The Pearl of Arabia Felix: A Time-Warped Capital, for Centuries Closed to Foreigners
Sana’a claims to be the oldest inhabited city on earth, and although other cities clamor for the same title, visitors are convinced. Yemen’s capital, said to have been founded by a son of Noah, is bewitching, and its highlight is the ancient medina (non-European) quarter, Old Sana’a. Extraordinarily ornate mud-brick houses – often four or five stories tall and some believed to be more than 400 years old – are built in a unique 1,000-year-old high-rise style.
Colored-glass windows and intricate gingerbread facades embellished or covered with brilliant white gypsum lend a whimsical wedding-cake appearance to the city. Shutters and doors are painted blue, and some of the older windows are made with panes of paper-thin alabaster. The narrow streets seem straight out of the Arabian Nights.
More than forty souks are found within the Suq al-Milh, where frankincense and myrrh are still sold, together with roasted locusts, sticky dates, sequined fabrics, and the spices that make the local cuisine one of the most delicately delicious in the Middle East.