A day trip to discover the mountain villages north of Sana’a
We start the morning by heading to the northern town of Shibam, founded in the 1st century AD and located 2300 meters above sea level, at the foot of Jabal Kawkaban. After visiting the ancient city gate, we continue towards the small and characteristic souk where we buy bread and fruit. Walking through the town’s small streets, through the typical stone houses, we reach the Great Mosque of Shibam, a religious building that dates back to the twelfth century. Entrance is not permitted to non-Muslims, but it really is worth looking at, even from outside.
After the visit of Shibam, we continue towards the city of Kawkaban, located 350 meters higher than Shibam, on top of the mountain from which it takes its name. It is possible to see some small caves that house tombs along the mountainside according to an ancient local custom. Starting from the central square of Shibam, after 1 hour of challenging hiking, we reach the top of Jabal Kawkaban, where the Kawkaban village stretches in a spectacular position. The Yemeni population, especially in small villages, is not used to see foreigners; therefore, we have the opportunity to experience real splits of local life, above all far from Western influences.
Once famous for its music school, this village is known for its beautiful architecture and the ancient water tanks. During the walk in the villages, it is very common to be followed by a myriad of smiling children who want to hold our hand. Once off through the same path to Shibam, after a short break in the crowded souq, we head to two ancient fortified cities, absolutely not to be missed for their particular architecture: Thula and Hababa. Characterized by imposing walls that surround the entire area, interrupted only by two ancient gates, the city of Thula was an important theological centre. Its stone houses, its mosques and its old souk will certainly not disappoint your expectations.
The nearby Hababa, similar in style and architecture to Thula, still retains its oval reservoir, making Hababa different from other citadels. Seeing this old stone cistern surrounded by houses that reflect their shape inside the pool and where people still come today to draw water, wash their laundry or take water for livestock is truly fascinating.
After enjoying these beautiful villages, we head to the last stop of our daily trip, Al Mahwit. Known for its lively market, this city does not have much to offer, but it’s worth visiting because the road to get there is surrounded by fruit, coffee and tobacco plantations. This area has a beautiful view and, on each hill, you can see a fort or a fortified village. Al Tawila, without a doubt, is the most spectacular spot, and in the past, it was an important gathering point for the coffee trade.