Yemen in a desert country located on the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, bordered by the Red Sea and the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait in the west, Saudi Arabia in the north and Oman in the east. With the exception of the costal plains in the west, Yemen is continuously elevated with high and dry mountains having jagged peaks and plateaus covering most of the country. Yemen has no permanent rivers, but the highland regions are interspersed with several seasonal river valleys, called “Wadi”, that remain dry in the winter months. The most notable among these are Wadi Hadhramaut and Wadi Dawan, in eastern and central Yemen.
Wadi Hadramaut consists of a narrow, arid coastal plain bounded by the steep escarpment of a broad plateau (al-Jawl, averaging 4,490 feet), with a very sparse network of deeply sunk wadis. The undefined northern edge of Hadhramaut slopes down to the vast dry desert of Rub al Khali. The upper portions of Wadi Hadramaut contain alluvial soil and floodwaters while lower portion is barren and largely uninhabited.
The Hadhramis live in densely built towns and villages centered on traditional watering stations along the wadis. The buildings cling to the hillside or stand on the plateau, at a height of 100 or 200 meters above the level of the valley. Many of them hang above the rocks. The houses are build of mud bricks with wooden floors and rises several stories tall. These adobe structures need to be constantly repaired particularly after the summer rains that tend to wash away the mud coatings and weaken the structure.
Wadi Hadramaut’s most famous town is Shibam, also called “the Manhattan of the Desert”, because of its unusually tall buildings that rises abruptly out of the desert plateau. This small town of 7,000 is packed with around 500 mud houses standing between 5 and 11 stories tall and reaching 100 feet high, all constructed entirely of mud bricks. Shibam was previously covered on Amusing Planet where you can find more details and more pictures of this place.
Lying adjacent to Wadi Hadramut is another spectacular place – Wadi Dawan. Wadi Dawan is a tributary of Wadi Hadramut and it too contains numerous towns and villages alongside the wadi banks and above the surrounding terraces and plateau. According to Dawan Architecture Foundation, “the architectural heritage of Dawan today outshines that of Wadi Hadramut, since its towns and villages have been much better preserved in the past two decades, during which speculation and cement construction have hit the region.”
The wadi’s most attractive villages, lying in a north to south direction, include Al-Mashhad, which, with the 15th-century Tomb of Hasan ibn Hasan, is a local pilgrimage site and a near-deserted village. This is followed by the impressive village of Al-Hajarayn, clambering up the side of a cliff and is among the oldest villages in the region. One of the biggest villages in the wadi, called Sif, lies next.
Yemen was one of the oldest areas of human civilization, yet remains one of the poorest Arab countries. In recent decades, it has become a hot zone for terrorist groups making travels to this beautiful country a considerable risk to life.