Back in 2006 and 2007 when the security situation in Yemen was generally good, I was able to travel to Wadi Dhahr (approximately 15kms NW of Sana’a) on New Years Day, when my employer gave my colleagues and I the day off work.
The palace of Dar al-Hajar, also known as the ‘rock palace’ in Wadi Dhahr is a beautiful building constructed in the 1930s for Imam Yahya as a summer residence. Imam Yahya was the ruling Imam of Northern Yemen from 1918 until he was assassinated in 1948. What makes the Dar al-Hajar palace so beautiful is that it is built on a sandstone outcrop high above the surrounding area. The palace is now a museum and is open for tourists with many displays in both English and Arabic. As these photos show, the rock palace is well worth a visit if the security situation allows.
Further West from Sana’a are the villages of Shibam and Kawkaban. Kawkaban is a small fortified village built 2800 meters (9200 feet) above sea level on a mountain top. Kawkaban has walls on the North side and is naturally fortified from other directions due to the large mountains cliffs of the village’s surrounds. The village of Kawkaban was the capital of Bani Sharaf Al-Deen in the 15th century and is filled with beautiful traditional Yemeni architectural designs.
As soon as we arrived at Kawkaban numerous children with wheelbarrows and boxes full of crafts and jewelry ran up to us to try and sell their goods. They followed us relentlessly and after a lengthy negotiation I purchased a beautiful camel bone jewelry box that I use to hold my cuff links for a few dollars.
We spent 20-30 minutes wandering the village of Kawkaban before beginning the trail down the mountain face leading to the village of Shibam below. If you have the opportunity to visit, I would highly recommend walking the trail down from Kawkaban to Shibam as it offers incredibly views and reinforces why Kawkaban was historically so well protected from its enemies. The hike takes around 45 minutes and has an elevation drop of over 1600 feet, which is why I would recommend walking down rather than up!
Wadi Dhahr and Shibam / Kawkaban are wonderful historical attractions and I truly hope the security situation in Yemen improves so that I can visit again one day soon.