History of Sana’a, the eternal capital of Yemen

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Of all the cities of Yemen, Sana’a is undoubtedly the one that has always been able to re-emerge, rightly representing the soul of the country

The words of Ibn Battuta

“After staying a few days as a guest of the Sultan of Yemen, who treated me with great respect and gave me a horse, he continued my journey to the ancient capital of the country, Sana’a; a large, well-built city, with buildings of brick and plaster , many trees, fruit and cultivated fields, where the climate is temperate and the water excellent. “

Ibn Battuta

Sabaean origins

According to the myth, the name of Sana’a derives from Sam, the son of Noah and progenitor of all Semitic peoples; some research, however, has shown how it could instead derive from the Sabaean term for “well fortified”. The very history of the city would be linked to the latter, which was the third capital of the legendary kingdom of Sheba, acquiring an enviable reputation from that moment on. In that period, in fact, Sana’a became one of the most important centers in the world, as well as home to the first castle ever designed by the human genius, built here in the 1st century BC .


With the victory of the Himyarites, the city will gradually lose importance, remaining however among the most famous centers of the whole area and alternating with Ma’rib as the center of local power.

The arrival of Islam

According to tradition, the Prophet sent Ali ibn Talib, his son-in-law, to introduce Islam to Sana’a and the impact was so strong, that the latter was completely converted in a single day, becoming one of the centers of Islam in the Arabian Peninsula. From the eighth to the eleventh century, Sana’a stood out for charm, beauty and prosperity, so much so that it was incredibly praised by poets, travelers and even theologians, who could not shut their mouths in the face of such magnificence.


From 1062 it was conquered by the Sulayhids, who however, by moving their capital to Jibla, will soon give control to the Banu Hamdan. The arrival of Turan-Shah, Saladin‘s brother, will bring the whole of Yemen under the Ayyubid dynasty which, however, will move the capital of Yemen to Ta’izz and the production center to Aden. This will greatly weaken Sana’a, which over time will find itself passively undergoing the political changes taking place in the country, thus passing under Rasulids, Tahirids and Mamelukes.

From the Ottomans to today

In 1538 the Ottoman Empire entered Yemen and in 1547 Özdemir Pasha conquered Sana’a, immediately strengthening its defenses and merchant routes. However, in 1629 the troops of the Sublime Porte were forced to withdraw due to the guerrillas carried out by the Zaydite imams, who would gain control of Yemen until the 19th century. In 1835, however, the Ottoman troops will return to the charge, managing, in 1872, to conquer Yemen definitively.


With the weakening of the Sublime Porte, in 1904 the Zaydite imams took power once again and will carry out a policy of extreme isolation here aimed at confirming their status in the region. With the ascension to the throne of Ahmad ibn Yahya, the capital will once again be moved to Ta’izz, thus finding itself once again passively following the fate of their country. Sana’a will thus pass under North Yemen, returning however to be the capital of the unified Yemen on 22 May 1990.

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