Why I Traveled To Yemen For My Vacation

Travel to Yemen - Burra Mountains, YemenA few weeks ago, I decided that I needed to take a vacation. I just needed to get offline for a while and take a short break from the blog. I don’t take such breaks often but a little time away every now and then sure seems like a wise idea in order to keep me fresh and motivated as much as possible.

So, I began brainstorming potential vacation destinations, thinking long and hard about where I should go…

Perhaps a simple hut on a white sand beach or a quiet mountain retreat? Maybe some picturesque European town or Melbourne, Australia, where many of my friends live?


After talking with my good friend Anil from FoxNomad.com and discovering that he was also up for a blog vacation and a unique adventure, I remembered a particular destination that we had both been interested in traveling to for quite some time. And that was all it took. In an istant we settled on what, at least to us, seemed like quite an ideal place to visit.

Off we went…

On April 20th, at 2.30am, our flight from Istanbul landed at Sana’a International Airport. I obtained my tourist visa sticker from the visa counter, passed through the immigration inspection and collected my backpack. I then took a deep breath before stepping outside into the dark unknown, with the simple words that the immigration officer had said to me while stamping my passport playing over and over again in my mind. All he had said, with a big smile on his face, was…

You have curly hair. Welcome to Yemen. Thank you for coming here.

Sanaa, Yemen

Travel To Yemen?

I know, it’s probably not the destination that most people would think of when they decide to take some time off from work. Not only that, but if you take a moment to look at the websites of almost every Western government, I’m quite certain that the various warnings you’d read would convince you never to step foot in this country…ever.

US Government: “The Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the high security threat level in Yemen due to terrorist activities and civil unrest. The Department urges U.S. citizens not to travel to Yemen. U.S. citizens currently in Yemen should depart. The U.S. Embassy in Sana’a remains a restricted staffing post. As staff levels at the embassy are restricted, our ability to assist U.S. citizens in an emergency remains limited and may be further constrained by the fluid security situation. The security threat level in Yemen is extremely high.”

UK Government: “The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advise against all travel to Yemen and strongly urge British nationals to leave now. If you don’t leave the country now while commercial carriers are still flying it is extremely unlikely that the British government will be able to evacuate you or provide consular assistance. The situation in Yemen remains volatile with continuing unrest and violent clashes. The threat of an escalation of violence and disorder remains. There is a high threat from terrorism throughout Yemen. Terrorists continue to threaten further attacks. There is a high threat of kidnap from armed tribes, criminals and terrorists.”

The question then becomes, “Why would I travel to Yemen? Why would I spend 9 days in a country that appears to be so dangerous?

The answer is easy. This is my drug, it is my ‘high’. Traveling to these kind of destinations, destinations that few people know anything about and that fewer people seem to visit, regardless of whether or not they seem safe, brings me the most satisfaction. It also provides me with the most interesting and eye-opening of experiences by placing me far out of my comfort zone, something that is difficult to reach these days after 13 years on the road.

As most of you know, I want to see the world with my own eyes in order to gain a better understanding about the cultures and people that call this planet home. And with the blog, I am then able to share my experiences in an attempt to break down the collection of inaccuracies, assumptions and misunderstandings that we all have about parts of the world we are really not so familiar with. This is why I travel.

And as simple as that may sound, that’s exactly why I went to Yemen.

My Guides in Yemen

This is also why I have traveled to Lebanon, Syria and Iraqi Kurdistan. It is why I like to spend so much time in India and Mexico and why I lived in Romania, traveled around Montenegro, Albania and Macedonia and so on.

Do I now claim to be an expert on Yemen just because I just spent 9 days there? Absolutely not. But what I do claim is to have seen a decent amount of the country, to have spoken with a good amount of local people and to have gained a much better understanding about this part of the world. And I also have a much better idea as to whether or not this country is a good destination for travelers, something that I will discuss in more detail in the coming weeks.

(I do want to mention that our trip was organized by the wonderful people at Eternal Yemen, a local tour operator based in Sana’a. The reason we used a tour operator is because it is much harder to obtain a tourist visa without going through one and in addition, given the limited tourism infrastructure, you can’t travel independently to many destinations. The only option is to have a driver and guide take you around and you need to obtain travel permits as well. We chose Eternal Yemen simply because of the positive reviews we found online and their impressive service during our email interactions with them. And after meeting the owners and their staff, I would definitely recommend them to anyone thinking about visiting Yemen as well.)

What Is There To See In Yemen?

I must admit that before I traveled to Yemen, I knew almost nothing about what I would find there…turns out I could have stayed for 9 months and probably still not seen it all. In the end, I had to skip many places that I wanted to see and believe me, the list of worthy destinations to visit is remarkably long for a country that sees not even a trickle of tourists passing through these days.

From the mesmerizing old city of Sana’a, to towns and villages such as Shibam, Kawkaban, Manakh, Mahweet, Al-Hajarah, Tawila and more, many of which are perched in the most improbable of locations and appear to have changed little in hundreds of years. There were the colorful canyons, the lush green valleys stretching as far as one can see and the Burra and Haraz mountain ranges, all of which offer landscapes that literally seem out-of-this-world.

Al-Hajarah, Yemen

And I haven’t even mentioned Socotra Island, a truly isolated and alien-esque Yemeni island located in the Indian Ocean, where we spent 3 days, an island that can only be described as a place you MUST see with your own eyes in order to believe it. (Just wait until I write more about this place…for now, here’s two photos to give you a small taste!)

Socotra Island, Yemen

Dragon's Blood Tree, Socotra Island, Yemen

The above destinations, combined with dozens of cups of tea per day, afternoon qat sessions with the locals (chewing a mildly intoxicating leaf for hours on end), military checkpoints, armed escorts, food ranging from superb to bizarre, the most beautiful beaches on Earth, laid-back people, wedding celebrations, two strange flights, barely existent roads, hiking and camping, kaleshnikov guns, talking with students and teachers in remote schools, conspiracy theories, maze-like markets, traditional music and dancing and so much more, turned this trip into one of my favorite trips I have ever been on in all of my travels.

Sure, some things abut Yemen confused me, some things made no sense to me, some things certainly were frustrating or did not align with what I believe is right in this world. But as a travel destination, especially one that manages to truly open the eyes of visitors to a land, culture and people that few of us are at all familiar with, Yemen could not have been better.

Burra Mountain villages, Yemen

Why Did I Keep Yemen A Secret?

To be honest, I was a bit scared. Since I was not fully aware of what the actual safety situation would be for a foreigner, and after reading the government warnings I listed above and hearing such mixed reports about current security issues, I thought it best to keep my whereabouts unknown in order to be as safe as possible.

Was it safe in the end? Well, I’ll dedicate an entire post to that topic soon. Right now, all I’ll say is that I am extremely happy I traveled to Yemen and I never really felt as if I was in any real danger at any time during my trip. In fact, I wish I could have stayed for a much longer period of time.

This is probably why, as I sit here on the rooftop terrace of my guesthouse in Istanbul right now, where I flew to from Sana’a yesterday morning, I often find myself lost in thought, quietly repeating the word “Yemen” dozens of times in a row. Yemen. Yemen. Yemen. I honestly cannot believe that I was just there, that all of the experiences and interactions of the past 9 days actually occurred.

It will take some time for me to process everything that happened but I do know that I have so much I want to share about this trip and I can’t wait to tell you about it all!


Sana’a, Yemen

Yemen is something of a conundrum in the Islamic world.  Geographically the closest country by land to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, it was the first place outside of what is now Saudi Arabia where Islam was introduced.  It then spent well over a thousand years as little more than a forgotten corner of the Muslim world.  Thanks to its strangely ironic geographic isolation, the city of Sana’a has remained virtually untouched by the ravages of wars and conquerors, and has preserved some of Islam’s most ancient treasures.  Foremost among these is the Great Mosque of Sana’a, one of the oldest intact functioning mosques in the world.  It was here that the Sana’a Manuscripts, which include the oldest known copy of the Qur’an, were discovered in 1972.  The Great Mosque of Sana’a and the House of Manuscripts are part of the Old City of Sana’a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


Yemen has always been among the most mysterious places associated with the Abrahamite faiths.  Tucked away at the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, it was a critical center of trade between the Middle East, Africa and India, while at the same time was sheltered by geography from the ravages of wars that racked the region throughout almost the entirety of history.  Religiously significant as the location of the mythical land of Sheba, Yemen has sheltered Jewish, Christian and Muslim refugees throughout its entire history.

Yemen was almost certainly the first country outside of what is now modern-day Saudi Arabia to see the introduction of Islam.  It is possible that some of the followers of the Prophet Muhammad, fleeing persecution, arrived in Yemen as early as the 620s.  The community founded by these earliest Muslims likely predated anything else outside of central Arabia, and is one of the oldest continually active Islamic populations in the world.

From the earliest days of Islam the small kingdoms of Yemen were ruled by an assortment of dynasties nominally loyal to whoever ruled the Caliphate but who were effectively independent for the better part of a thousand years.  Only during the Mameluke and Ottoman periods did the caliphs exert greater control over Yemen, and then only in the north.  Nowhere in the entire Middle East are early Muslim religious and cultural practices as well preserved.  Thus it is perhaps not surprising that one of the greatest ancient caches of Qur’ans and other religious and historical documents turned up in Yemen.

The Great Mosque of Sana’a is one of the oldest continually active mosques in the world.  Though it has been expanded and restored over the centuries, some of its earliest elements date back to the 7th century AD.  During a routine renovation in 1972, workers came across stacks of ancient papers and manuscripts in a long-forgotten attic space.  On further investigation, it was discovered that many of these documents dated to the earliest days of Islam, and included what is believed to be the oldest copy of the Qur’an in existence.  Both the mosque and the manuscripts, which are now kept at the House of Manuscripts, are considered to be the country’s greatest Islamic treasures.


The bright white brickwork of the Great Mosque of Sana’a stands out starkly against the darker, sandy-colored architecture of the surrounding city which presses in closely from all sides.  Laid out in the 7th century AD, the Great Mosque still roughly conforms to its original plans.  The architecture bears a recognizeable resemblance, albeit on a much smaller scale, to the holy mosques of Mecca and Medina.  While there is no dome, a pair of mismatched minarets grace two corners of the courtyard.  These are about the only portions of the mosque which are visible from any distance.  A prayer shrine stands in the center.

The Sana’a Manuscript collection is absolutely enormous, consisting of as many as forty-thousand documents, of which barely a third have yet been examined.  Among these are many old Qur’anic writings, including pages and fragments that have been dated as far back as the mid-7th century, when the Qur’an was first committed to parchment.  The collection is now kept in the House of Manuscripts, a library/research facility built specifically for the restoration and study of these ancient documents.

The Great Mosque of Sana’a is located in the very heart of the Old City.  The House of Manuscripts is close by.  The mosque is open to Muslims only.  There is no cost of admission.  As of this writing, access to the House of Manuscripts was extremely limited due to the delicate (and religiously highly sensitive) nature of its contents.  No other visitor information was available.  Web: www.yementourism.com (official tourism website of Yemen)

Other Sites

The entire city of Sana’a is an homage to the traditional Islamic culture and architecture of Southern Arabia.  In addition to the Great Mosque, some of the highlights include the Bab Al-Yaman (Yemen Gate), which protects the entrance to the city’s ancient Medina; the jaw-dropping, sky-scraping Imam’s Palace; and the recently completed Masjid Saleh, which is now Yemen’s national mosque.  Yemen’s other major Muslim sites are scattered throughout the country.  Notable among these are the Masjid Al-Muhdhar in Tarim and the Shrine of Al-Hoteib in Al-Hkutayb.


The Rub’ al Khali (Arabic: الربع الخالي‎) or Empty Quarter is one of the largest sand deserts in the world, encompassing most of the southern third of the Arabian Peninsula, including southern Saudi Arabia, and areas of Oman, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen. The desert covers some 650,000 square kilometres (250,000 sq mi) (the area between long. 44°30′ −56°30′E., and lat. 16°30′ −23°00′N), more than the combined land areas of the Netherlands, Belgium, and France. The desert is neither inhabited nor traversed by the Bedouin


The desert is 1,000 kilometres (620 mi) long, and 500 kilometres (310 mi) wide. Its surface elevation varies from 800 metres (2,600 ft) in the southwest to around sea level in the northeast. The terrain is covered with sand dunes with heights up to 250 metres (820 ft), interspersed with gravel and gypsum plains. The sand is a reddish-orange color due to the presence of feldspar. There are also brackish salt flats in some areas, such as the Umm al Samim area on the desert’s eastern edge.

Lake beds

Along the middle length of the desert there are a number of raised, hardened areas of calcium carbonate, gypsum, marl, or clay that were once the site of shallow lakes. These lakes existed during periods from 37,000 to 17,000 years ago and 10,000 to 5,000 years ago. The lakes are thought to have formed as a result of “cataclysmic rainfall” similar to present-day monsoon rains and most probably lasted for only a few years. However, lakes in the Mundafen area in the southwest of the Rub’ al Khali show evidence of lasting longer, up to 800 years, due to increased runoff from the Tuwaiq Escarpment.

Evidence suggests that the lakes were home to a variety of flora and fauna. Fossil remains indicate the presence of several animal species, such as hippopotamus, water buffalo, and long-horned cattle. The lakes also contained small snails, ostracods, and when conditions were suitable, freshwater clams. Deposits of calcium carbonate and opal phytoliths indicate the presence of plants and algae. There is also evidence of human activity dating from 10,000 to 5,000 years ago, including chipped flint tools, but no actual human remains have been found.


The region is classified as “hyper-arid”, with typical annual rainfall of less than 35 millimetres (1.4 in). Daily maximum temperatures average at 47 °C (117 °F) during July and August and can reach temperatures as high as 51 °C (124 °F).


Fauna includes arachnids and rodents while plants live throughout the Empty Quarter. As an ecoregion, the Rub’ al Khali falls within the Arabian Desert and East Saharo-Arabian xeric shrublands.


Geologically, the Empty Quarter is the second most oil-rich place in the world. Vast oil reserves have been discovered underneath the sand dunes. Sheyba, in the middle of the desert, is a major Arab light crude oil-producing site in Saudi Arabia. Also, Ghawwar Field, the largest oil field in the world, extends southward into the northernmost parts of the Empty Quarter.

The city of Manakah

This city lies in the Haraz mountain range surrounded by terraces situated between Baih fort in the north and the fort of Shaibam Haraz to the south and is at 2,200m above sea–level. There is a daily market in Manakah for the inhabitants of the surrounding mountain villages. In the past it was an important collection point for the coffee crop before being transported to Hodiedah and Mocha by camel caravans. Manakah is an excellent area for trekking because of the many nearby villages perched on the edge of the mountains. One that deserves special mention is Al-Hajjarah, one of Yemen’s most beautiful villages.

Al-Hajjarah Village

Al-Hajjarah is a few kilometers to the west of Manakaa. Its high-rise stone houses are some eight stories high and some were estimated hundreds of years old overlooking very steep valleys with beautiful terraces. It is not far from the historical Masar fort, which forms the first line of defense for the village from the west side. This fort is the very same fort where Ali Mohammed Al-Sulayhi emerged as the founder of the Sulayhide Dynasty (1047-1138 AD. The Ottomans stationed their cannons here to protect the delivery of military supplies to Sanaa from the red sea.


Eastern Haraz

To the east of Haraz there are many attractive villages on both sides of the road leading to Al-Hotaib where the tomb of the Ismaeli scholar Hatim Bin Ibrahim Al-Hamdani (16th century AD) can be found this is an important shrine for the followers of the Ismaeli sect who make annual visit from countries such as India, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Madagascar to this and other Ismaeli shrines situated in various parts of Yemen.

It must be mentioned that the Governorates of Sana’a is rich in archaeological sites and tourist attractions in areas such as Arhab, Sanhan Bani Matar, Raimah, Khawlan, Haymatain, Ashmour and the mountains of Eyal Yazzid, Nihem and Bani Bahlool to name a few.



Situated a few kilometers away from Manakah to the northeast, lies as one of the Ismaeli Shi’ite regions of Yemen. The pilgrims congregate from as far as India at the tomb of the 16th century Yemeni da’i or preacher Hatim Alhamdani.


Ibb is about 193km south of Sana’a on the Sana’a-Taiz road. In general Ibb is one of the most beautiful regions in Yemen. It receives the heaviest rains in the longest rain season in Yemen. It is best known for Agriculture so it is called the green province.

Sumarra Scenic Route

Sumarra pass Road, which is about 2500 m above sea level, is considered one of the most beautiful mountainous areas of Yemen, particularly Bu-Khari and Hilyal region overlooking the western wadis of Sumarra such as Iryan and Al Qafr.

Yareem-Eryan-Qafr Scenic Route

This is one of the most, Beautiful roads in Ibb Governorate .It goes through a number of beautiful villages along the road like Iryan and Bani Muslim villages which are about 3000m above sea level. The road descends to the administrative center of Al-Qafr crossing a number of green wadis until it links up with the main Sumarra highway at al Daleel near the city of Ibb, across the highlands of Al-Najd Al-Ahmar overlooking Al Sayanni and Nakhlan famed as the plains of Sahool Ibn Naji.

Ibb City:

About 193 km from the Capital Sana’a it stands on a high hill at the western foothills of Baadan. Mountain about 1900m above sea level. It is at the heart of Ibb province and is guarded by Ba’adan mountain from the east. Ibb was well known throughout the Islamic era. It has a mosque dating back to the time of the second caliph Omar Ibn Al-Khatab. It flourished as an important administrative center during the rule of the Ottoman Empire. The old city of Ibb is characterized by an architectural style similar to the general Style of the mountainous stone-built villages. Its houses consist of 4-5 floors with facades decorated with friezes and marble-covered circular windows. The old city is one of the main tourist attractions in the Governorate. It includes a number of historical and archaeological tourist sites including:

Jibla City The Capital Of The Sulaihide Dynasty:

A historical Outlook: The sultan Abdullah Bin Al Sullaihi founded the city of Dhi Jibla in 457 Hegira i.e. 1065 AD at the order of his brother King Ali Bin Mohammad Al Sullaihi to announce it as a capital at a later date. It was named Jiblah in attribution to the name of one of the artisans who was manufacturing pottery in the area where the Sultan built the First Izz castle. Jiblah used to be called the two river city as it is on a hilltop between two flowing perennial rivers. The history of Jiblah city was liked to the Sulaihide Dynasty which ruled Yemen as from 1047 till 1138 Ad. Its founder was Ali Bin Mohammed Al Sulaihi who started his call in Jabal Masar in Haraz region. From the fort of Masar after his call prevailed he controlled all the Mikhlafs of Yemen, fortresses, citadels, towns and plains. His control was from Mecca to Hadhramawt and from Aden to Sa’adah. The Sulaihides adopted Sana’a as his capital where he built many castles and made all the Yemeni Kings under one banner after he organized the administration of the country through equipping the important forts of Yemen with garrisons.

He continued in reign for twenty years as of 1047-1067. During this period he was able to achieve stability for the establishment of the young state. After his death, his son Al Mukararm Ahmed Bin Ali Bin Mohammed Al Sulaihi took charge in running the affairs of the state and reinforced the achievements of his father after quenching all the and unified the Yemeni Currency. At the last year of his life he was afflicted with a disease and thus became the affairs of the state within the hands of his wife Queen Arwa Bin Ahmed Al Sulaihi. With her wit she saw that jiblah was appropriate as capital for the dynasty and thus advised her husband about the transfer of the capital from Sana’a to Jiblah because it is better and more reassuring let alone the security to be obtained. The new capital is amid the main parts of Yemen. Its climate is moderate and life is rather at ease .The king was convinced by the reasons offered by his wife and thus adopted Jiblah as his Seat of Rule and Residence and lived in Dar Al Aizz Castle in Jiblah. The disease became more serious and passed away in 1085 AD after having ruled for 18yrs. After him came the era of the rule of Queen Arwa Bin Ahmed Al Sulaihi. During her era Yemen witnessed a new age of civilization development in all walks of life for she excelled in righteousness honesty, knowledge and wit which made her run her kingdom wisely to the extent that she allured the hearts of her subjects to the extent that the Yemenites used to call her” Our lady, the Free Queen” ” in honor and respect for her. She used to be called also ” Little Bilqis” i.e. Little Queen of Sheba due to her sagacity dexterousness. She began to take interest in creating convenient infrastructure for civilization development in RY Educational Affairs, through construction of schools in all the parts and granted her subjects the freedom of belief and built mosques and religious schools and for the sake of knowledge spends huge amount of money.

She paid attention to commerce and agriculture as she leveled roads and was the first to level roads in Yemen so as to facilitate the affairs of agriculture and the transport of the crops. In Military domains she revamped the Sulaihide forts in the summits of the Yemenite Mountains, widened them constructed fortress and enlarged seaports, the main of which was Aden. She created a fully fledged civilization State extracting its strength and permanence from the power of its economy which was achieved under her successful management of the affairs of her Kingdom.

She was also attentive to putting many of the Kingdom endowments for the service and repair of Knowledge school and assistance of those involved in schooling whether teachers as students. Thus the Yemenite history in the medieval era turned an illuminating page which still illuminating all over the Yemenite territory and mind represented in the period of her rule which continue for more than fifty three Years beginning in 1085 AD-1138 AD. The reign of the Sullaihydes as an independent state showing allegiance in name to the Fatimides in Egypt. Jiblah is distinguished for its architectural style like that of old Ibb. It further prospered as a center of science and thought for many centuries like Zabid, Sana’a, Tareem Sa’adah and Dhamra etc. Many of its surrounding fertile land are an endowment property for those involved in Islamic schooling, teachers and students. One of the schools of Jiblah is still standing as subordinate of the queen’s mosque which houses her tomb. Al-Udaun About 40km west of the city center of Ibb. It is a beautiful tourist place interspersed with fertile wadis, the most Important of which is Wadi Al-Dour.

Dhafar Al –Mawlk (capital of the Himyarite Dynasty)

A Historical Outlook The trade route as frankincense road his reached its boom during the second and first Centuries BC and the richness of the Yemenite state was considerable and its interest was directed towards the commercial activity and thus agriculture did not get its full attention. The campaign was rife amongst those states and they are Sheba, Maeen, Qataban and Hadhramaout. During that period another state emerged and it is the Himyarite Dynasty not from the east of Yemen on the bank of a Wadi but from Raidan Mount in Qa’a Al Haql ” Known as land of Yahsob” as of 115 BC and that is the beginning of the second era of ancient Yemen. While Himyar was not a powerful state except after the ancient state demised each after the other due to the transfer of trade route from land in eastern Yemen to the sea, followed by strife for the seizure of reign of Sheba between Marib and Dhofar till some Aqyals were amid the plateau became ambitious to rule like Bani Hamdan in Na’et, Bani Bata’a in Haz, Bani Marthad in Shibam , Dhu Jarah in Na’adh . After the maritime commercial route became successful and the Yemenite seaports prospered, Axum coveted (basically an outlying settlement of Yemenites in Abyssinia i.e. Ethiopia and lasted for centuries). Axum entered into campaigns with ancient Yemenite states and he period of campaigning expired by establishing a central government divided half and half between Marib and Dhofar. Hence Sha’ar Awtar Bin A’alhan Nahfan was dubbed ” King of Sheba and Dhu Raidan ” and his capital was Marib towards the late years of the second century AD after he extended his influence to Hadhramout. During the last quarter of 3rd century AD Shamar Yaha’arash unified the two entities of Marib and Dhofar and established a strong state springing from the capital Dhofar. He then carried the title of King of Sheba, Dhi Raidan, Hadhramout and Yamnat. Phalanges of his troops waged wars outside the areas of his influence till he reached the capital of the Sassanides in Mesopotamia and Tanukh in Hira, The campaigns of the Himyarites continued to Yamamah, Bahrain and Oman. It would seem that the influence of Shamar Yahar’ash did not cover all the fringes of the country till the advent of Abu Karib Asa’ad Al Kamil who controlled all Greater Yemen and hence carried the big title ” King of Sheba, Dhi Raidan, Hadhramout, Yamnat, and their nomads on the mountains and in the plains as well as the Sea Isles. It is told that he passed be Yathrib and embraced Judaism and passed by Mecca and Clothed the Holy Qa’abah. Raids and Campaigns were not the main activities of the Himyarites but they did pay a lot of their attention to other great affairs, probably, the most important of which are the dams, to the extent that the number of dams in Yahsob amounted to Eighty Dams.. They carved tunnels that collected waiters from a valley to another and leveled roads in addition to cisterns in mountains and water dyke, let alone towns and castles.

The relics of Himyarites are many in Dhofar, Baynun, An-Nakhlah Al Hamra, Ghalman etc.. The traditional books attributed to them all the great feats till it was known what actually belongs to them and what not through modern scientific research. The rule of the Himyarites lasted till the year 525AD and that is the date when Yemen fell under the domination of the Abyssinians during the rule of Yousef Athar ” Dhu Nawas” the last Himyarite King. It is told that he embraced Judaism and to him is attributed the trench event which was mentioned in Al-Birooj Surah in the Holy Koran. Located near Ghail Bawazeer, it is the source of water irrigated Ghail farms. This rocky pit, 12 meters deep and 30 meters across, is said to have been made by a meteorite. Two canals are carved out of this pit, both of which are a few feet wide. One canal is 5km long the other is 2km long. The water level at Houma Subsided below the level of the shorter canal that flowed to Qara village. The carving of the two canals in this rocky land was a great effort similar to the construction of dams, ditches and water reservoirs in other areas of Yemen.

The current status of the Archaeological, historical and tourist Features:

Dhofar Al Mawlk-Yareem:

It can be reached from kitab area at 140 km on the Sana’a –Taiz road. It stands on Dhofar mountain, controlling the land of Yahsob south-east of Kitab. The unpaved road is about a half hour drive. There are several areas called Dhofar like Dhofar Theebayn and Dhofar Al-Mawlk (Dhofar Yareem), the capital of the Himyarite Dynasty which ruled from 115 BC until 525 AD. It replaced Marib as capital of Sheba Kingdom.

It was an Important way-station on the ancient trade route starting from Aden passing through Dhofar Sana’a via the plateau as far as Mecca and Yathrib (Known as Assad Route). Dhofar was the seat of the Himyarite King Al-Tuba’ Abu Kareb Asaad, Known as Asaad Al –Kamil. His famous palace ” Raydan Palace”, was built there. There also stood Dhofar town. Nothing remains of the palace and the town but a few meters of walls Still, There are several antiquities showing the greatness of the Himyarites and their civilization such as the dams. Historians tell us that there were 80 dams, cisterns and a number of water reservoirs carved in rock in the green stretch of Ardh Yahsob (land of Yahsob). There are many cisterns around Dhofar mountain in addition to stone tombs on the western side of the mountain, which can be reached through the village of Dhofar. They are wide rooms connecting with each other deep in the rock by gates “openings” each room, with a platform to lay the bodies of the dead. The most important cisterns, carved in the rock, are by the road leading to Bayt Al-Ashwal. They were carved at the end of the flow gate of an ancient dam at the mouth of the wadi east of Dhofar Mountain

HADHRAMOUT – Largest Yemeni Territory

Hadhramout is the Governorate with the largest territory in The Republic of Yemen with diverse relief divided into coastal plains comprising of many enchanting beaches on the Arabian Sea, Mountains and hills reaching 2000m above sea level and extensive areas of the Empty Quarter. There are also many wadis, the biggest of which is Wadi Hadhramout and its many tributaries. Wadi Hadhramout runs nearly 165 km into Saihout in Mahara Governorate. Hadhramout lies in the southeast of Yemen bordered by Mahara on the east and Shabwa on the east. It extends northwards deep into the Empty Quarter with its southern coasts overlooking the Arabian Sea and is 777km away from Sana’a, accessible by a paved road via Marib and Attaq to Mukalla.

The Climate

The Climate in Hadhramout is hot and tropical in summer. Temperatures reach 40oC in the interior, where a dry tropical climate prevails. In coastal areas, the temperature is 36oC due the humid monsoon. In the winter it tends to be moderate, 20-24 oC in the coast and 17- 20oC in the interior.

Hadhramout (A Historical Introduction):

Hadhramout in Heritage Books is A’ad, ad Ahqaf in the Holy Koran, the place which god bestowed with prophets of whom are Hood and Saleh peace upon them. According to Genealogists it was name Hadhramout after it was a home for Amir Bin Qahtan, who was told that once he attended a war he multiplied slaughtering and thus used to say that if he attends then Death attends with him. Hadhramout in the ancient history of Yemen is one of the ancient Yemenite states whose prosperity at the onset of the first millennium BC was on the Valley Banks between the chains of Mountain and the desert of the Empty Quarter the east of Yemen. Through the ancient Yemenite inscriptions discovered up to date it is possible to say that Hadhramout in its ancient times was a vassal state of the Sabean Dynasty which was the biggest and most powerful ancient State in Southern Arabia. During a consequent period Hadhramout Dynasty became an ally of Sheba. Hadhramout was in possession of the land that used to grow Ollibanum in its eastern and easternmost parts like Dhofar (Currently in Oman) and dominated the north towards the Empty Quarter till Al Abr. In addition to its original location in Wadi Hadhramout it controlled the Hadramite Coasts overlooking the Arabian Sea and the Ollibanum at the time was an important of extreme importance and expensive sought after commodity and was much sought after at the capitals of the ancient world where it used to be used for many purpose like religious Rites, Funerals, Presents and the honorary occasions including medical purposes at times. The procedures of Ollibanum care was so much surround with strange legends and the ancient port of Qana on the coast of Southern Arabia one of the causes for the flourishing of Hadhramout. Qana did not only receive Ships from Hadhramout merely but received ships from the Indian Ocean which carried to Qana various products of which are the gold, Silk and condiments. From the Capital Shabwa during the 4th Century BC he was announced as the King of spices as per the Greek annals-Independent Dynasty of Hadhramout. Thus did the neighboring entities and that happened during a period of weakness underwent by Sheba. On the Bank of Wadi Armah at the western head of Hadhramout at the fringes of Sabean Sand dunes, Shabwa Was the Capital of Hadhramout and its biggest city receiving caravans of camels laden with the different products from the gate allocated for caravans and it is eastern gate so that the camels would pay one tenth of which they carry and this levy was allocated for the temple priests. A ratio of that tenth used to be spent on the guests of the capital during some seasons of the year. The temples of Goddess “Sean” , The Banquet Host”(Dhul-iam). The temples amounted to 60 temples as recounted by Bilinius in Shabwa only for the temples moon” Seen” in a number of other Hadramite cities like Maifa’ah, Qana, Madhab near Huraidah in Wadi Doa’an, Rayboon in he southern part of Doa’an valley, Saboonah, Mashghah in Wadi Adam and other Hadramite townships. The valleys of Hadramout were much attended to for from the studies conducted in the area of Rayboon the area is considered an example for what has been achieved in the history of ancient Hadramout of advance in the engineering of dams, irrigation and water distribution and drainage systems. From excavations in many historical locations, a lot of artifacts, statues and inscriptions were collected and the visitors of the Museum in Sayoun and Mukalla can witness them discern the extent of civilization reached by ancient Yemenites during the Hadramite Dynasty which was afflicted with what befell other ancient Yemenite states in Eastern Yemen after incense was forbidden in Christian churches and after the sailing vessel abandoned the Hadramite Port of Qana and began the new Maritime line between the Indian Ocean and the North of the Red Sea. Hadramout the ancient Yemenite Kingdom demised at the last quarter of the third century AD at the hands of the Himyarite king the epical personality ” Shammar Yahra’ash” King of Sheba. Dhi Raidan, Hadramout and Yamanat. Hadramout remained part of the Himyarite State which ruled most of greater Yemen. Then it fell under the Abyssinian Occupation. Before Islam, the state of Kindah has adopted Damoon as its Capital in Tarim at Wadi Hadramout for sometime, before the Tribe of Kindah immigrated to the north. After the advent of Islam the Yemenite Hadramites were like other Yemeni brethren partisans of the new religion. The Mikhlafs of Yemen then become subordinate of the Khilfate of which is Hadramout till the Yemenite vassal states became independent, Hadramout included. Thus many Hadramites began their immigrations of 700 years ago to many parts of Asia and Africa and at their hands Islam spread in many parts of the Indian Peninsula, Southern Asia and the East of Africa, the civilization contact did not suspend in Hadramout as is the case in the other Yemenite areas. Then Shihir replaced the ancient with the Medieval and Islamic ports. The ancient dwellers of Shabawah left it and settled in Shibam Hadramout. As for Tarim it became the destination for religious learning like Zabid, Sa’dah, Sana’a and Jiblah..etc. In Hadramout the civilization contact has been always in touch and thus kept the gist of ancient Yemen, its arts, skills and those acquired from other civilizations to form what we see today in the Minarets of Tarim and the Manhattan of the desert” Shibam Hadramout”. We also see the handicraft ateliers in Mukalala and Shihir besides those ancient locations Hadramout contains many of the Historical Towns archaeological sites and Tourist areas whether in the coastal part of Hadramout or in the inner parts.

The Current Status for the Archaeological ,Historical and Tourist Sites:


The capital of Hadramout and one of Yemen’s ports on the Arabian Sea. It was known as Khaisa or Bandar Yakoub and has been called Mukalla only recently. Fishermen were the first to settle in Mukalla, having immigrated from adjacent regions, In this city, the first Princedom of Al-Kasad was established in the 18th 19th century AD, This prosperity gave this city the architectural style of Coastal cities which lie on the Arabian Sea and the Red Sea such as Aqaba, Jeddah, Hodeidah, Mokha, Luhayya, and Aden. All these cities lost their original style, which may now be seen only in the old ‘downtown’ of Mukalla city. It is a style combining the features of Arabian and south-east Asian architecture. Mukalla’s Prominent Features Ma’een Palace, which was built by Sultan Omer Bin Awadah Qu’aiti. Mukalla Archaeological Museum now occupies a part of this palace. – Ghuwaizi Fort: Built at the entrance of the city as a guard post and which was built in 1884AD.

Ghail Bawazeer

Located about 35km to the east of Mukalla, it is a Fertile spring-fed agricultural area that grows tobacco, hence comes the term Ghaili Tobacco, which is considered the finest tobacco in Yemen, Palm trees, Henna, and Coconut. The rest house of the Qu’aiti Sultan, now called Ghail Tourist Rest House, is open for visitors.

Ayn Al-Houma

Located near Ghail Bawazeer, it is the source of water irrigated Ghail farms. This rocky pit, 12 meters deep and 30 meters across, is said to have been made by a meteorite. Two canals are carved out of this pit, both of which are a few feet wide. One canal is 5km long the other is 2km long. The water level at Houma Subsided below the level of the shorter canal that flowed to Qara village. The carving of the two canals in this rocky land was a great effort similar to the construction of dams, ditches and water reservoirs in other areas of Yemen.


This town, 62km east of Mukalla, was known by other names such as Sam’oun and Souq. It is more likely that the name of Souq was associated with Shihir since it was one of the famous Pre-Islamic Arab markets such as Awkadh, Sana’a and Doumat Al Jandal, in your it used to be called Shihir Al-Mahrah. Shiher flourished as a port immediately after the decline of Qana ancient port. Incense was exported from this port, coming on camelback from the far east of Maharah to Shibam and then to Shiher. Shiher port used to have extensive trading relations with the ports of India, Arabian Gulf, East Africa, etc. I t became more important during the Abbaside period until it was invaded by the Portuguese in 1523 who were expelled by force.

City Wall and Castles

The city wall and castles date back to the Rasulide Dynasty, while the last wall was built during the period of the Qu’aiti Sultante the wall at one time had two gates the eastern one was called Al-Khgour gate, while the northern one was called Aydarous Gate. The wall forts, castles, gates, and Bin Ayash fort are considered the most interesting features of Shihir city. Shahir is also an important handicraft center producing kilts, silver and gold ornaments.

Hot and Sulfurous Springs

A long the coast of Shihir there are a number of hot sulfuric springs frequented by people seeking cures for different diseases such as skin diseases, rheumatism, digestive and internal ailments, diabetes and obesity, Among these springs are: Tawbalah Springs: these are the heaviest and greatest in number, 10km, away from Shihir. Hami: about 17 km from Shihir. Swayber: This is about 47km from Shihir and it is regarded as the most Important spring with cold sulfuric water. Eastern Dees: This is about 50km from Shihir and is nearer to Swayber. Sharma Beach: This is about 120km to the east of Mukalla, which is considered one of the most beautiful beaches in Yemen. Turtles nest in this beach during their season of procreation.

Wadi Hadhramout:

A 320km paved road, starting from Mukalla and running the length of Wadi Hadhramout through its many towns and villages to Seiyun, the capital of the Wadi. Hadhramout is the longest wadi in the Arabian Peninsula extending 165km as far as Thamood with its water running into Saihoot across Wadi Massila. Its width varies from 12km to 700m. Its fertile fields grow palm trees, cereals, tobacco, henna, coconut, banana, lemon, and pepper. More palm trees grow in this wadi than in any other area in Yemen. The drainage designs of the Wadi are highly sophisticated. Run-off water is diverted and drained within a few hours, unlike other wadis in Yemen.


The major city in Hadhramout, 320 km away from Mukalla and the administrative capital of the wadi. It has flourished as the capital of the wadi since the 15th century AD. This city is mentioned in the old Musnad inscriptions. Classical historians state that it was a major city for the dynasties of Hadhramout, Hemyar, and Kendah. Seiyoun in an attractive city with houses built of straw reinforced clay bricks mostly consisting of 3-4 floors. It is surrounded by mountains and palm trees. Most prominent features of this city are the old mosques and the Sultan’s Palace.

Sultan Al Kathiri Palace

Originally it was a fort, then after many modifications it became the official residence for Sultan Al Kathiri. The palace dates back in its present state to the late 20s of this century. It consists of 16 buildings, is 34m high and has 90 rooms. Part of it is now used as an archeological museum of traditions and customs as well as a public Library.


It is one of the main features of Seiyoun at artisans display their wares in this traditional market.

Tomb of Ahmed Bin Eisa The Emigrant

This tomb represents a tourists feature that is distinguished for its architectural style. It is located on a high ground at the side of the mountain. The style of the mosque at the foot of the mountain and the path linking the Tom and the Mosque in their zigzag form, and the white coat, all add to the beauty of the Tomb and the mosque as well as the path in between. The tomb dates back to the 10th century AD and is 10km to the east Seiyoun.

Tareem City (Known as AL-Ghanaa)

Situated at the left bank of Hadhramout 35km to the northeast of Seiyoun with a paved road concerning the two cities. It was, in ancient times, a seat for Kindah Kings, then capital for Wadi Hadhramout before Seiyoun. It was also a brilliant Islamic intellectual center like Zabid, Dhamar, Jibla and Saada. It still possesses the famous school dubbed Raibat Tareem offering its knowledge and religious functions till this day. There is also Al Ahqaf Library in Tareem which is the second largest Library in Yemen, containing more than 5000 manuscripts. Many of the Hadhramout citizens immigrated to different parts of the world, particularly from Tareem, to many parts of the world like East Africa and the Indian subcontinent and south east Asia as of the early 13th century AD. Among them were scholars, missionaries, scientists and tradesmen, all of whom spread Islam to those parts. They were and are still attached to their homeland feeling nostalgia for the land of their ancestors. It was the custom of immigrants, after returning home, to build a mosque in gratitude to Allah for their return, and then a house showing the wealth they brought back. Therefore, lofty houses were built along with palaces and a new architectural style was developed combining the styles of East Asia and India with those of the local architecture. This can be seen on the facades of Tareem’s beautiful houses and palaces surrounded by palm trees. The Most prominent forts and castles are: – Najeer Fort, which is located 6km to the east of Tareem and Al-Irr Fort, next to Al Sawm, 15km to the east of Tareem. – Mehdar Mosque and Minaret, dating back to 1915 AD, and whose minaret stands 125 ft in height.


A beautiful village 8km to the east of Tareem , dating back to the 16th century AD .Aynat display a unique style of architecture of domes and Tombs and they are the famous 7domes in Aynat. Also there are a number of houses of beautiful architectural style.

Tomb of Prophet Hood:

Hadhramout is one of the centers of Monotheistic religious and is one of the sacred sites. Many prophets and messengers of god are buried there. Among the most important tombs are those of prophet of Saleh, Mash-had prophet Handlah Bin Soufan the Safwan ” the Prophet of the people of Raas” as mentioned in the Holy Koran. The most important of which is the Tomb of prophet Hood. It is located on a small hill 90 km east to Tareem. The Dome housing the tomb was built in its current state in 1673 AD. This dome is called An-Naqa (the female camel) a windy cobblestone path, white washed as the dome, leads to the nearby village down the hill. Prophet Hood’s tomb has been a pilgrim’s destination since the pre-Islamic era. A market is held near the Shrine during the pilgrimage season which lasts for one week as of the sixth day of the Month of Sha’aban of each year. Charitable people provided with an electric generator and water network free of charge to serve the visitors of the shrine during the pilgrimage season and in other times built the village under the hill.

Barhout Well

A 300ft high cave located 10 km to the south of the Tomb of prophet Hood. Many narratives and myths have been related about this cave since the pre-Islamic period till this day.

Seasonal Religious Visits

There are tombs of many famous saints located in different areas of Hadhramout in many parts of Hadhramout. Such saints have a great spiritual place in the hearts of the people, expressed through their collective annual visits accompanied with prayers and religious songs. Seasonal markets are held and featured with aspects of joy, pleasure, and delight. The most well known of these visits are: Visit of Alssit in the two villages of Sha’ab Al-Nour and Al-Wasit to the north of Al-Shiher , from the 12-19 of Muharram every Hegira year. Al-Houl visit: This is held around the Tomb of Al-Hebsh Scholar on 17-20 of Rabie Al-Thani every AH year. Visit to Mashhad: Mashhad is the Shrine of Ali Bin Hasan Al-Attas, and is visited on hen 12th Rabite Awal every AH year.


It is called Ad-Doumna or Safra’a, and is located in the middle of wadi Hadhramout at the narrowest point of it by a road bifurcate On a hill 30m higher than the Wadi level. Shibam is 19km from Seiyoun on the paved road leading to Mukalla. Shibam was built on the ruins of an ancient city of Hadhramout. The natives of Old Shabwa settled in Shibam after the destruction of their city. There is similarity between the two names. The city had been the most important market in Hadhramout and a significant administrative center for many centuries up to the 16 century AD. It has been destroyed by floods several times, most recently in 1532. Shibam looks, from a distance, like an imposing castle with its lofty houses, some of which are 8 floors high, forming close blocks separated by lanes and squares. There are about 500 houses built of straw reinforced mud bricks, the houses are almost equal in height. Some women of the city visit their neighbors across skywalks from one rooftop to another in order to save time and effort. Some houses dates back hundreds of years. The city has one gate, which was last maintained in 1909. The city was visited by pioneering European travelers who called it the Manhattan of the desert. UNESCO placed Shibam on its Human Patrimony list and , in 1984, announced an international campaign for its protection. Shibam is the most beautiful Yemenite city after Old Sana’a. The Most Important Features of Shibam Hadhramout – The great Mosque, built in the era of the Abbaside Caliph Haroun Al-Rasheed in the early 10th century AD. – The historical Fort of Shibam: which was built by Bin Mahdi during the early 13th century. AD. And the city wall dating back to the 17th century AD.

Al-Qatn city:

The second biggest city in Hadhramout after Seiuoun. It was the starting point for Qu’aiti Sultan in his fights against Al Kathiri Sultanate during the struggle between the two powers for control over the wadi. The struggle went on until the end of the first half on this century. Al-Qatn is a beautiful city with houses built of straw mixed mud bricks that are prevalent in the towns and villages of Hadhramout. Its most prominent feature is the Qu’aiti fort. The city holds a seasonal trading market that coincides with Al-Hadder Tomb pilgrimage starting on 15th Jumada Al- Thani for one week every Hegira Year.


This is an important archaeological site in Wadi Hadhramout located at the north entrance of Wadi Daw’an, 94 km from Seiyoun. Rayboun dates back to the beginning of the first millennium BC. Archaeological explorations conducted in this site unearthed relics of old temples, ruins of the ancient city and an old irrigation system considered to be a good example of flood drainage system in Hadhramout. Some important artifacts were discovered and are on display in Seiyoun Archaeological Museum.

Wadi Daw’an

There are several branch wadis in Hadhramout such as Wadi Daw’an. Al Ayn and Amad etc.. Da’wan is considered to be the most important and famous of all as there are many attractive villages along both banks of the Wadi, which are considered as excellent examples means city in old Yemenite language. It is one of the most beautiful Yemeni villages and the most beautiful village in Hadhramout. It is situated at the corner of one of the bends of the valley and is divided into two adjacent parts on both sides of the bend. It is the oldest village in Wadi Hadhramout over-looking groves of palm trees.


Located at the entrance of Wadi Amad., 100km to the west of Seiyoun. It was built on the ruins of Madhab, a city in ancient Hadhramout kingdom. It is now the center of Da’wan district. On the west side of this city, there are ruins of the temple of Goddess “Seen” (The Moon) the main Goddess of Ancient Hadhramout Kingdom. On both banks of Da’wan there are many beautiful villages such as: • Qaidoun: A pilgrimage is made to the tomb of Sheikh Sa’eed Bin Eisa Al-Amoudi here in the last week of Rajab every Hegira year. This village is 126km to the west of Seiyoun. • Saiff: This village hosts pilgrimage to the tomb of Shaikhan Bin Ahmed on 8-12th of Rabie Al- Thani every year and is 127 km away from Seiyoun. • Budha: the village hosts a pilgrimage to the tomb of Ma’rouf Bajamal on the 18th to 22nd of Thu Al-Hija every year and is 142km to the west of Seiyoun. • Hodoun: At this village, the pilgrimage is usually made to the tomb of Hadoun son of Prophet Hood on 15th to 16th Sha’aban every year. The village is located 142 to the west of Seiyoun. • Rihab: At this village the pilgrimage is usually made to the tomb of Banajah on the 14th to 16th of Rajab every Hegira year. The village is located 152 to the west of Seiyoun. • Al-Khoraybah: This village was a main center for the old Yemeni caravans between the coast and the valley and is 157 to the west of Seiyoun. • Rasheed: This is 153 to the west of Seiyoun. • Al-Ribat: This is Rabit Ba’ishin and is located at the right northern end of Dawa’n valley. Folklore and other Innovative Arts: In hadhramout there are many sorts and styles of folklore, most interesting of which is called” Al-Dan Al-Hadrami”. Frankincense Route: One of the branch routes of incense-laden caravans which started from Seiyoun through Al Abr, Kana’is, Jidran as far as Kharbat Saud, which was the last Sabean way station. From there, travel was resumed across cities and way stations towards Gaza port on the Mediterranean. There used to be another path for incense camel caravans starting from Seiyoun across the Qatabanite cities and way stations and Sabean Stations and then to Ma’een. Nowadays, there are regular tourist trips starting from Wadi Hadhramout through Al-Abr area to Marib and other trips starting from the same Wadi through old Shabwa, Ramlat Al-Sab’atain to Marib, which is a most interesting tourist route.


Mocha or Mokha (Arabic: المخا [al-Mukhā]) is a port city on the Red Sea coast of Yemen. Until it was eclipsed in the 19th century by Aden and Hodeida, Mocha was the principal port for Yemen’s capital Sana’a.

Mocha is famous for being the major marketplace for coffee from the 15th century until the 17th century. Even after other sources of coffee were found, Mocha beans (also called Sanani or Mocha Sanani beans, meaning from Sana’a) continued to be prized for their relatively chocolaty flavor—and remain so even today. From this coffee the English language gained the word mocha, for such combinations of chocolate and coffee flavors as cafe mocha.

According to the Jesuit and traveler Jeronimo Lobo, who sailed the Red Sea in 1625, Mocha was “formerly of limited reputation and trade” but since “the Turkish assumption of power throughout Arabia, it has become the major city of the territory under Turkish domination, even though it is not the Pasha’s place of residence, which is two days’ journey inland in the city of Sana’a.” Lobo adds that its importance as a port was also due to the Ottoman law that required all ships entering the Red Sea to put in at Mocha and pay duty on their cargoes.

History of the Mocha coffee bean

It is commonly believed that the coffee bean that originated in the port city of Mocha was encountered by Marco Polo on his trip through the Arab World. After the month and a half of Polo’s turbulent journey, his party were forced to go ashore at Ṣūr (modern-day Tyre, Lebanon) to resupply their stocks, because the captain, William Maurice, had provided insufficient room for food storage. In the marketplace there, Polo found a Yemenite salesman who had brought coffee beans from Mocha, purchased some and ultimately returned with them (among many other imports) to Europe. However, the bean was not widely known through Europe until the 17th century.

In 1595 Spanish Jesuit missionary Pedro Páez was the first European to taste Mocha’s coffee in place.

The term “mocha” in relation to chocolate and coffee–chocolate blends is strictly as a result of European influence. Chocolate is not cultivated at Mocha nor imported into it.

Old Sana’a – Yemen’s Large Open-Air Living Museum

Cityscape at Night Sana’a, capital of Yemen, is a city whose ancient core seems to leap out of the Arabian Nights. The “Pearl of Arabia Felix” easily seduces unsuspecting visitors. Inside its ancient walls, one no longer dreams of the fabulous cities from long ago. In this land where skyscrapers were invented, travellers behold the legendary past unfold before their eyes.
Hiding behind its modern facade and designated as a World Heritage City, Sana’a is one of the largest open-air living museums in the world. The words of an old Yemeni proverb: ‘Sana’a must be seen’ is true today as it was in the bygone ages.
Until this century, few in the West ever visited. Suddenly, in the 1960s, after the overthrow of the centuries-old Early Morning View of City Imamate, Sana’a was catapulted into the modern world consciousness and in the process, its population dramatically mushroomed from 60,000 to 1,500,000.
The original city, dominated by the 3,194 m (10,476 ft) high Ayban Mountain, is one of the world’s largest completely preserved medieval urban centres. Within its deteriorating walls, 7,000 homes and palaces, covering nearly 36.5 ha (90 ac) are built in unique and sophisticated traditional Yemeni style, some more than 500 years old. Erected from basalt, mud-brick and sandstone in a 1,000-year old technique, homes are packed side by side and usually rise from four to six stories.
Unlike Arab homes in the north, constructed around a courtyard, Yemeni houses look outward. The outside walls of these structures are covered with elaborate zigzag patterns of white gypsum and roofs crowned with towers and cornices. Their windows with top arches are a complex fretwork of superimposed types and shapes with traditionally made alabaster panes of different hues. It’s a display of elaborate architectural unity, a style developed during the past 2,000 years.

The Flora of Sana  New Housing - Traditional Styling  Housing in Sana  Sana Housing 

Intertwined with these fascinating skyscrapers, are bathhouses, caravanserais, souks and ancient mosques, a number that are well over 1,000 years old. Their attractiveness adds substance to the old section of town and, along with the imposing architecture of the homes, distinctly different than anywhere else, makes old Sana’a a splendid city.

View of Old City  Bab al-Yaman  Wadi Dhar Near al-Hajer  Mosque in Sana 

In the past, remoteness, isolation and medieval rulers kept Sana’a obscure. Today, this has changed. Sana’a has become accessible to even budget-minded globetrotters.
When one reaches the city, there are 5 and 4-star hotels for the opulent and budget abodes within walking distance from the only remaining gate: Bab al-Yaman (Yemen Gate). It leads to Souk al-Milh, the most important market place in ancient Sana’a where everything needed in a home can be found. With the linking souks, each specializing in a trade, this market street is the heart of the old city, always crowded.
A modern urban centre has grown outside the walls of the old city. The choice spot to cross from ancient section to the new town is by way of Mayden at-Tahrir, the main square that joins the two parts of the city. Around its edges are the higher and moderately priced restaurants and hotels. In adjoining modern streets, there are airline and travel agencies galore and shops selling everything tourists may need.

Papayas in Souk  Street Shoemaker Repairing Tourist Belt  Street Scene  Architecture al-Hajer 

In this square one can stroll for hours, watching the colourful movements of a mixture of humanity clad in modern and medieval clothing and, at dusk, observe the last rays of the sun playing on the majestic towering structures of the old city.

Some Facts:

  1. Entrance visas to Yemen are available from all Yemeni embassies or consulates and for some countries at the airport. Travellers to Yemen require a passport that is valid for at least six months.
  2. Currency in the Yemen is the riyal – current value about 202 riyals to one US dollar. Foreign currencies can be exchanged at banks, exchanges offices and hotels. Only upscale hotels and restaurants will accept credit cards.
  3. Drink only bottled water found in all parts of the country and eat only well-cooked meat, and peel all fruit. Try the local dish, Saltah.
  4. Bring warm clothing if travelling in the cold mountainous areas; light clothing for the desert and coastal areas. Travelling to the Yemen is fine in all seasons, but the coastal and desert areas are quite hot in summer.
  5. Lady travellers should dress modestly in public places. Visitors should not take photos of people at prayer, women, military places, police personnel and installations without permission. With few exceptions, non-Muslims cannot enter most mosques.
  6. For information regarding Yemen’s hotels see website: http://www.yementourism.com/services/hotels/index.php
  7. To travel around the country, it is best to book a tour through a travel agency that can arrange for government permits, plane tickets, a guide and driver, and hotels.

Sites to See:

  • Bab al-Yaman, the last remaining gate in the ancient Sana’a’s walls: provides a focal point for the trading activity of the old town.
  • Dar al-Hajjar (The Palace on the Rock), built just outside Sana’a for the last imam, Yahya, in 1935; the palace is one of Yemen’s landmarks.
  • The Great Mosque: First erected in the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad.
  • The Museum of Traditional Arts & Crafts, housed in the former residence of an Imam, it features displays of traditional art and craft.
  • National Museum: features huge wealth of antiquities from Yemen’s past civilizations.
  • Quabbat al-Bakiliya: An imposing mosque with Turkish style cupolas, easy to inspect from a distance.
  • Salah al-Din Mosque: Built in pure Yemeni style.

The old City of Sanaa

Sanaa is the capital of the Republic of Yemen and the centre of Sanaa Governorate. Sanaa is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. At an altitude of 2,300 meters (7,500 ft), it is also one of the highest capital cities in the world. Sanaa has a population of approximately 1,937,500 making it Yemen’s largest city.

Historical introduction:

The heritage books begin with what is provided for in them about Sana’a by the Story of Shem the son Noah, who came from the north of the south looking for a better homeland for settlement till he finally found the appropriate place and founded the palace of Ghamdan and thereafter the city was named Sam City “City of Shem” and that means it is the oldest town.

While other Books mention another name for the city, i.e. Azal as provided for recurrently in the poems and indications about the antiquity of the city too, because Azal is one of the sons of Joktan Bin Amir Bin Shalik Bin Arfakhashed Bin Shem Bin Noah. It is a name that is provided for the Old Testament. From the name Azal comes the present verb Yazl meaning fortified , Storing and Manufacture. The same meaning in Amhric (a Yemenite Dialect spoken in Ethiopia) Manufacture. May be due to the lapse of time there has been confusion concerning the name but generally the name of town, as “Azal” has always been ubiquitous in the poetry. But the name that always accompanied the city and its history events since 20 centuries age is Sana’a and its root is in the Sabaeic Encyclopedia and is referred to as Hasna when in adjective mode meaning “Beauty”.

The first ever found inscription mentioning Sanaa dates to 70 AD as one of the Sabaeaic towns following Marib in importance as per the context of its reference in the inscription, while Ghamdan Palace was the second after Salheen in Marib. From the inscriptions also it has been found that “Dhu Nawas”, the last Himyarite King was the first to establish Sanaa as his capital in 525 AD and remained so during the Abyssinian occupation for almost half a century. Whilst when Sanaa fell under the Persian Empire’s Control it remained as the capital of the Persian Ruler. As of the dawn of Islam till the beginning of independence of Islamic sub-state in many parts of Yemen detaching from the Capitals of the Islamic Caliphate from Madina at the Time of the Disciples Caliphs, to the Umayyad in Damascus and the Abbasids in Baghdad up till the outset of the third Hegira Century (9th Century AD) Sanaa persisted begin the Capital City of the Ruler, who himself is Caliph’s deputy in running the affairs of one of Yemen’s Three Makhalifs i.e . Mikhlaf Sana’a, Mikhlaf Al-Janad and Mikhlaf Hadhramawt, The city of Sanaa recurrently assumed an important status and all Yemenite States competed to control it of which is the famous competition between the Zaidite and Qarmatite States or was at times adopted as capital of a Sultanate.

The Sullaihiad Kings (One of the Biggest Yemenite states during the Islamic Reign) were the first to adopt Sanaa as Capital for the Sullaiyhid Dynasty before transferring the capital to Jiblah between the years 1047 and 1083. Then it became a capital of Hatimite State (a tribe of Hamdan) from 1098 till 1173.They were partisans of the Sullaiyhids and were in war with the Zaidites Imams in Sadah and were allies of the Zaidites in Aden during their wars with Al-Mahdi in Zabid till the Hatimate State demised at the hands of the Ayyubides (1174-1229 AD). Also Sanaa remained important during the Ayyubides and the Zone named Bostan A-Sultan in Sanaa refers to Sultan Taghtakin Bin Ayub whose capital was Taiz. The Status of Sanaa didn’t change during the region of the Rasoulides (1226-1454 AD) and this was the strongest Islamic Sub-state in Yemen which covered most of Yemen,  i.e. Greater Yemen. Their capital was Taizz. Also during the Tahiride Rule of Yemen, Sanaa remained as an important city.

The Mamelukes arrived in Yemen following the Portuguese invasion of Yemenite Coasts in 1517 AD, following the collapse of the Mamelukides in Egypt at the hands of the Ottoman Turks, Yemen fell under the Ottoman Rule and during the first Ottoman rule of Yemen between 1538-1635 Sanaa became the capital of the Ottoman Vilayet. Albeit the Zaidite expansion following the first Ottoman exodus to the extent that it covered Greater Yemen, but Sanaa was not the capital of that State and the condition in later times deteriorated till the number of Imams in Sanaa and its surroundings were five at the same time. Then again came the Ottomans and controlled Yemen with Sanaa as capital as of 1872-1918. After the Ottomans Sanaa was the capital of Imam Yahya, who ruled North Yemen until 1948 and during Imam Ahmed’s rule it was the capital of Sanaa Province until the break out of Revolution in 1962, where after it became the capital of the Arab Republic of Yemen until the Reunification declaration of Yemen was proclaimed on 22nd of May in  1990 and it was dubbed as the historical capital of Yemen.

Tourist areas in Sanaa:

Old city

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 Samsarah 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 mosques in the 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.

The Current  Status of Sana’a and its main Tourists Attractions

Sanaa is one of the ancient Yemen cities dating date back to the Sabean dynasty. The oldest reference to its existence is found in inscriptions that dates back to the late the 1st Century AD. The inscriptions also refer to the historical Palace of Ghamdan associated with Salheen Palace in Marib. This suggests, that Sanaa was the capital of the Himyrate dynasty at the onset of the 6th century AD, when king Yousef Athar Dhu Nawas, the last of the Himyarite kings, was in power. It was also the capital of the Abyssinian rules and after them the Persians, who also made Sanaa their capital.

Sanaa in the various stages of its history continued to be an important city or capital for a ruling state. It was an important station on the trade route that started in Aden, passing through the mountains through Sanaa. This route was known as As’ad Route or the “Route of the Elephant Owners”. During the Islamic period Sanaa entered another stage and put on a new fashion with the Holy Mosque replacing the Church of Ibraha (Al-Qillis). Thus, the minarets and domes dominated the skyline of the city. Schools and steam baths (Hamamms) were built. Gardens were expanded to become luscious outlets for the surrounding houses. The houses of San’a are old and some are more than 500 years old. It is believed that the foundations of some of those houses today dates back to more than 1000 years, taking into consideration the tradition to rebuild on top of collapsing houses.

The houses of old Sanaa are known as tower houses with some reaching eight stories high. In old Sanaa there are more than 14000 of these kind of houses. Such houses from the middle of old Sanaa (Cattle market) one can walk 500 metres in any direction with coming across new building. The ground and first floors of the old city houses are built of stone with the upper floors being built of cooked bricks. The floors are separated from one another with a strip of the same building material. The rooms are lit with marble arched stained-glass windows. The exterior walls are decorated with ornaments coated with lime in an updated architectural style and similar material. The ground floors are used as stores, while the large first floors are used for entertaining. These are also rooms allocated for women and children. The Mafraj is the male domain, located at the top of the house, and is a rectangular room with broad windows allowing good sight of the surroundings. It is the most decorated and beautiful room in the house.

Old Sanaa was exposed to many natural disasters and war calamities the most severe of which was the sweeping floods in the late 9th century. However, it was rebuilt and restored to its original condition and then expanded during the Ayubid Reign in the 12th century AD, when they built what is called Sultan Orchard. The city also witnessed expansion under the first Ottoman period, and a new quarter was added to Sanaa,  called Quarter of Beer al-Azab, which was populated by the Senior officials. This quarter was distinct in its architectural style, differing from that of old Sanaa with regard to orchards and fountains. In the middle of the 16th century, Sanaa expanded again by adding the “Qa’a Al-Yahud”, a rampart dating back to the 1 st century AD encircled “The Jewish Quarter” . The rampart was in the shape of an 8,and used to have six gates four of which were used for the old city. These gates were closed each night at 8:00 o’clock and were opened before the dawn prayer at 4:00 am. Today only the southern gate rampart is standing. All others, together with its towers, have collapsed but still some parts exist, particularly eastern and the southern parts adjacent to Bab Al-Yemen. The wall of the city had towers of which the thickness was enough to tow a cannon or tow walking knights.

Sanaa is the most beautiful city in Yemen and probably in the whole Arabian Peninsula. It is a miraculous city with matchless architectural style. It can be said that it is a fantastic Islamic museum and international cultural Center in the same way as Jerusalem (Al-Qawds), Fez, Venice and Florence). UNESCO has considered  Sanaa as an international patrimony and undertook an international camping to protect, safeguard and maintain it in 1984.

Sanaa Mosques

In Sanaa, there are more than 50 mosques, five with domes and many with minarets, most important of which is the Great Mosque, built during the life of Prophet Mohammed in year 630  AD. This mosque was built near the market place of stones from the famous Palace of Ghamdan and its pillars considered to be rare and wonderful masterpieces. They are believed to have been reused after they were moved from Ghamdan Palace of from a Sheba Temple the present building dates back (without the present annexes) to the period of Ya’furriya State in the late 3rd century AD. Queen Arwa Bint Ahmad AL-Sulayhi and others also participated in expanding it. The ceiling of the Great Mosque itself is considered as one of the most important scientific and ideological schools throughout the Islamic history up until today. The Western library, the most famous manuscript library in Yemen, is annexed to this mosque.

There are many other mosques that are no less beautiful or wonderful with respect to the style of minarets, domes and artistic embellishments. One of them is Al-Mehdi Abbas dome, dating back 18th century AD and Bakirriya dome which dates back to the first Ottoman period, and was renovated in the late 19th century by the order of the Ottoman Sultan, Abdul-Hameed.

Sanaa markets

The market is considered to be one of the most significant components of the arabic cities. The markets of old Sanaa are regarded as a living example of this. There are 10 such markets, each specialized in a certain craft or merchandise such as Cloth market, Grain market, Silk market, Raisins market, Cattle market, Thread market, Coffee Husk market, Caps market, Carpet market, Salt market, Brassware market, Silverware market, Firewood market, all perfumed with the scents of the East and a reminder of the tales of “ One Thousand and one Night”.  

Steam baths (hammams)

There are about 15 steam baths in old Sanaa, which are a fundamental feature of the city, as baths are associated with cleanliness. It is said that the Persians introduced the baths. The style of steam baths in Yemen is similar to that of North Africa, but still some suggest that they were introduced during the Umayyad Period in the late 1st century AH (7th century AD).

Samsaras (caravanserais, khans)

There were a number of samsaras, which used to perform specific functions that were complementary to the business of the market, such as services of accommodation, storage, safekeeping of deposits and precious items. Such facilities had a specific architecture style characterized by arches and terraces in the interior, the ground floor of which was usually used for camels and horses. Samsaras are now examples of such brokerage inns, one of them is Al-Nahas Caravansary at the entrance to the Salt Market. which is now used as a center for training of craftsmen and displaying their products. There is another example of samsara nearby, called Samsarat Al-Mansour, which is presently the center for the painting artists.

Al-Saleh Mosque

AlSaleh Mosque is the largest and most modern mosque in Sanaa and in Yemen. It lies in the southern outskirts of the city, south of the Al Sabeen Maternal Hospital. Inaugurated in november 2008 by former yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh. The mosque, with 27,300 square metres (294,000 sq ft) in size, has a central hall which is 13,596 square metres (146,350 sq ft) with an occupancy capacity of 44,000 worshippers. The cost of the mosque reached nearly US$60 million. It is open also to non-muslims.

Wadi Dhar

Wadi Dhar is located 14 km to the northwest of Sanaa, and is considered to be the most important recreation area for the city of Sanaa. Here all kinds of fruit are grown. In the center of the wadi,  perches Dar Al-Hajar (“Rock Palace), a palace built on top of an enormous rock.  The palace dates back to 1786 AD, and its construction was ordered by Imam Mansour Ali Bin Mehdi Abbas. In the 1930s, Imam Yahya Hameed Al-Din added the upper stories and annexed and used it as a rest house. There is an ancient well piercing the rock from top to bottom as well as an old rocky graveyard. It is nowadays one of the main tourist attractions in Yemen. In addition, there are a number of ancient monuments scattered within the wadi.

Bait Baws

Bait Baws is a typical old yemeni village. It is located 7km to the south of Sanaa. Existing inscriptions found in the west of village show us, that this area used to be an important center in the ancient yemeni history. The village is naturally fortified, with only on entrance to the south.


Lying about 8 km from the city center, this region is continuously green because of its long trees of peanuts and other seasonal fruits. There are some old windmills, built during the Ottoman rule in  Yemen, which were driven by the force of water currents.

Continuing On To Kawkaban, Al-Mahwit and A Henna Party in Yemen

Kawkaban and Shibam (not the Shibam in the Hadramawt valley) are considered twin towns. Kawkaban had more perfectly preserved stone tower houses perched on the edge of a 1,000′ cliff top. An important stronghold during the Turkish occupation, Kawkaban protected the town of Shibam below and the only way the Government could subdue Kawkaban in the 1960’s was by airplane. Kawkaban had huge iron gates that are still locked at night. During times of war, the residents of Shibam would leave their homes and flee to Kawkaban for safety.

There was a paved footway, or trail, between Kawkaban and Shibam. This province, Al Mahweet claims to be the most fertile and beautiful in Yemen. I loved the reddish architecture of Kawakaban contrasting against the green areas and mountains, always changing color with the sunlight. Into the 4WD’s on what passed for a road….

Kawkaban on the cliff, Yemen
the 4WD caravan on the road in Yemen

guides with djambias in their belts, Yemen

incredible views from Kawkaban, Yemen

more alabaster windows in Kawkaban, Yemen

There was time for a little shopping and time to browse through a few stands before continuing the day’s journey…

ex-marine leaving a Shibam shop in Yemen

Shibam was supposed to have a great Friday market (we were there on a Tuesday) and a 1,000-year old Grand Mosque. This entire area was so amazing that we took the perfect group photo…

What a good looking group of Geographic Expeditiions tourists in Yemen!

Back in the 4WD’s to Al-Mahwit, set at almost 10,000′. Somehow, I didn’t expect these kind of altitudes in this primarily desert area. In Al-Mahwit, Sarah arranged a surprise “hen”-na party for the women. We walked overfrom the Al-Mahwit Hotel to the henna applier’s house, and one-by-one she carefully decorated our arms/and or hands with henna. I thought it would wear or wash off immediately but mine lasted for the entire trip.

artiste at work drawing intricate henna designs on arms in Yemen

Nancy’s hand being “hennafied”, Yemen

Alison showing off her henna in Yemen

…Trish and Sheila, beautified and ready for any formal Yemen occasion… We women had such a great time…

Trish and Sheila after the “Hen-na” party in Yemen