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Wonders of Yemen

Sana’a. / Rod Waddington, Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

WorldBlue  Highlights

The most exotic country in Arabian peninsula is Yemen. Many peculiar wonders are found in Yemen but the most interesting ones are:

  • Medieval cities. The unique historical cities of Yemen are characterized by very tall buildings (up to 16 floors) with unusual ornamentation. Most impressive examples of this striking style in urban planning are Shibam and Old City of Sana’a – but nearly all medieval villages and towns in Yemen are surprising.
  • Archaeological monuments. Several large cultures of antiquity evolved in Yemen, such as Sabaean and Himyarite Kingdom and others. Ruins of ancient cities, temples and, notably, giant dams exist up to this day and the most notable are Great Dam of Ma’rib and the ancient temple – Mahram Bilqis.
  • Natural heritage of Socotra Island. This remote island is a treasure trove of unusual life forms. Some of the most unusual ecosystems in the world are stands of Dragon’s Blood Tree, such as the grove named Rokeb di Firmihin.

Map with the described wonders

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WorldViolet Top 25 wonders of Yemen

Geological wonders

Hoq Cave


Comparatively large, approximately 3 km long cave with beautiful stalactites and stalagmites, endemic cave fauna. In the cave have been found ancient ceramics, cave art, and wooden tablet with writings dated from 258 AD. Writings on the walls of the cave have been left by Arabs, Indians (Brahmi script), and Greek.

Hoq Cave
Hoq Cave in Soqatra. / Valerian Guillot, Flickr / CC BY 2.0
Bir Ali


Volcano with a crater lake with unusual, green water.

Biological wonders

Rokeb di Firmihin


The best and last forest of some of the most unusual-looking trees in the world – Dragon’s Blood Tree (Dracaena cinnabari).

This is not alien planet. Group of Dragon's Blood Trees in Socotra
This is not alien planet. Group of Dragon’s Blood Trees in Socotra. (possibly taken outside Rokeb di Firmihin) / Rod Waddington, Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0
Jabal Bura forest

Al Hudaydah

One of the last subtropical forests in Southern Arabia, located in granitic mountains. Forest has five altitude zones. Here are found numerous endemic plants.

Archaeological wonders



Remnants of a prehistoric city that was founded in the 2nd century BC or earlier and abandoned in the 6th century AD. The former capital of Himyarites in the 1st century BC – 6th century AD. The site includes rock-cut tombs. Fortification walls were some 4 km long.

Ghumdan Palace

Amanat Al-Asemah

The remaining part of the ancient fortified palace of Sana’a, built in the 3rd century AD or earlier. The tower of the palace once had many (up to 20?) floors and could be the world’s first skyscraper. The architecture of the palace influenced the architecture of city houses in Yemen. Now just ruins remain.


Al Jawf

This ancient city was built before 450 BC, the capital of the Minaean kingdom in the 4th century BC. The city was abandoned in the 1960ies and now there are ruins over an artificial hill consisting of the cultural layer. Parts of the ancient, 14 m tall city walls still exist.

Great Dam of Ma’rib


One of the engineering wonders of the ancient world, built in the 8th century BC or earlier. The oldest known dam in the world. The original dam was 580 m long and 4 m high, later it became larger. There are also other ancient dams of similar age nearby. Dam suffered often but nevertheless has left a profound influence on the development of South Arabian civilization.

Remnants of the Great Dam of Ma'rib, Yemen
Remnants of the Great Dam of Ma’rib / Yousef Hussain, / public domain
Old Ma’rib


Ruins of the former Saabean capital city. It flourished in the first millennium BC and a distinct culture developed here – even with specific writing. Near the city are found ruins of Mahram Bilqis or Awwam Temple with a row of rectangular columns. This temple of the Moon-god had a huge importance in the region.

Mahram Bilqis near Ma'rib, taken in 1986, Yemen
Mahram Bilqis near Ma’rib, taken in 1986 / Bernard Gagnon, / CC BY-SA 3.0
Al-Mahwit tombs

Al Mahwit

Large group (hundreds) of rock-cut tombs from the Paleolithic age, with embalmed mummies and relics.

Architecture wonders

Old City of Sana’a


An impressive display of the unique Yemeni urban planning and architecture. Sana’a is founded before 500 BC and there are buildings that are more than 1,400 years old. The city walls are 9 – 14 m tall, the old city contains more than 100 mosques and 6,500 houses. Most of the houses are highrise buildings and are ornamented.

Sanaa, the ancient capital of Yemen
Sanaa, the ancient capital of Yemen / F. Reus, / CC BY-SA 2.0


Unique, fortified city. Shibam is an old city, first mentioned in the 3rd century AD. This densely built city has some 500 tower houses, each rising 5 to 11 stories (more than 30 m) high. Most houses have been built since the 16th century. The city is enclosed by a wall.



Exceptionally well preserved medieval town, one of the most beautiful ones in Yemen. The town was founded in the Himyarite period (the 1st century BC – 6th century AD), it is surrounded by nearly intact, 2 km long city walls that are 5 – 7 m tall. City has some 600 well-preserved medieval houses that form dense clusters with narrow streets.

Thula, Yemen
Thula. / Rod Waddington, Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Al Hudaydah

The former capital of Yemen, an outstanding medieval center of learning. Founded before the 7th century AD, flourished in the 13th – 15th century. Four gates remain from the former fortification walls. The city contains a multitude of ornate buildings including 86 mosques.

Walls in Zabid
Walls in Zabid. / Franco Pecchio, Flickr / CC BY 2.0
Al Hajjarah


Fortified medieval village perched on a cliff in the Haraz Mountains, built in the 12th century. The ornate houses are built over an abyss and look very impressive.

Al Hajjarah, Yemen
Al Hajjarah / Franco Pecchio, Flickr / CC BY 2.0


Mountain city: an ancient capital that flourished in the 11th – 12th centuries. The beautiful, well preserved city forms a harmonious whole with the surrounding agrarian landscape. The steep streets of Jibla are nearly unusable for cars. Houses are adorned with stucco reliefs, and in the city are beautiful mosques, the Palace of Queen with 365 rooms, medieval aqueduct.

Jibla. / Rod Waddington, Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0
Great Mosque of Sana’a (Jami’ al-Kabir)

Amanat Al-Asemah

One of the oldest mosques It is possible that it was built in the 7th century AD, most likely during the lifetime of Muhammad. Interior structures have Byzantine architectural features. Site of great historical importance.

Great Mosque of Sana'a
Great Mosque of Sana’a. / Scastellsf, Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0
Old City of Ta’izz


The former capital of Yemen in the 12th – 14th century. The historical core part of the city has been preserved comparatively well and here are found many old, ornate buildings.

Old City of Ta'izz
Old City of Ta’izz. / Will De Freitas, Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0
Great Mosque of Zabid

Al Hudaydah

A very old mosque, constructed in 820 AD. The central mosque of a once very important center of teaching.

Great Mosque of Zabid
Great Mosque of Zabid. / Véronique Dauge, Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0
Al-Amiriya mosque

Al Bayda’

One of the most ornate mosques in this region, constructed in 1504. This large structure is rectangular, adorned with six large domes. Especially impressive are the painted frescoes inside – geometric and floral motifs of exceptionally high quality.

Shahara Bridge


An old and impressive bridge that was built over some 300 m deep canyon in the 17th century.

Shaharah Bridge
Shaharah Bridge in 1986, Yemen. / Bernard Gagnon, Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0
Ta’izz Governor’s Palace


A historical palace that is perched on a 450 m tall hill above the city center.

Ta'izz Governor's Palace, Yemen
Ta’izz Governor’s Palace / Franco Pecchio, Flickr / CC BY 2.0


A picturesque town with traditional Yemenese mud houses. The town is located at the bottom of the impressive Wadi Doan canyon.



A well-preserved medieval city, founded in the 9th century. The city was the center of Zaydism – a school of Muslim thought. The city is enclosed with fortification walls – an earthen rampart that is 3 km long and 4 m wide, with 52 watchtowers and 16 gates. Here are found 14 medieval mosques that were built in the 10th – 16th century. Near the city is a large and ancient Zaydite cemetery with an extensive collection of richly ornamented steles.

Sa’dah. / Annemee Siersma, Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0
Al Muhdhar Mosque in Tarim


This mosque has a very impressive and ornate, 53 m tall minaret that was built in 1914.

Al Muhdhar Mosque in Tarim / Jialiang Gao, / CC BY-SA 3.0

WorldYellow Recommended books

Yemen: The Unknown Arabia

A country long regarded by classical geographers as a fabulous land where flying serpents guarded sacred incense groves, while medieval Arab visitors told tales of disappearing islands and menstruating mountains. Our current ideas of this country at the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula have been hijacked by images of terrorist strongholds, drone attacks, and diplomatic tensions. But, as Mackintosh-Smith reminds us in this newly updated book, there is another Arabia. Yemen may be a part of Arabia, but it is like no place on earth.

Yemen, A Photographic Journey

The staggering breadth and diversity of Yemen’s landscapes and peoples is not something easily conveyed. Here, in this remarkable celebration of his homeland, Mahmoud Al-Shaibani presents a breathtaking panorama that sweeps in the mountains and valleys, the plains and seas, and the myriad of different communities that live in this ancient land.

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