarily informal, with most vehicles being privately owned.
Common passenger vehicles include microbuses
s), which in 2005 were estimated to number 4-7,000 in Sanaa; minibuses
("nuss-bus"), estimated at 5,500-7,300; and taxis
, which are more common at around 33,000.
Public transport in the city center is well-developed, with frequently available bus and minibus services and several bus terminals (most terminals are informal), but the Sanaa outskirts are poorly served by comparison and often people "must walk long distances to reach one of the major roads."
Most routes are short, meaning that longer north-south trips require switching buses multiple times.
Additionally, the number of buses on the roads can vary from day to day, since bus driver licenses do not require drivers to operate on a regular schedule.
This can lead to long waiting times.
There are also coaches to major cities such as Aden
Sanaa has an extensive road network, which is where most formal investment has taken place.
The city's roads are mostly north-south, with two major ring roads traversing the city.
The highest volumes of traffic are within the inner ring road.
Roads are often congested, which is compounded by the fact that many of the city's 33,000 taxi cabs often operate empty, and there is a high level of air pollution
as a result.
Sanaa has the most traffic accidents
in Yemen, with 2,898 in 2013, more than twice as many as Ta'izz
(which had the second-highest total).
Contributing factors include lax enforcement of traffic laws, lack of traffic signals
, lack of pedestrian crossings, and bad parking practices (for example, double parking
is common, even when there are available parking spaces nearby).
The number of traffic accidents plummeted in 2015 by more than 50%, as the escalation of the conflict in Yemen led to reduced mobility, as well as fuel shortages which led to decreased use of personal vehicles.
In 2017, the Saudi blockade of Yemen
caused fuel costs to rise by over 100% in Sanaa, crippling transport systems and making it even harder for people to access clean water, food, and healthcare.
By August 2019, the price of diesel had reached 430 riyals
per liter, which was a 186.7% increase from the pre-war price; at the same time, the price of gasoline
had risen to 365 riyals per liter, which was a 143.3% increase over the same period.
Sanaʽa International Airport
is Yemen's main domestic and international airport, handling 80% of all air passengers in the country in 2007.
The airport sustained has heavy damage during the ongoing conflict in Yemen,
and has been closed for commercial flights since August 2016.
This has prevented many Yemenis from being able to travel abroad to receive medical treatment.
In addition, at the start of the Saudi blockade, the Sanaa airport was completely shut down for 16 days until being reopened to humanitarian flights on the 22nd of November.
, the national airline of Yemen, has its head office in Sanaʽa.
Internet cafe in Sanaa, 2006
Most of Yemen's telecommunications infrastructure is located in Sanaa, as are most of the country's telecommunications companies.
was first launched in Yemen in 1996, but it was used by under 5% of the population until 2007.
The percentage of Yemenis using the internet nationwide has increased from 1.25% in 2006 to 26.72% in 2017.
In Sanaa, the main internet service provider
, which was launched in 2002 and is the only network offering 3G services.
are popular among Sanaa residents, many of whom cannot afford the high cost of subscription fees and purchasing necessary equipment.
They are especially popular with university students, who use publicly-available information on the internet to supplement their studies.
The first all-female internet cafe in Sanaa opened in 2013.
As of 2017, the city of Sanaa had 407 internet cafes, which was almost a third of the total in Yemen.
A survey of 45 internet cafes in 2018 reported that 38 were fully or partially operating, while 7 were permanently closed.
One of them was operating on solar power, which provided 18 hours of electricity per day.
Water and sanitation
project to provide water in Sanaa, 2015
Yemen is one of the world's most water-scarce countries, and Sanaa could be the first national capital in the world to completely exhaust its water supply.
The city is located on the Tawilah aquifer
, which was first identified in 1972. The aquifer has a natural recharge rate
of 42 Mm3
/a, much of which comes from the periodic outflow of water from the surrounding wadis onto the Sanaa plain. There is not much refill from rainfall. In 1995, water extraction from the aquifer exceeded the natural recharge rate by around 300%.
More recent estimates are higher, suggesting 400-500%.
This has caused groundwater levels to drop by 6 to 8 metres annually,
to the point that many wells have to be drilled as far down as 2,600 to 3,900 feet.
It is estimated that, with a slightly lower rate of depletion, the aquifer will be completely exhausted by around 2030.
As much as 90% of Yemen's water use is in agriculture, with irrigated farmland increasing from 37,000 hectares
in 1970 to 407,000 in 2004.
Before the 1970s, traditional agricultural practices had a sustainable balance of use and recharge:
household water in Sanaa was supplied by shallow wells, and the relative scarcity of water led to people using gray water
for watering gardens. Meanwhile, agriculture in the surrounding rural areas was watered by rainfall, with terracing
and flood diversion systems making as much as possible out of the limited rainwater.
However, after the introduction of deep tube wells
and the identification of the Tawilah aquifer,
there was an explosion of agriculture in the Sanaa area.
By 1995, there were over 5,000 wells in the Sanaa area;
as of 2010, the number was about 13,500.
At the same time, traditionally grown, drought-resistant crops have been largely replaced by more water-intensive cash crops
such as citrus, bananas,
and especially qat
, which as of 2010 accounted for 6% of Yemen's entire GDP.
In the Sanaa area, 27% of all farmland was dedicated to growing qat;
by 2010, the number had increased to around 50%.
In the city of Sanaa itself, there was a continuous expansion of tap water
supply under the National Water and Sanitation Authority
(NSWA) through the end of the 1990s, but it was outpaced by the city's growth. The public water supply only served 40-50% of Sanaa residents by 2000.
The percentage has decreased in recent years: in 2009, it was estimated that 55% of residents were connected to the public water supply; in 2018, only 43% did.
Access to tap water is also inconsistent between neighborhoods, and even in places where there is public water, water pressure can be too low, resulting in unreliable access for some households.
Most households only have access to water for less than one full day per week.
There are also problems with pipe leakage, with estimates ranging from 40% to 60% of water being lost due to leaks.
Additionally, there are problems with water quality in Sanaa due to wastewater getting into water pipes and also leaching down into the aquifer.
A 2018 study found the water exceeded the limits for dissolved solids and coliform bacteria, including E. coli
Sana'nis tend to view the city's tap water as contaminated, choosing instead to buy filtered water in containers for drinking and cooking, which costs significantly more.
Private kiosks using reverse osmosis
to filter poor-quality groundwater are also popular.
systems in Sanaa is over 500 kilometres long.
There are two activated sludge water treatment plants
in the city: the main one, in Bani al-Harith District, was commissioned in 2000 and has a daily capacity of 50,500m3
; the second, in al-Hashishiyah
, is much smaller with a capacity of 500m3
and is dedicated to collecting wastewater from tankers.
No damage was reported to the Bani al-Harith water treatment plant as of 2018, and it remains in operation, although overloaded and with some equipment in poor condition.
The al-Hashishiyah facility has been out of operation since the start of the conflict.
Only 40% of Sanaa's population is connected to wastewater services as of 2018 (down from 45% in 2014), and over half of the population relies on private cesspits
for wastewater disposal.
The wastewater is then either absorbed into the ground or pumped out by either the city's Wastewater and Sanitation Local Corporation or by private services.
Of Sanaa's 35 informal settlements, only two (Madhbah
and Bayt Maiyad
) are connected to the city's sewer system, while most of the others rely on cesspits.
In one, Suq Shamlan
, sewage is dumped in an open hole.
Solid waste management
It is estimated that 1500 tonnes of solid waste are generated each day in the Sanaa metro area.
The city is mainly serviced by the al-Azraqayn landfill
, which also serves the surrounding Sanaa Governorate
as well as 'Amran Governorate
The landfill has been in operation since the 1970s and has almost reached full capacity.
There is no base or surface sealing at the site, so the leachate
is not captured.
A facility for the treatment of healthcare waste
exists at the al-Azraqayn landfill; the first of its type in Yemen, it was expected to open in March 2015, but due to the ongoing conflict and lack of electricity, the opening was delayed indefinitely.
Since the escalation of the Yemeni civil war in 2015, the Azraqayn landfill has no longer been operating at full capacity.
Waste collection was reduced to 30 trips per month, andonly some of the collected waste made it from the transfer station to the landfill.
The waste processing building at the al-Azraqayn site was destroyed in 2015, and the landfill's weighbridge
is damaged and not operational.
As of 2018, almost a third of the city's garbage trucks
had been damaged during the fighting and another 18% were not operational.
Most Sanaa neighborhoods in 2018 reported insufficient coverage by waste management
As of 2018, the city's waste collection services cover 70% of the city's population, which is higher than al-Hudaydah
(50%) but lower than Aden (80%).
As of August 2015, the city of Sanaa employed 19 people as waste pickers
for use in recycling
: 4 at al-Azraqayn and 15 (12 men and 3 boys) at Sanaa Transit Station.
Houses in old Sana'a. Ibex and Bull were sacred animals in ancient Yemen. Yemenis put Ibex or Bull horns at top of houses to protect from evil eyes.
A house in Sana'a
House with traditional ''Qamariah''
A dome in old Sana'a
Night streetscene in Sanaʽa, Yemen
Narrow street in Sanaa
Tower houses in Sanaa
Tower houses in Sanaa
Ground-level view of a tower house
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Sana'a
Wikivoyage has a travel guide for Sana'a
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Last edited on 2 May 2021, at 22:50
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