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Commercial activities in the midst of Old Sana'a city
Service activities; particularly related to trade, crafts and other general provision; are spreading in Yemen and other Arab countries. The objective behind analyzing these activities; which are considered among the most vital and important within the Yemeni cities and towns; is to derive a simplicity in understanding the mechanism of urban economy, and its impact in organizing the scale broadness of a single city or town internally and externally.
This article is to explain the study conducted for analyzing the trading compounds related to Sana'a city. Such gatherings are found within three classified ranges:- 1-Markets of Sana'a old city; 2-The trading district-area in Bab-al-Yemen; and 3-The modern commercial compounds around Al-Tahir Square and the two streets of Ali Abdul Mughni Gamal Abdul-Nasser.
a)The Commercial Complex of Sana'a Old City:- Sana'a is distinguished by two types of centralization: one that is represented by the presence of one trading complex surrounding the Big Mosque located in the center of Sana'a Old City, while the other is another modernly-existing trading center found occupying the area of Al-Tahrir Square, and the two closely-associated streets officially named Ali Abdul Mughni and Gamal Abdul Nasser. Before the sixties of this century, the complex surrounding the Big Mosque used to constitute the main center of the city Sana'a. This type of centralization depended on the economic specification of the market on one hand, and on the cultural and religious specification of the Big Mosque. In the year 1986, the market was comprising 1700 trading shops that had have tight relation with the surrounding rural world. The peasants from the plateaus and mountains used to come and sell their products, while they are supplied with their requirements of handicraft tools and industrially-transformed products. Apart from those functions, the market represented a scope for integration of the rural people with the urban society of the capital. Till now, it is playing an important social and cultural role by the fact that it is the location of marketing certain essential products and a settlement of practicing the social traditions. Pre-conducted researches on Yemeni markets enabled us to point out the geographical distribution of its activities on one hand, and indicating; on the other hand; the importance of certain by-related activities. It also assisted in understanding the framework of this commercial activity that is considered the most important poles of urban centralization.
b)The Commercial framework related to Old Sana'a City:- Here, a quantitative study of the commercial infra-structure of Sana'a markets showed that it resulted in having an evaluation which gave a vast differential in their activities been performed within these ancient-urban trading settlements found in this city of the Middle East region. The study was based on a field-questioner research that concentrated on an overall inventory of the currently conducted trade in these markets:
(i) The trading shops' dominance:- The first observation derived form the market's infrastructure had been the significant emerging of the business. The inventory involved 1911 groceries and manufactured-products' shops found within the boundary of the old city. During conducting the survey, 1675 shops were open for business, while 112 were shut, and another 124 were kept as warehouses. These activities were distributed among 41 markets, which were accounted in the inventory. The sale area was measured 3700 square meters. This means that for every 100 residents, eleven shops were available. This area when to be inter-connected with the number of shops, we can find a geographical limitation mostly occupied by commercial transactions. Such large concentration for trading only inside such a zone had only to form a response to the various requirements and needs of the clients, and in compliance with their related geographical and social background. As for the old city, the average density per one acre of land witnessing these activities varied respective to either the residential locality or trading sector. Thereafter, any analysis on distribution of such activities inside the market, and respective to its sectors, may correspondingly focus the predominance of commerce, or, trading movement, on the economic daily-living related to that traditional society. Sale of commodities accounted for the ratio 65% (i.e 1091 shops) against 25% related to the craftsmanship, and only 10% as services. Moreover, the diversification of each sector had also to be added to the above-described variations. Precisely speaking, in the aspect of business, there have been sale activities of products particularly displayable for the occasions e.g. households, textiles, clothes and footwear. These represented 42% of the overall market, while daily merchandise (foodstuffs) and the rural tools respectively represented 14% and 9%. (ii)The fashionable merchandise:- It is correct to say that in the old city a collective form of activities related to fashionable commodities had have existed, and consisting of two classes: clothing and foot- wares as one, and household utensils the other. Both represented 14% ratio of the total number of the shops (i.e. 669 shops of sale). From within this trade class, the business of textile and sale of all clothing varieties were found the most usual pattern. These were held by 404 shops. The remaining activities had been dispersed among the shops selling silver ornaments and products of near-by territories. Mid-ranged Merchandise:- This meant the business of daily consumption: foodstuffs such as coffee, dates, spices etc. as one range, and that of semi-manufactured goods e.g. sugar, daily-used tools, household necessities. Both represented 14% ratio (i.e. 340 shops) of the total market economy of the city. It is to be noted that the markets of old Sana'a city had have not been accustomed to welcome perishable goods for sale, such as fruits, vegetables, fish, mutton. They had for a longtime been kept out of the old city's walls. (iii)Non-steady business markets:- This included the rural man-made products, qat, tobacco, and other transformable (medical herbs, "al-shamma", etc, etc.). It represented 9% of the total number of the market shops (i.e. 125 only). Generally, the retailers had been the majority in this market. Thus, it is positive to indicate that commercial activities prevailed all through the early decades to constitute the economic infrastructure of the old City; particularly since the last twenty years, or so, when such activities had continuously represented two-third of the city's trading shops. However, it is important to indicate that the sector of foodstuffs had have undergone serious transformations that lead to the diminishing of their related stores, but have been so far compensated by the growth of newly-specialized shops trading in clothing, foot -wares (236 shops in 1971 against 486 in 1991). The other business sectors had have noticed marginal increase, or expansion, and as respective in general to the rate of demand felt by the market. c) Handicrafts As it plays a more important role in the old city than in its new centers, it was found to represent 25% of the overall economic activities of all the markets. Handicrafts have been known of its variation within their geographical structuring and distribution. They represent activities inherited generation after generation. These have had since long been rooted within the "depths" of the city living environment (e.g. dyes and coloring of threads and textile fibers, iron smith, etc. etc.). In the old days, these crafts were known perhaps the most important economic activity in Sana'a, and its related boundaries. However, due to the fierce competition of imported commodities, new crafts have had emerged perhaps in response to development of the consumption related to the well-off residents of the old city. These are particularly noticeable in the maintenance and repair of transport vehicles, and repairs of usable houfu. In general, two classified ranges of handicrafts had have been maintained: the first for the service of the poor-class while the second for those comparatively well-off within the society. In the first range, one can find local industries of textiles, leather-wares and metals. As a sector, it was found to comprise a 89% ratio of the total shops related to the city's craftsmen (i.e. 286 shops). Still, the business of metallic utensils had an important presence in this market as it represented 55% of the overall activities related to the field of craftsmanship (i.e.178 shops). Nevertheless, such traditional crafts had well been known dependable on the availability of locally-oriented raw materials and remains of usable materials. This is why the number of shops related to the business decreased to 417 in 1991 as compared to 527 in 1971. Respectively, too, in the field of precious metals, a large number of silver smiths swapped to the business of gold due to the increase demand of this metal that came about from the tremendous increase of the dowry required in both urban and rural districts for the marriage occasions. This is beside other factors e.g. the incoming transfers of foreign currencies from the Yemenis living abroad to their families and relatives in Yemen. The textile and leatherwares business had diminished to the half proportion. As Dostall in 1971 counted the presence of 224 shops, there were only 109 in 1991. The reasons behind that had been the changing pattern of mentalities, and the alteration of the consumption standards and tastes. Of course imported products gradually came to replace such vanishing crafts. d) The Services: There were found commonly represented by the presence of the cafes, restaurants, and money-exchange centers. Moreover, it is important to note the role playable by the "middlemen" as they previously formed an essential part of facilitating the functions of many markets related to Sana'a old city. While they were 28 men working about 35 years ago, they become 9 only in 1991, and were found dealing in selling products, such as raisins and coffee-husks, kept in warehouses. The money-exchange centers have since 1964 experienced a great rise in business. While Dostall counted only 3 shops in 1971, they have become about 71, or even more, during the year 1991. Upon taking the business volume of the markets in Sana'a, one could easily remark that the quantitative relationship between its trading shops represented a larger quantity comparable to the handicraft and service-related like-wise business. This is even true respective to the geographical distribution. However, as such this had have not so far affected the variation feature characterized by the trading sectors activating in the city's markets. e) Market allocation of the trading shops:- The commercial activities in Sana'a city have not only been distinguished by being of wide level of variance, but also of its inter-related differentiation within the territorial geographical distribution. In other words, it is possible to point out that old Sana'a markets can be classified into two categories: specialized and miscellaneous. These have had their importance not only confined within the framework of geographical limitation inside the city alone, but also due to other additional factors of distinction related to some of its own urban installations. Distributing the activities as per the local regions means relating the trading stores and groceries-each category forming one trading complex to certain specifically-located and small locations. Generally, each location had been found to have either square, or somehow rectangular dimension, whereas density night varied form one market-location to another. The activities might also collectively extended as one parallel-straight line i.e. an extension of urban-gathering features within one zone starting from the southern direction of the city to the northern. Specifically, it means right from Bab-Shoub (the northern-direction gate of Bab-al-Yemen) to Bab-al-Yemen zone to the south, or vice-verse. This lining distribution did represent a continuos path of trading activities overlooking the main roads that were not interrupted by any residential building , and have regulated density of daily traffic. More usually, one should notice that these trading shops themselves have dominated such markets by being distributed within each side-lining of their allocated locations.
f) The specialized markets:- Certain markets are either named respective to their specialization in activity, or as per their old known-naming. For instance, "Al-Qat" market is one location for sale of qat, while the "silver market" had been the one pre-engaged specifically in the handicraft manufacturing of silver ornaments. Generally, the markets of Sana'a old city may be defined as sales centers of specialized manufactured goods. In total, they have had been counted (in 1991) 27 centers comprising 78% out of overall activities (i.e. 268 shops). Thus, this specialized business accounted a percentage ratio 13.7, whereas the sale of miscellaneous goods have had 22%. However, the markets that were found selling foodstuffs and beverages had actually constituted the centralized nucleus for all other markets. This alternatively means that the market of salt and fenugreek (known as hulba in Arabic) also specialized in the selling of spices, while in the cereals market wheat and dried-vegetables have been found. Again, in the coffee-husk market dried-fruits were sold. One exception to that general pattern, had been the fact that the market for sale of products locally arriving from the rural districts have had always been located adjacent, or very close, to counterparts engaged in selling foodstuffs. The other category of specialized markets have been found in concern of selling garments and textiles. In addition, the operation of foreign money exchanging was found in within. Both of such activities have been closely found in the textiles market locally known "souq-baz"). The latter has been generally known one of the most important markets of Sana'a old city. However, this category was found comprising of 175 shops, out of which 48 were specifically kept for foreign-money exchange. On the other hand, there had been three main markets for sale of garments and shoes, but their existence was found dispersible within the geographical limitation of the old city. Such characteristics were also true to apply for the salt market in which also was found the presence of foot-wares and "Ganabia" enclosures.
g) General Markets:- According to the results of the inventory brought about through our survey of 1991, general markets should be defined as those that sell all products. These were counted a total of 368 shops existing as groceries of sale of miscellaneous products, but occupying an important status within the scope of activities related to the territory. Even more, one should find a collective form of activities that have had been incorporated within the ranges of sales and production, and been related to such commercial centers. These markets may still be situated by the extension of the zones featured by such activities. Their clients are from various population groups and classes, though some non-stationed sellers may be found here in the same way as in the specialized markets. Therefore, Sana'a markets proved to be not just economic compounds geographically situated in the midst of the old city, and on the basis of describing them all, or each, as urban centers. Though their main objectives till now are as such, but they play a role within which they are wholly characterized the center of the whole capital Sana'a. Determining the location of such markets, however, represents a response of the requirements of the clients, who have also happened to be near-by them.
h)Bab-al-Yemen Commercial Zone:- Bab-al-Yemen zone acquired centralized importance to its location opposite the main entrance to almost whole territory of the old city, and for its specification to be the last terminal for the communication of buses and lantransport vehicles moving between the cities, and internally around the capital Sana'a. Besides, for some regions, the main terminal of taxis travelling out of Sana'a has been for a long time fixed there. As partially considered a specialized business location, it is connected basically with both the import of foreign products and marketing of locally-assembled constructed ranges of products. Being, too, permanently-moving markets, there have been after the 1962 Revolution; and, along the two opposing lines extending from the northern direction of Bab-al-Yemen's square; a number of rented buildings opening as restaurants, cafes, inns, travel agent offices, and other groceries. The zone's foot-paths have been seen occupied by day-to-day sellers of newspapers; used books and novels; sewing necessities; soap; cigarettes, sweets; radio-sets; certain sorts of packed foods, and seasonal fruits. The rural population groups have been often found roaming that zone. Generally, the majority of traders activating out of the surrounding wall of Bab-al-Yemen's zone have been found originating from urban regions and various Yemeni villages, while the merchants of the old Sana'a markets are basically the citizens of the capital, and its original residents. ____________________________ Source: An article published in "Yemen" periodical Issued by the Information Bureau of Yemen's Embassy in Paris, France Author: Nafissa Al-Washali in French-text study. Translation from French to Arabic: Hameed Al-Awadi