The Beautiful Sana’a


My friend Fadi has always introduced me to really fascinating stuff, like the works of Amin Maalouf, Carnet de Routes and Suite Africaine, Coltrane’s Olé, and one of my favorite novels of all time, Albert Cohen’s Belle du Seigneur. One thing I particularly enjoy is going to his apartment where he has wonderful things from all over the world. In particular, I always find myself staring at a painting of Sana’a, the capital city of Yemen. Sana’a (not to be confused with the Arabic name Sanaa) is portrayed like an intricate beehive of blues, browns and whites.

The other day, I decided to do some research on the city and found that it is just as interesting as the painting.

Sana’a is a World Heritage City with over two thousand years of history, and is considered one of the most beautiful cities in the Middle East (and the world for that matter).


Not only is the city beautiful, but culturally it has a long history and tradition of diversity and influence. Although Yemen is now overwhelmingly Muslim (Sunni majority with a large Shiite minority), it once had a significant Jewish population and Christians. Most of the Yemenite Jews migrated in the Operation Magic Carpet. Yemen also played a role in influencing the cultures of Ethiopia and Somalia. For example, the popular consumption of the narcotic qaat in Somalia comes from Yemen (which I read about in the novel Knots).

My understanding has always been that Yemen is a fairly dangerous place to visit, even though this has not been confirmed by anything that I have read so far in terms of traveling to Sana’a. For the meantime, though, I will not take the risk and will simply enjoy the photos.



Filed under Digressions, Friends / Family

7 responses to “The Beautiful Sana’a

  1. TheCommentKiller

    it does seem pretty amazing. If you ever decide to go, sign me up.

  2. I’m wondering if we can sign cugino for a travel to a family gathering in August ….

    Inquiring minds want to know …..

  3. TheCommentKiller

    are the dates confirmed? Are you all going?
    I have not received the dates, my parents just told me that maybe this and maybe that in early august.

    If i am able to come, it will only be for a short time as i will have just started a new job and will not be able to ask for much time off. I will be lucky if i can do a three day weekend, but even that is pushing it.

  4. eric

    I don’t know whether I can take much time off this summer. We can discuss offline.

  5. Yemen isn’t dangerous at all. I’m a big goofy American guy who lived in Yemen for two years and will be returning shortly to live again. After a short time in the country I came to feel that I was the safest person in the country.

    As a conservative and very traditional Muslim country one of the Islamic principles that are especially valued by Yemenis is that the guest in Muslim lands are to be protected. I experienced that first hand when working as a journalist during the countrywide riots over the doubling of gas prices. I was following around a crowd of a few thousand angry people and when soldiers opened fire the police and then ordinary Yemenis insisted I be taken to safety. The police officer was pushed out of the way and I asked the others “why me and not you?”. “Because you are a foreigner. You cannot be harmed.” “Are you speaking for the police now?” “No. It is Islam. You must be safe.” And I was walked, hand-in-hand, home to the Old City, (where most of your pictures are from). I left again to tour the ransacked capital and was never in any real danger.

    The kidnappings you may hear about have never ended in deaths except the one time years ago when it was an al-Qaeda group who took the hostages and the government stormed the hideout.

    You want dangerous? I’ve been in Thailand the last few months and I’ve heard of four deaths of tourists since I arrived. This place is a playground of natural selection: bad drugs, violent mafias running much of the tourist industry, drunken soccer hooligans and frat boys, post-apocalyptic driving conditions, gangs of ladyboy prostitutes armed with straight razors, half-trained hungover diving instructors, and a thousand other ways to have a lovely time offing yourself.

    But Yemen’s dangerous? Yeah, I thought that too when I first went there. It seems so quaint when I hear it now.

    Seriously, though, go see Yemen now. There’s simply no other place like it in the world. But it will become a dangerous place in the next decade. There is a sizable group of Yemenis fighting for al-Qaeda in Iraq and they will eventually come home and quite possibly decide to overthrow the government and attacking foreigners would be one easy way to start. Yemen also has some intractible economic problems that are going to tear the place apart over the next 15 to 20 years: they’re currently using 1/3 more water than is replenished each year naturally, they’ve got the fourth fastest growing population in the world, and they’re going to run out of oil in about 5 years which is 70% of GDP. Add in a wealth of other problems and Yemen is headed for failed statehood – think Afghanistan or Somalia.

    So if you’ve been interested in visiting Yemen, then I guarantee you’ll love it. But do it now because the clock is ticking.

  6. eric

    Thanks, Aaron, for your insight. Like I said, it was my understanding that it was dangerous, probably because of rumors of extremist organizations, but none of this was founded in what I have read or heard from people I know who travel their for work.

    Yes, the population explosion (I believe it has a similar birth rate to Somalia) is going to be a huge problem for its unsustainable economic model, something that all faces Saudia Arabia and future unemployment is probably the biggest geopolitical risk in the area.

  7. Deutscher

    “Yemen is a fairly dangerous place to visit” – no it is not, although it seems like that from europa/ the us (e.g. have a look on if you go there, you are anyway not allowed to go to the north where calshes between the government and schia rebels are taking place for a couple of years…
    i have been there 2 years ago, studying arabic. when i returned to sanaa for a short visit two months ago, i was so surprised that it had become much more touristic despite the continuous clashes in the north. there are a number of nice (and mostly cheap) hotels in some of the houses of the historic centre which you see on the pictures above… yemen is a great experience!!

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