Sana’ani House: Legend of Yemeni Architecture

National Yemen

Old City of Sana’a

By Tamjid Alkohali

The visitors in old Sana’a can’t hide the surprise in their eyes while they watch the architectural art of old Sana’a’s buildings. They feel as though they are walking in a museum that narrates the story of Yemeni grandparents’ creativity when they built their houses in a style makes them distinct in history.

“I assure you that there isn’t city in the east that looks like old Sana’a city. It has a unique location, walls, buildings, and a unique eastern appearance, which makes walkers in the streets feel that they are going back a hundred years,” said Engineer Abdul Karim Alrody, who took National Yemen on a long tour of the buildings of old Sana’a to show us the beauty of the architecture.

In details, Alrody told us about the architecture in old Sana’a, or Sana’ani houses (as Yemenis call them). He said that the beauty of the architecture in old Sana’a begins from outside. The buildings are very high and are considered skyscrapers, adding to the decorative arts on the walls from outside.

“Usually the Sana’ani house consists of seven floors at least. On each floor, there aren’t more than three rooms. In the middle there are stairs that lead to the rooms,” said Alrody.

According to him, the first floor stones are called the belt. They are built from volcanic stone, while the rest of the floors are made of Alyagoor red stone, combining with white stones between the floors which appears as a colored painting from outside. “The first floor consists of a small garden with a private well for people in the house. Unfortunately, all the walls in old Sana’a have dried up because of the indiscriminate use of water wells while the others were closed by the government, especially after using pipes and water meters in houses,” explained Alrody.

Alrody added that the first floor is also a place for cattle, sheep, and poultry as well as for storing grain such as wheat, barley, and corn. “Yemenis were keen to keep grain for a long time, especially when Yemen suffered from many blockades. The last one was in 1968,” he said. “Downstairs, there is also a place for the grain stone mills, but now it has vanished because of the modern mill.”

Through the narrow stairs, we walked up to the second floor where there were two bedrooms and a living room. “The bedrooms are characterized by the existence of chiseled cupboards on the walls of the house,” said Alrody.

The bedrooms can also be found on the third, fourth, or sixth floors. However, the visitor will notice that the kitchen exists far away from the bedrooms and living room. This is because Yemeni women bake bread by themselves and this causes thick smoke inside the house.

“The last and the most beautiful floor is called Mufraj. It’s a special place to receive the guests. It is the best place in terms of location and view, but the area is small,” explained Alrody.

On other hand, Sana’ani houses are characterized by many touches inside which can’t be found in any other house. For example, the Alghemriaat, or “a big hole that looks like half of a circle above the window.”  It made of colored glass. Through the Alghemriaat, natural colored light enters the house and gives happiness and spiritual ambience.

Furthermore, the decorative shapes on the ceiling of the rooms, made from plaster, especially in the living room and guest rooms add to tools of the kitchen and furniture of the house in general. People in Sana’a use natural techniques to ventilate the house and to maintain the temperature of food. All these things made the Sana’ani house a UNESCO World Heritage Site, despite the spread of many modern buildings. Old Sana’a includes 14,000 vestigial houses on an estimated area of 3,700 meters. The style of Sana’ani houses has spread to other governorates in Yemen, especially the northern provinces.