Yemen: Wadi Dhahr and Kawkaban to Shibam

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.

Yemenis Have Big Families….and Small Cars

Wadi Dhahr

 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.

Wadi Dhahr

Wadi Dhahr

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.

Holding a Trained Bird (Falcon?) for Tips


Mule Enjoying the View


View Over Yemen from Kawkaban

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.

Stay Safe!

Yemeni Driver

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!

Trail from Kawkaban Down to Shibam


Shibami Fruit Vendor Chewing Qat

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.

6 Comments on “Yemen: Wadi Dhahr and Kawkaban to Shibam”

  1. I was fortunate enough to work in the Yemen Arab Republic for short while in 1982. Amongst other places, I visited Kawkaban and well remember the friendly people, the beautiful architecture, the green water tanks and the colourful doorways with their ancient overhead Musnad Script. The steep pathway down to Shibam was a memory for life. I also remember the souk in Shibam, because at that time it was still possible to buy ancient muskets in a tiny shop. I would have bought one, but didn’t think HMR Customs would agree with me. It was lovely to see your photos.

    • It’s wonderful you were able to experience YAR in the early 80s, I imagine it was a much different place back then and a lot more of the traditional architecture would have been preserved.

      It’s funny you mention the guns as several of the jewelry stores in Sana’a still sell WWII era guns and beautiful pistols with inlaid ivory and detailed silver carvings. While I am not a gun person at all I did hear stories of Americans who would purchase the guns and bring them back in pieces to reassemble and sell.

      I’m just hopeful the situation in Yemen improves soon so I can return one day. Sadly, although I’ve worked there for nearly a decade, I have not had the opportunity to travel very much due to the security risks.


  2. Are you still working in Yemen? The danger money must be pretty good if you are:).

    • The situation in Yemen is very sad at the moment. Thankfully I’m able to continue working remotely but I feel terrible for my colleagues who are still there.

    • Sadly not yet. It is a “must see” in my lifetime though. You would think it would be easy to visit since I live in the country but, because of liability concerns through work, it has proven challenging to get permission to travel domestically much.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.