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 Qubbat Talhah is an Ottoman mosque in Sana'a that dates to the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries. Constructed on the site of an ancient mosque, it was built by the Governor Muhammad Pasha between 1619-1620. The minaret was also built at this time. In 1831-1832, the mosque was partly renovated by Imam al-Mahdi 'Abdullah ibn al-Imam al-Mutawakkil Ahmad as documented by an inscription in the prayer hall. The mosque precinct is organized around an irregularly shaped courtyard and also includes a hospice.
The square, domed prayer hall is located at the northeast corner of the complex and is preceded by a four-bay portico, facing west. Four pairs of doors provide access to the interior: one from the street to the east, two from the portico and one facing south. Beyond the court to the south are open-air ablution fountains, a covered ablution area, a well ramp (mirna') and quarters that provide accommodations for the poor. These quarters have an adjacent courtyard at the southwest corner of the complex. This court is accessed from the street to the south and is also connected to the mosque courtyard.
The dome of the prayer hall decorated with plasterwork and sits on an octagonal drum, which is surrounded by four corner octagonal turrets on the exterior. Each face of the drum is pierced with an arched window. At the top of the dome sits a crescent-shaped, brass finial (alem). The doors of the prayer hall are set in arched niches and are richly decorated on both sides. The interior of the hall showcases window shutters with carved wooden panels and small cupboard doors that are outlined by wide ornamental frames. The design of the minbar is uncommon, as it is recessed with its staircase carved into the wall.
The minaret is situated off the southeast corner of the prayer hall. It is slightly lower and features stonework different from that of the prayer hall. It has an uncommonly high base topped by a circular shaft, single balcony and a ribbed conical dome. These characteristics indicate that it may not have been a part of the original design of the complex and was probably constructed prior to the prayer hall, being elevated after its construction.
Finster, Barbara. "An Outline of the History of Islamic Religious Architecture in Yemen." In Muqarnas IX: An Annual on Islamic Art and Architecture, edited by Ann Oleg Grabar. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1992.
Lewcock, Ronald B.. The old walled city of San'a', 88. Paris: UNESCO, 1986.
Lewcock, Ronald, R.B. Serjeant, and G. Rex Smith. "The Smaller Mosques in San'a." In San'a': An Arabian Islamic City, edited by R.B. Serjeant and Ronald Lewcock, 381-382. London: The World of Islam Festival Trust, 1983.