Zabid is situated in the western lowlands of the al-Hudaydah region of Yemen, about ten miles from the Red Sea. Muhammad ibn Ziyad, an Abbasid emissary, and the founder of the Yemenite Ziyadi dynasty in Yemen, built Zabid as a round, walled city, possibly in the likeness of Baghdad's radial layout, where the Abbasid Caliphate was administrated. Founded around 820, Zabid is one of the oldest urban settlements in Yemen. The Great Mosque of Zabid was constructed in the same year, and its madrasa soon became an international center for Sunni teaching, attracting scholars from all over the Islamic world. The Ziyadi city flourished as the economic, administrative and religious center of Yemen, benefiting from its strategic location on the trade and pilgrimage routes from Aden to Mecca. It maintained its importance through the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, specifically under the Rasulids (1229-1454) who used it as the winter capital of the dynasty. During this period, approximately 240 mosques and madrasas were built throughout the city. After brief periods of Tahirid and then Mamluk rule, the city was incorporated into Ottoman territory in the mid-sixteenth century. By the early seventeenth century, Zabid had become a modest local town, and today, is only a fraction of its former size. Nevertheless, it remains a popular center of Sunni scholarship, foregrounded by the religious community of the Great Mosque.
Other historic monuments associated with Zabid include the Mosque of al-Iskandariyya, and the Complex of Mustafa Pasha, which is located just outside the modern settlement. Small bricks, continuously reused, are the main material of construction in the city.
The "Historic Town of Zabid" was designated a World Heritage Site in 1993.
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