Think fast! What do you know about the country of Yemen? Aside from its involvement in the socio-political event known as Arab Spring, you might be drawing a blank. And in all fairness, it’s not your fault. Compared to better known Middle Eastern countries like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, or even Iraq and Iran, Yemen is often overlooked. But we have a few amazing facts about “Arabia Felix” (the happy land) that will make you want to know more about this unique country.
It’s Home to One of the Oldest Occupied Cities in the World
Yes, Yemen is that old. Sana’a is not only the capital city, but it’s also a city with ancient roots. Sana’a has served as a home to its people for over 2,500 years, is the country’s largest city, and it serves as a major transit hub for other popular stops within the nation. But the populous city is also the seventh-highest capital in the world, sitting at over 7,500 feet above sea level.
Socotra Island Is One of the Most Isolated Places on Earth
Socotra is a place so unique that you can’t find a third of the flora or fauna elsewhere in the world. The island is located in an archipelago off the coast of Yemen and has been dubbed Alien Island because of its unique wildlife. Archeologists, scientists and anthropologists have been visiting the island for years because of the unique biodiversity. But tourists are starting to recognize this untapped gem as well. Flights connect out of Sana’a and the UAE if you have your heart set on Socotra.
It Boasts the “Manhattan of the Desert”
When you think of skyscrapers, you probably imagine modern cities like New York or Tokyo. But the concept of urban planning is far older than both of these cities and their iconic histories. Shibam is a 16th-century city that first embraced the idea of “building up” rather than urban sprawl. And the ancient city is also listed on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list. The walled city features a variety of buildings as tall as seven stories, which is pretty impressive considering that the structures are made of mud bricks. It’s important to note that several buildings throughout the city date back as far as the ninth century during pre-Islamic times.
You Have to Try the National Dish “Saltah”
One of the best ways to get to know a culture is through its cuisine. And Yemen is a nation with plenty of unique dishes that help it stand out from other countries within the Arabian peninsula and the greater Middle East. Saltah is a shorter way of saying “salatah,” which further translates to “a combination of vegetables.” You might know that as a salad. The dish has its origins from the Ottoman Empire and was believed to be made from charitable leftover food donations from wealthy families and area mosques. Today, the dish features a meat broth base; fenugreek froth; a mix of tomatoes, peppers, herbs, and garlic; and usually lamb or beef for the meat. However, some variations include potatoes and other ingredients.
Yemen Has Roots That Go Back to the Bible
Even if you’re not particularly religious, it’s still pretty awe-inspiring when you walk through ancient lands that figured prominently in well-known literary works. Before the country was known as Yemen, it went by a few other names. It was first known as Sheba when it served as the stronghold for the Queen of Sheba. But you might also know it as the “land of milk and honey” during Noah’s time. And the story of Jesus and the Three Wise Men with their gifts of frankincense and myrrh also took place in this ancient land.