Area: 527,968 square kilometres
Population: approx. 21 million
Currency: Yemeni Rial (YER)
There is no other place like it in the world. Yemen is as near as you can get to "Fairytale Arabia". The old city of Sana’a, with its mud brick tower houses and bustling alleyways, is as genuine as it is charming.
The awe-inspiring city of Shibam, nicknamed “the Manhattan of Arabia”, is another example of how closely connected Yemen is with its history.
Located at an altitude of 2,200 metres, Sana’a is one of the most extraordinarily authentic capital cities of the world. It is also one of the oldest, with a history dating back more than 2,500 years.
The fortified Old Town of Sana’a is a fascinating place with a fairytale-look. Its brown, mud-brick tower houses with their intricately carved windows, give the town a unique appearance. This part of Sana’a was declared a “World Heritage Site” by the United Nations in 1984. Some of the buildings in the Old Town are over 400 years old. High clay walls enclose this town housing more than 100 mosques and 12 hammams (baths).
The 700 year-old Bab al-Yemen ("Gate of Yemen") in the city wall, is the legendary entry point to the Old Town. The ancient Souk Bab al-Yemen is nearby, with its huge array of different crafts and trades. Other markets well worth visiting are the Spice Market and the Brass Market. The latter, called “Souk an-Nahaas” in Arabic, is the place to shop for a traditional Yemeni “jambiyya”, the curved dagger.
The Great Mosque ("Al-Jamea Al-Kabeer"), in the western part of the main souk, is one of the oldest mosques in the world. Built in 627 AD, the mosque is located in an area that was formerly the private garden of the Persian Sassanid ruler in Yemen, Bathan. When Bathan converted to Islam, he donated the garden to the Prophet Muhammad. When the mosque was restored in 1976, precious manuscripts were discovered in one of the wooden coffered ceilings. These manuscripts included a complete text of the Qur’an believed to be written by Ali bin Abi Talib (the fourth Caliph and a cousin of the Prophet), and many other valuable religious and historical documents.
Souk Al Milh (the “Salt Market”) is a vibrant marketplace, which should be visited in the early morning, when activity is at its peak.
Darul-Makhtootaat is a museum housing unique Islamic artifacts and Qur’an manuscripts.
In the modern part of Sana’a, the National Museum, 100 metres north of Tahrir Square, houses artifacts from the ancient Yemeni kingdoms. Among items on display are writings, coins, jewellery and traditional costumes.
Other places of interest in Sana’a include Qasr as-Silaah, the Citadel. It was largely rebuilt in the 19th century, and has been reconstructed and expanded many times throughout history. The oldest sections date back to the 9th century.
Enjoy these panoramic views of Sana'a.
Dar Al-Hajar (The Rock Palace)
15 km northwest of Sana’a is the Rock Palace, perched atop a prominent rock formation in Wadi Dhahr. This five-storey palace was built in the 1930s, by Imam Yahya, who had become king of Yemen in 1926.
The Rock Palace is a popular destination during weekends and it is open to the public. Some of the interior rooms are furnished, and there are some beautiful stained-glass windows. The roof offers breathtaking views of the surroundings.
The walled city of Sa'dah was once an important station along the trade route between Sana’a and Makkah. Later, Sa'dah became the capital of the Zaydi dynasty of imams (860-1962) and became its centre of learning. The northern “Najran Gate” is the most noteworthy of the city-wall gates. An alleyway leading to the doors protects it. The market sells traditional items, like stone necklaces and fine silverware. The Fortress used to be the residence of the Zaydi Imam.
Al Mokha is a port on the Red Sea, dating back to the Himyarite kingdom (110 BC to 525 AD). Al Mokha gave its name to the famous Mocca Coffee, This port city enjoyed a boom period in the 17th and 18th centuries, when it was exporting coffee to Europe.
Ta’izz is in a dramatic mountainous setting, with the 3000-metre Sabir Mountain rising above the city. This 900-year old city has a city wall from the 13th century, enclosing the Old Town, with its beautiful mosques and mud-brick houses. The mosques of Al-Ashrafiya and Al-Mudhaffar are among the most beautiful in Yemen.
Other places of interest in Ta’izz are “Al-Qaahira”, the old fort, from where there are good views of the city, and the National Museum.
Going in a 4x4 vehicle up the Saber Mountain, offers breathtaking views of Ta’izz.
Aden has a long history as a port city near the convergence of the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea. The city used to be the capital of South Yemen, until the unification of North and South Yemen in 1990. The oldest part of the city lies in the crater of an extinct volcano.
The National Museum of Antiquities houses a collection of pre-Islamic artifacts. There is also the Ethnographical Museum and the Military Museum.
Hadhramaut is a historical region extending from the southeastern part of Yemen to the Dhofar region in Oman. Wadi Hadhramaut is a huge fertile depression watered by many small wadis. In this region are the three cities of Shibam, Sa’yun and Tarim.
Nicknamed “The Manhattan of the Desert”, Shibam is an awe-inspiring sight, with its ancient, soaring skyscrapers. The UNESCO has declared Shibam, which used to be the capital of the ancient kingdom of Hadhramaut, a “World Heritage Site”.
Enjoy these panoramic views of Shibam.
Sa’yun was former capital of the Kathiri Sultanate, which ruled until 1967. The Palace of Sultan Al-Kathiri has a museum for folklore and archaeology. The Great Mosque of Sa’yun dates from the 17th century. There is a souk selling traditional items.
Tarim used to be the capital of the Kinda kingdom. The palaces of Al-Kaf and Bin Yahya are worth visiting. The Ahgaf Library houses old Qur’anic manuscripts.