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Zabid, Yemen

Brick Buildings of Zabid

Elaborate patterns adorn the city's disappearing traditional architecture. 

Like many Yemeni towns, Zabid is an old, interesting city rich with cultural and religious artifacts. An intricate set of labyrinthine alleys criss-crosses the city, beyond which stand centuries-old clay brick houses. Their facades have beautifully elaborate stuccoed patterns that draw from Arabic, African, and Indian traditions. 

Keep an eye out for intricate abstract designs, floral patterns, animals, and calligraphy. These patterns also extend to the interior of some houses. Some buildings even feature the Star of David, which attests to Yemen’s Jewish tradition and Zabid’s past as a hub for culture and religion.

The traditional buildings are constructed from a mix of clay and mud brick, limestone, and wood. Some even have thatched roofs. It’s a style of architecture that appears throughout the Tihama plain, but is most common in Zabid. 

Unfortunately, newer buildings are threatening some of its most exquisite traditional brick architecture. A worrying number of these historic houses have been replaced by concrete buildings inside the city walls. A small population boom after the Gulf War prompted people to either renovate the old buildings or replace them with newer structures. Some of the traditional houses that managed to survive tend to remain neglected due to poverty.

According to UNESCO, around 40 percent of the city’s historic structures have been compromised, prompting it to put the city on its “List of World Heritage in Danger.”  

Zabid is one of the oldest settlements still inhabited in Yemen. Based on historical records, it was already in existence by 631 A.D. Zabid eventually became the capital of Yemen from the 13th to the 15th century. A thick wall surrounds and defines the boundaries of the city.

The construction of the Great Mosque (Asa’ir) was started in the 9th century. It’s still standing in all its ancient majesty, and is just one of the city’s 86 mosques. With slightly more than 800 people living in the city, there is more than one mosque per 10 people, giving Zabid the highest concentration of mosques in Yemen.