Land of Ancient Cultures and Intricate Architecture

By Liz Goldner

The capital of the country is Sanaa, and it was on the U.S. Embassy grounds, in the front yard of the compound that soil for Gary Simpson’s Common Ground 191 was collected, according to a Yemeni government official, Ann Marie. Ann wrote to Gary Simpson in December 2006, “We’re in the Arab world and “peace” translates as ‘salaam.’ Naturally, this is written in Arabic script and not in Latin letters.”




Yemen, occupying the southwestern corner of the Arabian Peninsula, is the Southernmost Middle Eastern country. Tall mountains divide the country’s coastal stretches from a desolate desert interior. Because of this uninhabitable interior, Yemen is sparsely populated; its Arab people are largely rural.

The country is bounded on the west by the Red Sea, on the south by the Gulf of Aden and is separated from Africa by the narrow strait of Bab el Mandeb. To the north and northeast lies Saudi Arabia and to the east is Oman. Yemen covers about 527,970 sq km (about 203,850 sq mi). The capital of the country is Sanaa, and it was on the U.S. Embassy
grounds, in the front yard of the compound that soil for Gary Simpson’s Common Ground 191 was collected, according to a Yemeni government official, Ann Marie. Ann wrote to Gary Simpson in December 2006, “We’re in the Arab world and “peace” translates as ‘salaam.’ Naturally, this is written in Arabic script and not in Latin letters.”

The Yemeni highlands, about 6,000 feet above sea level, rise to 3,760 m (12,336 ft), the highest peak on the Arabian Peninsula. The highlands in the north of the country have a less forbidding climate and greater rainfall than in the south, and support more intensive and extensive agriculture and a larger population.

To the west and south, the highlands drop abruptly to a low, flat coastal desert plain. To the east and north, the highlands descend gradually to the interior plateau that holds the vast Arabian Desert, the Rub‘ al Khali (Empty Quarter). The eastern half of Yemen is mostly uninhabitable.

The Yemeni highlands have a generally semiarid but otherwise temperate climate. By contrast, the coastal plain is hot and humid much of the year; summer and winter winds often bring severe sandstorms. Average temperatures for Yemen vary from about 27°C (80°F) in June to about 14°C (57°F) in January.

Every summer, monsoon winds blow inland over the water, picking up moisture, while the mountains force the warm air to rise, cool, and condense. The considerable rainfall allows for intensive cultivation, much of it on stonewalled terraces and in wadis, streambeds that flow with water only during and after the rains.


As the site of several prosperous civilizations in ancient times, Yemen has been a poor and forgotten land for more than a thousand years.

The history of Yemen dates back to the Minaean (1200–650 B.C.) and Sabaean (750–115 B.C.) kingdoms. Ancient Yemen (centered around the port of Aden) engaged in the lucrative myrrh and frankincense trade. The Romans invaded the country in the 1st century A.D., then the Ethiopians and Persians invaded in the 6th century. In 628, Yemen converted to Islam. In the 10th century, it came under the control of the Rassite dynasty of the Zaidi sect, which remained involved in North Yemeni politics until 1962. The Ottoman Turks nominally occupied the area from 1538 to the decline of their empire in 1918.

Imams ruled the northern portion of Yemen until a pro-Egyptian military coup took place in 1962. At that time, the junta proclaimed the Yemen Arab Republic. A civil war occurred there in the mid 60’s, when Egypt's Nasser and the USSR supported the revolutionaries, while King Saud of Saudi Arabia and King Hussein of Jordan supported the royalists. The
royalists were defeated in 1969.

The southern port of Aden, strategically located at the opening of the Red Sea, was colonized by Britain in 1839. By 1937, it was known as the Aden Protectorate. In the 1960s, the Nationalist Liberation Front (NLF) fought against British rule. This led to the establishment of the People's Republic of Southern Yemen in November 1967. In 1979, under
strong Soviet influence, the country became the only Marxist state in the Arab world.

The Republic of Yemen was established on May 22, 1990, when pro-Western Yemen and the Marxist Yemen Arab Republic merged to form the new nation. The decline of Soviet economic support in the south was an important incentive for the merger. The new President of Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh, was elected by the parliaments of both countries.

A civil war ensued in 1994. The north's superior forces quickly overwhelmed the south, despite the south's brief declaration of succession. The victorious north presented a reconciliation plan, providing for a general amnesty and pledges to protect political democracy.

The president's party, the General People's Congress, won an enormous victory in the April 1997 parliamentary elections. In 1998–1999, a militant Islamic group, the Aden-Abyan Islamic Army kidnapped several groups of Western tourists, which ultimately led to the deaths of several people, during a poorly orchestrated rescue attempt. The group's leader Zein al-Abidine al-Mihdar threatened to continue attacks on tourists and government officials. (The goal of the militants is to
overthrow the government and turn Yemen into an Islamic state.)

On Oct. 12, 2000, 17 Americans died and 37 were wounded when suicide bombers attacked the U.S. Navy destroyer Cole, while refueling in Aden, Yemen. The U.S. had numerous clashes with Yemeni authorities during the investigation of the terrorist act. After the Sept. 11, terrorist attacks on the U.S.; Yemen increased its cooperation with the U.S. and assisted in antiterrorism measures.

In Oct. 2002, a French tanker, the Limburg, was the victim of a terrorist attack off the coast of Yemen. Ten suspects of the Cole bombing escaped from prison in April 2003; seven, including the two suspected masterminds of the attack, were recaptured in 2004. Fifteen militants were convicted in Aug. 2004 on a variety of charges, including the attack on the Limburg. In September, two key al-Qaeda operatives involved in the Cole bombing were sentenced to death.

In presidential elections in Sept. 2006, incumbent Ali Abdullah Saleh was reelected with 77% of the vote. In March 2007, President Saleh appointed Ali Muhammad Mujawar as Prime Minister and asked him to form a cabinet.


Yemen is a part of the Islamic world and reflects many of the contemporary Islamic trends. Yet, the Yemenis are intensely proud of their pre-Islamic heritage. The national museum in San'a' and the archaeological museum in Aden house valuable treasures from ancient times, demonstrating how the ancient Yemenis encountered myriad cultures and civilizations in their considerable networks of overland and maritime trade. There are numerous exhibits of how Greek, Roman, Indian, Indonesian, and Chinese cultures influenced various aspects of ancient and contemporary Yemeni culture. Similarities have been drawnbetween marriage institutions in India and Yemen and between religious music in Yemen and Byzantine masses.

There are cultural differences between regional groups in Yemen. The inhabitants of Hadhramaut reflect the cultural and genetic determine of Southeast Asia with which the district has historic commercial ties. Yemenis living in the coastal lowlands reflect the racial and cultural determines of nearby Africa, while cosmopolitan Aden, which Great Britain governed as part of India from the mid-1800s through the early 1900s, has traces of the culture of the Indian subcontinent.

The best-known characteristic of Yemeni culture is its architecture, which dates back more than 2,000 years. In the mountainous interior, buildings are constructed of stone blocks, four to six stories high. Many have highly decorated windows and exteriors. In the desert regions, the buildings are usually made of adobe, with the various layers emphasized and often tinted.

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