There are quite a few camels to be found in Sana’a old town - they are rarer than sheep or goats but in my experience more common than cows! I must admit that meeting cows being herded down a crowded street in the old town rather surprised me. The camels work behind large doors on the ground floor of the buildings. I was told that the camels only work two hours a day, during which they grind sesame seeds to oil in interesting old stone mills. Given their short work day, the camels can be a little hard to find or spot. So here are some pointers to help you check out four locations that are all within about 200 meters of Sana’a old town’s most easily identifiable feature: The Bab Al Yemen (Gate of Yemen). With four places to look, it should be possible to spot a camel!
This pictured camel is officially blindfolded and milling sesame seed. People seem to have difficulties telling the difference between a blindfold and headphones. The truth is this camel is wearing headphones and listing appropriate camel music on its MP3 player! A classic camel music hit is “Nellie the Camel,” see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9m7tPikH0UA - so no wonder the camel looks so content!
Directly opposite the gate, there is a doorway where you can frequently see a camel. See picture no. 2: The first doorway that hides a camel is the one in the dead centre of the photo with a white arch above it. So come into the old town through the gate, go straight down the middle of the street and continue straight onto the pavement between two stalls. From this doorway, if you follow the square/street left about 50 meters you will find a second sesame seed mill operated by a camel on your right. Finally, for the third and fourth (both more difficult to spot) locations, go back to the first doorway. From there go around the corner and follow the main (tourist) street for about 50 meters to a small square, continue diagonally left on a street for about 20 meters and there will be yet another doorway on your left with a sesame seed mill. For the fourth location, continue up the street for another 50 meters and the fourth possible camel will be on your left.
THIS IS NOT THE NATIONAL MUSEUM! The Museum of Traditional Arts & Crafts is housed in the former residence of an Imam. I got quite excited about visiting this living history museum after speaking to an English student studying Arabic here. It is just of the main Midan al-Tahrir (Tahrir Square) and before you get to the National Museum. I got up early and arrived at the opening time of 8am. I went past the massive fortified door (pictured) into the courtyard and expected to start my tour. Then I found out it is under refurbishment!
If you do get inside, it is supposed to be not only displays of traditional art and craft, but also a living example of life in one of the towers of the Old Town. There is an example of the traditional ‘Mafraj’ – a sitting room at the top of houses where men go to chew Qat and talk about the issues of the day. I only saw the outside of the building which is a great example of the ‘San’ani’ style of what I would call a medieval skyscraper. They are built with an unknown quantity of rock, stone, bricks, mud (yes mud) and paint. This one is well preserved, but many in the old town lean or have literally fallen into dust.
I am told the displays are fantastic. I hope it is now back open to the public.
For the average tourist this is more a cabinet of curiosities than a collated exhibition: since it is generally only labelled in Arabic the informative content of many exhibits is either compromised or entirely lost. A prime example is the barrier which used to be one of the checkpoints before the 1993 reunification of the counrt: without a label, just a pair of oil-drums and a pole. And likewise the sand-table exhibit which I'm sure gives a good account of the battle for Saana in 1964.
If you visit Yemen, you MUST take home a Jambiya - or 2. The Jambiya is worn by virtually every man in Yemen. They are everywhere! If you do buy and take home one or 2, do not forget the belt. They are often very ornate and hand woven.
The absolutely huge versions of the Jambiya worn by men on the street are razor sharp and proper deadly weapons. The price would not be cheap and the airlines might have something to say about it being in your luggage. Smaller versions (pictures) are more decorative than functional, but only cost about $5 - if that. So take a bit of Yemeni culture home with you!
Bayt Baws is a cliff top village on the southern outskirts of Sana'a. It was abandoned in the 1990'ies after the inhabitants sold their land to accommodate the expansion of Sana'a. The village was inhabited for 2,500 years and according to my guidebook it was a Jewish village.
The National Museum is worth a visit. I had trouble getting in, as I always found it closed in the afternoon. The official opening (and it seems to follow the hours) is Saturday through Thursday 9.00 am to 12.30 pm. Admittance is 500 Rial.
The adjacent Museum of Traditional Arts & Crafts (to the south/behind the National Museum) has much longer (official) opening hours, but I have yet to find it open. Sometimes you can enter the courtyard.
is local hospitality thing for males, after lunch they all eat Qat, not really eat, just put in their mouth and keep biting for best result :) to make them awake and keep energy
QAT - is a local drag, leaves from tree, that sells everywhere, mostly markets, you will see men selling small bags with green leaves, its not cheap! about 6-7usd per portion! but is all Yemen about QAT - morning preare to buy and wait until after lunch prayer to start 'socialising' and eay Qat :)
PS YOU CANT TAKE THIS WITH YOU
If you stay in one of the old town hotel, it should have a roof top view of the old town by day or by night. Be sure to take nice pics for the night view. I think lighting is only on every Thursday and Friday, not every night.
The gate of old city of Sana'a.
It's been there for 1400 yrs (or so I heard that, CMIIW)
The Old City is very charming, it will bring you to the set of Alibaba/ Prince of persia/ other tale of arabian :)
The houses are soooo old. They made it from mud, wood and brick. Very Unique experience, walking in small alley between this old houses.
e company I was touring with, YemenTrek.com, put me in the Golden Daar Hotel for my brief stay in Sana'a between my time in the Haraz Mountains and Socotra. Tucked in Old Sana'a, next door to the Sana'a Nights Hotel, and a couple blocks from both the Arabia Felix and Dawood Hotels, the Golden Daar was a pleasant surprise. Ignore what Lonely Planet writes about this place. The Golden Daar turned out to be one of the best places I stayed in, with an extremely friendly and helpful staff, clean room, clean bathroom, and quiet. It is a typical tower house with a relatively small staircase to reach all floors.
The room was decently sized with two twin beds and an attached private bathroom. The beds had clean sheets on them, were not too hard, and had soft pillows. The floor was carpeted with a standard, thin carpet seen in most hotels in Yemen. The room was located on the second floor, though still very quiet considering its proximity to the street.
The bathroom was one of the best I had in all of Yemen (for my budget). It was extremely clean, well-maintained (the manager actually came in my room to upgrade a sink part while I was there, even though nothing was broken), had hot water, a sit-down flush toilet, and new tile work.
Though there is no advertised internet availability here, just ask the manager if there is any internet available and he will most likely let you use his office internet connection...for free, no questions asked.
I departed the Golden Daar Hotel at a painful 3 o'clock in the morning. At this hour, the front door is locked. But with the hotel manager sleeping in the lounge next to the front desk, he will gladly wake up to let you out... Additionally, if your ride is late (as was mine), the manager will call your ride to make sure you get to where you are going.
Rooms start at about $20 per night. It is about 20 minutes away from the airport, and within walking distance of anything in Old Sana'a. There is a shared courtyard with Sana'a Nights Hotel that serves breakfast and other meals, though I did not use it as my time there was very short.
If I were to ever return to Sana'a and in need of a good hotel at cheap price, the Golden Daar would be my first choice.
In parts the old city of Sana'a is quite green with pretty trees and gardens, despite the water shortage. If you look closely you will see there are many gardens, the larger ones being close to mosques and orchards. Some are set below street level to get the most water and many are hidden behind houses to grow food.
There are also roof gardens which are more like terraces for enjoying the view - you can sometimes see animals up on the 9th storey terrace.
The National Museum is in an old Ottoman Palace, called “Happy Palace” and was opened in 1987. The exterior of the building is very beautiful and it is nice to view the artifacts in an old building, rather than a modern one. The exhibits are well laid out and well lit, although the building is typical of the old building in Sana’a and has many floors and steps to climb.
There is a lack of dating on some of the exhibits, particularly the older ones and this is because more excavation work is needed at most sites and dates are, as yet, unknown.
Exhibits range in date from pre-Christian times up to recent history and include some inscriptions of the South Arabian language carved into stone dating from 2nd and 3rd century BC, a map of the Frankincense route with incense burners and other related artifacts, guns, swords and jambias, costumes and jewellery and a section on Dame Freya Stark who spent some time in Yemen in the 1930’s.
You can easily spend half a day here it is so interesting. The caretaker is very old and has a bunch of enormous keys for the massive old door.
Sana'a has about 100 mosques, the oldest one being the "Great Mosque." It was built in 630 during the prophet's lifetime and was the first mosque in Yemen.
It has some Sabaean and some pre-Islamic parts from other buildings, and most of the present mosque was built in the 12th century.
You can get a good view of the mosques if you go onto one of the roof terraces - you see many domes and minarets mixed in with the other buildings.
Dating from pre-Islamic times, the suq has 40 different sections and is open air. Like most traditional suqs it is divide into sections by product including coffee, cereals, spices, qat, jewellery, leather, carpentry. The central area used to be the Jewish area. There was a large Jewish population in Sana'a until the State of Israel was created.
The souk is interesting any time of day. However, once the afternoon qat chewing has started, the atmosphere is very laid back and nobody hassles you to buy.
Late afternoon the place to be is the main square when everybody congregates to meet and chat. Men are sitting around smoking and talking, everybody is either chatting or walking about going to the souk and the lights are starting to be switched on in the old houses, illuminating the beautiful stained glass windows.
A good place to observe is from the steps above the art gallery facing the souk.
Great people watching!