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.
Located in the Suq al-Milh area of the city, the House of al-Belayli dates to the seventeenth century with some further work being executed in 1904, (probably the addition of the top floors). It represents an excellent example of the tower houses of Sana'a.
Like many houses in the old city, the House of al-Belayli possesses an ashlar stone foundation surmounted by clay bricks that extend the height of seven stories, making it one of the tallest structures in the historic center. Today it is owned by the government and subdivided into apartments. However, in its original state it would have followed a similar floor plan to other houses in Sana'a with the ground floor serving animal husbandry needs, followed by a floor for storing grains and other goods for the home. Above this would have been an area for receiving guests with the next level featuring the diwan, a large parlor reserved for family celebrations or gatherings. Above this would have been the private family living quarters with the top floor of the house functioning as a reception and entertainment area, usually used in the afternoon by the men of the family and their guests when they assemble to chew qat or smoke flavored tobacco from the traditional water pipes. This parlor is called a mafraj and features low windows that provide views to the city from three sides. With its high ceilings, stained glass windows, heavy wooden doors, ornately sculpted gypsum plaster decoration and Arabic inscriptions, the mafraj in the House of al-Belayli is exceptional and of the finest in the historic city. Above this level, the house features a zihrah, one small room approximately two meters square with surround windows that offer panoramic views of Sana'a. The house owner would have used this privileged space for private reflection or hosting a select group of close friends.
Lewcock, Ronald B.. The old walled city of San'a', 64-83, 92, 113. Paris: UNESCO, 1986.