Getting to the bottom of Zabid: the Canadian Archaeological Mission in Yemen, 1982-2011


  • Edward J. Keall


Excavations by the Canadian Archaeological Mission in Yemen between 1987 and 2011 have exposed deposits at depth inside and around the city of Zabid, in some places down to 11 m below today's ground level. These first layers generally date to the ninth century when the city was founded by a military envoy sent by the Abbasid caliph to settle tribal disturbances. Not all of the exposed remains can be judged to be part of a built urban environment. It is apparent that some of these areas were occupied by settlers living in ephemeral homes outside the city. The implications are that the city has not always been the same size. Textual sources and medieval maps describe Zabid as round but from the archaeological record, in the ninth century it was little more than a 0.5 km across. Growth gradually took the city to a diameter of around 1.5 km, which lasted into the sixteenth century. This was followed by a severe reduction in size when in the 1580s the Ottoman forces of occupation demolished houses on the south-eastern side for strategic military reasons. Bricks were recycled to build a fort, and the demolition of buildings enhanced the ability of the Ottomans to fire cannons from the fort. The former circular, but now shrunken, city layout became pear-shaped. The pear-shaped alignment of the wall provided the configuration for building Zabid's most recent wall, built in the early 1800s, which functioned as a city wall with four gates until 1963.





How to Cite

Keall, E. J. (2012). Getting to the bottom of Zabid: the Canadian Archaeological Mission in Yemen, 1982-2011. Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies, 42, 129–143. Retrieved from