The old fortified city has been inhabited for more than 2,500 years, and contains a wealth of intact architectural gems. It was declared a World Heritage City by the United Nations in 1986. Efforts are underway to preserve some of the oldest buildings, some of which are over 1400 years old like the Samsarh or the old Mosque. Surrounded by ancient clay walls which stand 9–14 metres (30–46 ft) high, the old city boasts over 100 mosques, 12 hammams (baths) and 6,500 houses. Many of the houses resemble ancient skyscrapers, reaching several stories high and topped with flat roofs. They are decorated with elaborate friezes and intricately carved frames and stained glass windows.
One of the most popular attractions is Suq al-Milh (Salt Market), where it is possible to buy not only salt but also bread, spices, raisins, cotton, copper, pottery, silverware, antiques (both fake and real) and formerly, slaves. The majestic 7th century Jami' al-Kabir (Great Mosque) is one of the oldest in the Muslim world. The Bāb al-Yaman (Yemen Gate) is an iconized entry point through the city walls and is over 1000 years old.
A commercial area of the old city is Al Madina, where development is proceeding rapidly. In addition to three large hotels, there are numerous stores and restaurants. The area also contains three parks and the President's palace.