Background Information on Yemen

North Yemen became independent of the Ottoman Empire in 1918. The British, who had set up a protectorate area around the southern port of Aden in the 19th century, withdrew in 1967 from what became South Yemen. Three years later, the southern government adopted a Marxist orientation. The massive exodus of hundreds of thousands of Yemenis from the south to the north contributed to two decades of hostility between the states. The two countries were formally unified as the Republic of Yemen in 1990. A southern secessionist movement in 1994 was quickly subdued. In 2000, Saudi Arabia and Yemen agreed to a delimitation of their border.

Yemen is slightly larger than twice the size of Wyoming (USA)

Population: 20,727,063 (July 2005 est.)

Religions: Muslim including Shaf’i (Sunni) and Zaydi (Shi’a), small numbers of Jewish, Christian, and Hindu

Local long form of country name: Al Jumhuriyah al Yamaniyah

Local short form: Al Yaman

Number of Governates (muhafazat, singular – muhafazah): 19

Abyan, ‘Adan, Ad Dali’, Al Bayda’, Al Hudaydah, Al Jawf, Al Mahrah, Al Mahwit, ‘Amran, Dhamar, Hadramawt, Hajjah, Ibb, Lahij, Ma’rib, Sa’dah, San’a’, Shabwah, Ta’izz (You can find out more about the governates here)

Source: CIA World Fact Book, 2005





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San‘a’ (Yemen   ) 


Location in Yemen

Coordinates: 15°24′16.92″N 44°12′24.12″E / 15.4047, 44.2067
Country Flag of Yemen Yemen
Admin. division San‘a’ Governorate
– Mayor  
Elevation 7,218 ft (2,200 m)
Population (2004)
– Total 1,747,627

Ṣan‘ā’ (Arabic: صنعاء, sometimes spelled Sanaa or Sana’a) is the capital of Yemen and the center of San‘a’ Governorate. San‘a’ is located at 15.354722° N 44.20667° E and has a population of 1,747,627 (2004 census).





San‘a’ lies in the heart of Yemeni highlands on a plateau at an altitude of 2,200 m (7,220 ft) surrounded by several mountains, notably Jabal Nuqum and Aiban. It has a cool and dry climate and in the winter time light frost is possible. Extreme recorded temperatures are −3 °C (27 °F) and 34.4 °C (93.9 °F). The city enjoys a fair weather during the months of April to October. Afternoon thunderstorms are common which brings much of San’a’s annual rainfall. The city is around 370 km (230 mi) north of Aden, the economical and financial centre of Yemen.


San‘a’ is one of the ancient Yemeni cities dating back to the Sabaean dynasty of the 6th Century BC. The oldest written reference to its existence is found in inscriptions which date back to the 1st Century AD. It is suggested that San‘a’ was the capital of the Himyarite kingdom at the onset of the 6th Century AD.

When King Yousef Athar (or Dhu Nuwas), the last of the Himyarite kings, was in power, San‘a’ was also the capital of the Ethiopian viceroys, then after 570 of the Persians.

As of the dawn of Islam until the detachment of independent sub-states in many parts of Yemen Islamic Caliphate, San‘a’ persisted as the governing seat, who himself is Caliph’s deputy in running the affairs of one of Yemen’s Three Makhalifs: Mikhlaf San‘a’, Mikhlaf al-Janad and Mikhlaf Hadhramawt. The city of San‘a’ recurrently assumed an important status and all Yemenite States competed to control it.

The Mamelukes arrived in Yemen in AD 1517. Following the collapse of the Mamelukes in Egypt at the hands of the Ottoman Turks, Yemen fell under the Ottoman Rule and during the first Ottoman rule of Yemen between 1538-1635, San‘a’ became the capital of the Ottoman Vilayet and also during the Ottoman second rule 1872-1918. In 1918, San‘a’ was the capital of Imam Yahya, who ruled North Yemen. At the onset of the 1962 revolution which deposed the imamate rule, it became the capital of the Yemen Arab Republic. It was then the capital of unified Yemen in 1990 where it is dubbed as the historical capital of Yemen.

Main sights and culture

Old City

The old, fortified city has been inhabited for more than 2,500 years and contains a wealth of intact architectural gems. It was declared a World Heritage City by the United Nations in 1984. Efforts are underway to preserve some of the oldest buildings, some of which are over 400 years old. Surrounded by ancient clay walls which stand six to nine metres (20-30 ft) high, the old city boasts over 100 mosques, 12 hammams (baths) and 6,500 houses. Many of the houses look rather like 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.

Backstreet in the city. 

Backstreet in the city.

One of the most popular attractions is Suq al-Milh (Salt Market), where it is possible to buy not only salt but also bread, spices, raisins, cotton, copper, pottery, silverware, antiques, and a host of other goods. The majestic seventh century al-Jami’a l-Kabir (The Great Mosque) is one of the oldest in the Muslim world. Bāb al-Yaman “Yemen Gate” is an iconized entry point through the city walls and is over 700 years old.

Cultural Arab Capital

San‘a’ was designated as the Arab Cultural Capital for the year of 2004. Notable cultural activities included a musical concert by the European Philharmonic Orchestra of Magdeburg, Germany.

Demographic evolution

Old City of San‘a’*
UNESCO World Heritage Site
State Party Flag of Yemen Yemen
Type Cultural
Criteria iv, v, vi
Reference 385
Region Arab States
Inscription history
Inscription 1986 (10th Session)
* Name as inscribed on World Heritage List.
Region as classified by UNESCO.
Year Population
1911 20,000
1921 23,000
1931 25,000
1940 80,000
1963 100,000
1965 110,000
Year Population
1975 134,600
1981 280,000
1986 427,505
1994 954,448
2001 1,590,624
2005 1,937,451


Sana’a International Airport is Yemen’s main domestic and international airport.

The 1,000-year old Bab Al-Yemen (the Gate of Yemen) at the centre of the old town. 

The 1,000-year old Bab Al-Yemen (the Gate of Yemen) at the centre of the old town.

Clay houses in San‘a’. 

Clay houses in San‘a’.

The residence of Imam Yahya in the Wadi Dhar near San‘a’. 

The residence of Imam Yahya in the Wadi Dhar near San‘a’.