The Great Mosque of Sana'a

One of the oldest mosques from the first century of the Islamic calendar
March 24, 2024

The Great Mosque of Sana'a

One of the oldest mosques from the first century of the Islamic calendar
March 24, 2024
Photo by: Ali Al-Sunaidar - "Khuyut"

Mosque Name: 

The Great Mosque of Sana'a.

The Great Mosque from the Inside - Photographed by Shuhdi Al-Sufi – "Khuyut"


It is situated in the southern half of the old city, historically known as "Al-Qatie." It can be accessed from all four directions (from Bab Al-Yemen to the south, Bab Sha'oub to the north, from Al-Silah Palace to the east, and from Al-Qasimi and Al-Abhar to the west).

Construction and Age:

This mosque is considered one of the oldest in Islam, as it was the first mosque constructed in Yemen. It belongs to the ancient mosques built in the sixth year of the Hijra, when the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) appointed Wabr Ibn Yahannus Al-Ansari as the ruler of Sana'a and instructed him to build the mosque. It was constructed between the Mulamlema Rock—a solid, round rock—and the Ghumdan Palace. The rock mentioned now forms the base foundation of the mosque's western wall.

Architectural Style:

 The mosque's architectural style belongs to the traditional style of early Islamic architecture.


Initially, its construction was simple and very small, in line with the early mosque architecture of the time. It was square-shaped, with dimensions of 12 meters by 12 meters, with one entrance from the southern side and containing 12 columns, the most famous of which are "Al-Munqura," the sixth column from the current eastern side, and "Al-Masmura," the ninth column also from the eastern side. It was divided internally into three prayer halls, with the first main mihrab (a niche in the wall of a mosque that indicates the Qibla) located in the northern prayer portico. Over successive Islamic eras, the mosque underwent numerous renovations and expansions. One of the earliest expansions was carried out by the Umayyad caliph Al-Walid ibn Abdulmalik in 86–96 AH (705–715 AD) during the rule of Ayoub Ibn Yahya Al-Thaqafi, which included expanding the mosque from the place of its first Qibla to its current location.

Minaret and Dome of the Great Mosque - Photographed by Shuhdi Al-Sufi – "Khuyut"

During the Abbasid era, the first ruler they appointed in Yemen was Omar ibn Abdulmajeed ibn Abdulrahman ibn Zaid ibn Al-Khattab. He was the one who renovated and constructed the doors for the mosque, which did not have a door before this. The stones of the Great Mosque's doors were transported from the Ghumdan Palace, including the entrance located to the right of the mihrab, adorned with meticulously crafted steel sheets, among which were two panels inscribed in al-Musnad script.

In 136 AH (754 AD), an expansion was carried out under the direction of Prince Ali ibn Al-Rabi'e, commissioned by the Abbasid Caliph al-Mahdi, as evidenced by an inscription in the mosque's courtyard. Another expansion occurred in 265 AH, overseen by Prince Mohammed bin Ya'far Al-Himyari, which included the construction and addition of wooden roofs made of teakwood, particularly in the architecture of the eastern portico. This portico comprises intricately crafted wooden frames and chambers. However, some Yemeni historians attribute the architecture of the eastern portico to Queen Arwa bint Ahmad Al-Sulayhi in 525 AH (1130–1131 AD). The current two minarets underwent restoration in 603 AH ( 1206 AD) by Ward bin Sami after their collapse. In 1012 AH, Ottoman governor Sinan Pasha constructed the structure known today as Al-Shamasi, paving it with stones, and he also built the dome located in the courtyard. Hajj Mohammed bin Ali Sabra repaired the eastern minaret in the early 14th century AH. In 1355 AH (1936 AD), Imam Yahya ordered the construction of the library located west of the eastern minaret.

The mosque's present dimensions closely resemble the layout of the mosque commissioned by the Umayyad Caliph al-Walid ibn Abd al-Malik between 86 and 96 AH (705–715 CE).

The mosque is rectangular in shape, with an area of approximately (68m x 65m). Its outer walls are built with black basalt stone, while the upper balconies are made of bricks and plaster. It has twelve doors: three in the Qibla wall, one of which dates back to ancient times, transferred from Ghumdan Palace and located to the right of the mihrab. In the southern wall, there is one entrance known as the Adeni Gate, preceded by a small dome. The eastern wall has five entrances, and the western wall has three entrances. In the center of the mosque is an open courtyard with an area of approximately (38.90m × 38.20m). In its midst stands a square architectural block with a six-meter side length, covered by a dome housing the mosque's endowments, Qurans, and manuscripts.

The mosque's courtyard is surrounded by four porticos: the Qibla portico (61m × 18.50m) in depth, the southern portico (60.40m × 15.10m), the western portico (39.75m × 11m). In the southern part of the western portico, there is a tomb, known as the tomb of Hanthala bin Safwan. The mosque has a total of 183 columns, including 60 columns in the Qibla direction, 30 columns in the west, 54 columns at the rear, and 39 columns in the east.

The mosque features two minarets: one on its southern side and the other on the western side. The eastern minaret was renovated in the early 13th century AH/19th century CE. This minaret comprises a square-shaped stone base with two entrances: one on the northern side and the other on the eastern side. Atop it is a rounded structure adorned with rows of ornate vaulting, and above the balcony is another hexagonal structure. Each side of this structure has a knotted window, and it is crowned with a small dome.

The history of these columns dates back to the 4th century up to the 6th century AD. As for the coffered ceilings with colorful artistic motifs drawn in a carved manner, they are unique in the Islamic world. The date of the coffered ceiling of the eastern portico is determined to be from the 3rd century AH based on its style, while the ceilings of the western portico and some of its parts date back to the Umayyad period or the early Abbasid era.

The main prayer niche in the Great Mosque of Sana'a dates back to the era of the "Al-Ya'fur al-Hawaliyyin" in the third century of the Hijri calendar. Its decorations are divided into two parts: the first part dates back to 665 AH, as confirmed by a historical text. These decorations are distributed around the prayer niche, its arches, columns, and capitals, as well as on the pointed arch facade. As for the second part of the decorations, they belong to the modern era and are distributed among the other decorative bands surrounding the prayer niche.


  • The Great Mosque of Sana'a (Al-Jami' Al-Kabeer): One of the Oldest Mosques from the First Century of the Hijri Calendar Outside Medina, by Abdulrahman Mohammed Al-Haddad, 2014.
  • The Mosques of Sana'a: Their Construction and Features," compiled and documented by Judge Muhammad bin Ahmad Al-Hajri, Ministry of Culture and Tourism Publications, Sana'a, 2004.
  • The Prayer Niches of Sana'a," authored by Ghailan Hamad Ghailan, Ministry of Culture and Tourism Publications, Sana'a, 2004.

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