Historic Town of Zabid
Historic Town Of Zabid
Cultural Yemen Arab States Province D'al-hudayda

Zabid was of great importance in the Arab and Muslim world for many centuries because of its Islamic University. In the 13th-15th centuries it was also the capital of Yemen during the Rasulid period. Its architecture profoundly influenced that of the Yemeni coastal plain: the domestic architecture of Zabid is the most characteristic example of the Tihama style of courtyard house, which is to be found over a wide area of the southern part of the Arabian Peninsula.

The city, which is roughly oval in plan, is situated on a flat clay area sloping gently towards the north. It is not certain when it was founded, but it was large enough to become the centre of a province when Muslim power was established in this fertile region in AD 631;it was originally called al-Husayb, but it is not certain when the name was changed. Its development is due to the founder of the Ziyadite dynasty, who was sent to the region by the Caliph al-Mamun in 820 to quell a rebellion. The Tihama was sacked on two occasions during this period by religious revolutionaries, but rebuilt.

Between 1021 and 1159 the palace and part of the fortifications were destroyed and the town contracted in size. From 1216 until 1429, Rasulid rulers encouraged learning and built schools for teaching the Koran and the sciences (madrasas ), along with the necessary hostels for students, all over the region: of the 62 madrasas recorded in Zabid, 22 still survive. Zabid lost its political and economic importance under the Tahirid dynasty (1454-1538), but retained its role as a university. With the establishment of Ottoman rule, Zabid was completely neglected in favour of the capital city, Sana'a.

With the exception of Sana'a, Zabid has the highest concentration of mosques in any Yemeni city: 86 in all. The core of the town of Zabid is its first mosque, the Mosque of Asa'ir. The Great Mosque lies to the west of the town, possibly on the site of the ancient musalla , an open place for prayer used for meetings. The souk (market) spread from the Asa'ir Mosque towards the Great Mosque. A network of streets and alleys, some as little as 2 m wide, spreads over the town, occasionally opening out into small squares. The only large open space is that in front of the citadel. Each of the 'blocks' formed by the streets has a passage allowing access to the houses.

The basic unit of each house is a rectangular room (murabba ), open on one of its longer sides to an irregularly shaped courtyard, which is surrounded by high blank walls on the street side. The corners of these courtyards are occupied by wells, latrines, washing places and kitchens. This type of structure, built from baked brick, predominates in Zabid, but there are small areas of humbler huts of unbaked clay roofed with straw or constructed of reused wooden planks. They nonetheless conform to the basic room plus courtyard module.