|2000||In Danger||Condition of the historic buildings|
|1993||Inscribed||Reasons for inscription| ():
Zabid is an amazing place, quite different from the rest of Yemen. The architecture is more conservative than the mountain and desert areas. Many of the mosques are small, but there are many of them.
Another fairly unique feature is that the settlement has not spread beyond its medieval boudaries, which gives the place a very unique feeling.
The main architectural feature are the carved stucco doorways which can be seen in a number of house componds.
Paul Tanner (UK):
The main glories of Yemen are to be found in Sanaa and the mountains. On either side of these hopwever are 2 other sights – to the east the desert ruins of Marib which are currently only on the WHS Tentative list and, to the west, the WHS inscribed old town of Zabed,
The West side of Yemen consists of a flat low-lying strip of semi desert called “The Tihama”. This area is hot, hot, hot! Facing Africa, it feels very different from the rest of Yemen. If you go there you will probably overnight in the port of Al-Hudayda and Zabed lies a few miles south.
Zabed is one of those WHS which, if it justifies its inscription, does so because of what it has been rather than for what you can see now. From the earliest years of Islam a Koranic university flourished there. It is said that the word “Algebra” (Al-jabr) was coined by a scholar from the town. The very first mosque in Yemen was founded nearby by a local leader who actually visited the Prophet Mohammed in Medina.
The old town is surrounded by walls in mixed state of repair. The main entrance is through a medieval gate and inside there is an area of suqs, a few mosques and a “palace” (19th century). Pleasant enough but, in the heat, not anything to get excited about! The centuries of Islamic scholarship do not come across to the casual non-Islamic visitor!
We were however invited into a couple of the town houses and these were far more rewarding with their patterned white stucco walls and richly painted ceilings in “Islamic” abstract designs. The colors, though not of course the subject matter, reminded me very much of those on the ceilings of churches and monasteries in nearby Ethiopia – the same rich reds, golds and dark blues which on the other side of the Red Sea were used to produce those rows of smiling “saints”.
This brings home the early connections between the 2 sides of the Red Sea – Yemen was on several occasions part of the Axumite empire and was a flourishing Christian and Jewish area before the rise of Islam.
As you cross the Tihama you will come across nomads living in circular reed huts – a reminder that Africa is very close!
Have you been to Historic Town of Zabid? Share your experiences!