Historic Town of Zabid

"Description: Historic Town of Zabid Copyright: © UNESCO Author: Véronique Dauge Source: Véronique Dauge"

“Description: Historic Town of Zabid
Copyright: © UNESCO
Author: Véronique Dauge
Source: Véronique Dauge”


According to the UNESCO World Heritage Website, The Historic Town of Zabid, Yemen’s capital during the 13th, 14th, and15th centuries, contains 86 mosques, the highest cluster of mosques in the country of Yemen and is home to the very first Islamic university. Asa’ir, its first established mosque, is essentially the heart of the town.This layout is significantly unique because it illustrates what a classic Islamic town would look like. The mosques architecture along with the buildings throughout the town share the same framework of brick with stucco designs and decorations. These buildings reflect and remind us of the earliest days of Islam and are important to preserve Yemen’s heritage. The mosques are not only a symbol of the past culture of Yemen, but are also places where past people’s obtained Islamic knowledge and continue to do so as long as it can be preserved. However, its preservation is in danger due to some of the modern advancements that people are attempting to incorporate into the town, looting, and conflict within Yemen’s government.

"A Houthi fighter in Sana'a stands guard over a demonstration against the Saudi-led air strikes on Yemen. (Photo: Khaled Abdullah/Reuters)"

“A Houthi fighter in Sana’a stands guard over a demonstration against the Saudi-led air strikes on Yemen. (Photo: Khaled Abdullah/Reuters)”

Endangering Factors


According to the Archaeology News Network, Zabid has been suffering since the beginning of the Civil War in February of 2015 and continues to  do so. Since 2000, the town has been on the danger list due to a Mission Report stated that nearly 50% of the ancient and cultural buildings were demolished. Airstrikes and bombings have destroyed buildings that have been preserved and beloved since Islam’s original state. These include palaces, city walls and gates, in particular a city wall that had been surrounding Zabid for more than 10 centuries. The government has been overthrown and Zabid is therefore slowly deteriorating  more and more as we speak. A Zaydi Shia rebel movement known as Houthis are now controlling Zabid and violence has resulted as the government tries to gain back control. The LA Times reports that on May 12th, 2015 a local market in this historic town was targeted by the rebel group and 20 people were killed and more than 40 wounded. The people of Zabid along with the cultural heritage constructed within each building are slowly being wiped away by the ongoing conflicts and unstable government.

"Crumbling Islamic Golden Age-period building in Zabid, Yemen. Photo from 2006, by Ahron de Leeuw"

“Crumbling Islamic Golden Age-period building in Zabid, Yemen. Photo from 2006, by Ahron de Leeuw”


Along with violence and destruction that threatens Zabid’s heritage is change in the type of materials used to reconstruct buildings as they are trying to be conserved from the destruction discussed by the UNESCO World Heritage Site. This alteration in not only material type, but also in the overall design and layout of buildings is concerning when they are trying to maintain as much of the town’s integrity and authenticity as possible.

Work Towards Zabid’s Preservation

In 2004 the issue regarding change in material type and modern advancements was zoomed in on as a Master Plan was created for the town according to the UNESCO World Heritage Site, along with a closer look at The Antiquities Law of 1973 that protects it.

An Urban Conservation Plan and Management Plan are also in the works as Zabid’s culture continues to be threatened.

Insights into Global Issues

Preserving the Historic Town of Zabid can help us get a better understanding as to what the Islamic culture stands for and how it functions as well as what a traditional town in Yemen consisted of. The layout of the town reflects the importance of religion to the Islamic community due to the centering of the first mosque and the specific arrangement of the 86 others that surround it. The town experienced multiple golden periods as well as some lower points as it progressed throughout history and by studying and preserving this site we can learn from these highs and lows and their causations. Zabid is an important reflection of the country of Yemen as a whole and therefore it is important that it continues to exist as it makes a big contribution to the cultural tourism of the country according to Mr. Omar Hallaj who is the team leader of the Urban Development and Heritage Conservation Project for Zabid.


al-Alayaa, Zaid and Patrick J. McDonnell

2015 In Yemen, Cease Fire Begins Between Saudi Led Coalition and Rebels. Electronic Document, http://www.latimes.com/world/middleeast/la-fg-yemen-cease-fire-20150512-story.html, accessed December 2, 2016.

al-Falahi, Ashraf

2015 Historic Yemeni City Struggles to Survive War, Corruption. Electronic Document, http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2015/08/yemen-zabid-antiquities-neglect-war.html, accessed December 2, 2016.

Amaya-Akkermans, Arie

2011 Yemen’s Heritage Under Threat: Zabid. Electronic Document, https://archaeologynewsnetwork.blogspot.com/2011/12/yemens-heritage-under-threat-zabid.html#PoQIwToiXPjXQHEC.97, accessed December 2, 2016.

Foster + Partners and Zaha Hadid Architects

2009 Conservation of the Historic City of Zabid in Yemen. Electronic Document, https://historicalcities.wordpress.com/2009/02/07/conservation-of-the-historic-city-of-zabid-in-yemen/, accessed December 2, 2016.

Laub, Zachary

2016 Yemen in Crisis. Electronic Document, http://www.cfr.org/yemen/yemen-crisis/p36488, accessed December 2, 2016.

Mink, John

2009 Top 10 Endangered Heritage Sites-Urbanization. Electronic Document, http://www.cyark.org/news/top-10-endangered-heritage-sites-urbanization, accessed December 2, 2016.

Shaw, Gary

2016 The Threat to Yemen’s Heritage. Electronic Document, http://www.apollo-magazine.com/the-threat-to-yemens-heritage/, accessed December 2, 2016.

United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization

Historic Town Of Zabid. Electronic Document, http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/611, accessed December 2, 2016.

2 thoughts on Historic Town of Zabid

  1. This is a great start! The inclusion of the map helps the visitor orient themselves, but you could think about making it a bit bigger so it is easier to see and read the words on it. Don’t forget to link to your sources! Check out the example archaeological site page to see how we would like you to do the citations (we will go over this in class on December 1st as well).

  2. I like that you included work that is being done to help this site. Are there any future plans to remove it from the endangered site list? What was wrong with the original materials? In your opinion would there be a way to incorporate them was still ensuring the structural stability of the buildings?

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