The capital city of Yemen, Sana'a is one of the oldest populated cities in the world. Historically, its strategic location has allowed it to control the movement of trading networks, governing access from the Indian Ocean and Mediterranean to the Red Sea ports. Sana'a has been a site rich in Islamic architectural history since the seventh century, when Islam was largely adopted in Yemen. Sana'a's architectural heritage is a culmination of influences and styles; containing elements of Umayyad, Rasulid, and Ottoman architecture. Particular to Sana'a is a vibrant tradition of vernacular architecture, known for its use of carved timber, stone, and stepped masonry in multi-level houses. The western city has historically been the site of palatial architecture, including the notable Ayyubid "Sultan's Garden." Other notable complexes include a number of caravanserais and public hammams. In 1974, legislation required that all new buildings be executed in accordance with the traditional Yemeni styles. In 1986, the old city was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Much of the Old City has since been destroyed, as a result of bombings throughout 2015.
The Yemeni government represented in the General Organisation for the Preservation of Historical Cities signed an agreement with the United Nations Development Programme in Sana'a for the establishment of a handicraft centre. The aim being to preserve and revitalise the handicrafts.
Strategic goals for the establishment of a national handicraft centre included:
A cultural goal, to preserve the still existing handicrafts and revive the vanished ones through. The making of economic feasibility studies and identifying ways of developing and improving these handicrafts;
An economic goal, to generate income and provide jobs; and
A social goal of informing people about the importance of handicrafts works, encouraging the role of women and integrating it with the development process.
It was decided to take Bait Muthar in Harat al Felehi as the centre for women's handicraft because of its historic and architectural value. Belt Muthar was built in 17th century as a school for teaching Quranic and Islamic legislation. The house was built from volcanic stones and from baked brick. Bait Muthar consists of two floors (main building) with the additional four floors added early in the 19th century. The house underwent a complete restoration using traditional techniques and materials and was carried out by skilled craftsmen.
This project makes up part of the larger Old Sana'a Conservation project.