Besieged by crisis, Yemen has been embroiled in civil war and violence for decades. But beyond the newspaper headlines, how much do you know about this Middle Eastern nation? We’ll bet you didn’t know that it’s home to the ‘Galapagos of the Indian Ocean’ or that it invented mocha coffee. Intrigued? From mud-brick skyscrapers to dragon-blood trees, here are a few interesting facts about Yemen that might surprise you.
Interesting facts about Yemen
1. It’s home to ‘the Manhattan of the desert’
The UNESCO-listed 16th-century Old Walled City of Shibam has been dubbed the ‘Manhattan of the Desert’ thanks to its supersized buildings. The cluster of ancient mud skyscrapers soar high above the desert floor, much like New York’s towers. The British explorer Freya Stark coined the title in the 1930s.
Some of the 16th-century skyscrapers reach seven stories high. Made from soil, hay and water, the bricks would have been left to bake in the sun for days. The ground floors were used for grain storage while the upper floors were used for socialising.
2. Mocha takes its name from Yemen
Sweet and chocolatey ‘mocha’ coffee is well-known around the world, but few people know it comes from Yemen. Once upon a time, the port city of Mokha was at the heart of Yemen’s 200-year trade monopoly over the sale of coffee. It was here that the famous drink first became popular. The west soon discovered it and named the hot brew after the city.
3. Most of Yemen is desert
The Arabian Desert is the largest desert in Asia and the second-largest desert on earth. Only the Sahara Desert is larger. The Arabian Desert covers most of Yemen, as well as parts of Saudi Arabia, Oman and Qatar.
The Rubʿ al-Khali – or “Empty Quarter”– is the largest uninterrupted sand desert in the world. Part of this desert lies in Yemen. Legend has it that there is a lost city within its sands, known as ‘Atlantis of Sand’. No one has ever found it, but explorers still keep an eye out for evidence of a swallowed civilisation.
4. Yemen is made up of islands too
The territory of Yemen also encompasses some 200 islands. These include the Kamarān group and Ḥanīsh Islands in the Red Sea and Perim in the Bab el-Mandeb Strait. These small islands still hold tremendous strategic value.
Socotra is Yemen’s biggest and most important island, situated around 620 miles east of Aden. Marooned between Somalia and Yemen, this archipelago is one of the most isolated places on Earth. Unesco has described it as the ‘Galapagos of the Indian Ocean’ due to its unique flora and fauna.
5. Yemen is the only republic in the Arabian Peninsula
Yemen is the only state in the Arabian Peninsula with a republican government. Every other state has a monarchy. The republic formed on 22 May 1990, when North Yemen united with South Yemen.
6. Yemen is home to some of the world’s most spectacular Unesco World Heritage Sites
Yemen is home to a staggering number of landmarks dating back thousands of years. Unesco has listed The Historic Town of Zabid, the Old City of Sana’a and the Old Walled City of Shibam. Unesco describes Zabid as ‘an outstanding archaeological and historical site’. The capital of Yemen between the 13th and 15th century, the city played a crucial role in the Arab and Muslim world for centuries due to the Islamic university.
Unesco has also designated the Socotra Archipelago as a natural heritage site, due to its rich biodiversity. Around 37% of the islands’ plant species, 90% of its reptile species and 95% of its land snail species can only be found on the archipelago.
Other notable sites include the Dar al-Hajar, the royal palace carved from a single rock in the 02-s. Today it’s a museum and tourist attraction.
Experts can trace this iconic tree all the way back to a time of prehistoric. According to local legend, the tree either grew from the blood of two brothers fighting to the death or from the blood of a dragon that was injured fighting an elephant.