Zabid is Yemen’s third Unesco World Heritage Site, but unlike its fellow club members, Old Sana‘a and Shibam, who like to flaunt their beauty for all to see, Zabid likes to keep its secrets well hidden.
The countryside around Zabid has been inhabited since virtually the dawn of humanity, with Zabid itself built around AD 819 on the orders of Mohammed ibn’ Abdullah ibn Ziyad, the local Abbasid governor. Not content with founding a city, he also established the first in Zabid’s long and distinguished line of madrassas (Quranic schools). The city soon became known – both inside and outside Yemen – as a centre of Islamic and scientific learning, and between the 13th and 15th centuries, when it also served as the capital of Yemen, Zabid played host to over 5000 students in more than 200 colleges.
The last 500 years have been less kind on Zabid and the town has gradually faded in importance. Don’t feel sorry, though, because this is just karma paying Zabid back for the pain it has caused school children the world over: it was a scholar from Zabid who was responsible for that school days torture called algebra!
The walled town was declared a World Heritage Site in 1993 and, in 2000, with over 40% of the old city houses replaced with new structures, Zabid was registered on the organisation’s ‘Danger List’, requiring urgent funds for restoration.
Finally, as if algebra and Unesco recognition wasn’t enough, Zabid has another dubious claim to fame. It’s reputedly the hottest town on earth.