Preservation of Zabid on the World Heritage list constitutes a major contribution to the national image of Yemen as a cultural tourism destination.
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 modeled after the circular layout of Baghdad where the Abbasid Caliphate was stationed.
Dating back to 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 middle of the sixteenth century. By the early seventeenth century, Zabid had become a modest local town.