An important stronghold during the Turkish occupation of lower regions of the Yemen, Kawkaban served to protect the town of Shibam below. It is built at the summit of a 350-metre cliff and the town's inhabitants were often evacuated there during times of crisis.
Kawkaban is about an hour's walk from Shiban, by means of a paved footway, starting from behind the main mosque.
Here's the drill. Any guide you hire will take you up to the town/mesa. You walk around and take your photos but don't buy anything from the local yo yo's selling trinkets since you can get it cheaper in Sanaa anyway. When you are done clicking the camera and shooting the sh.. with the locals if you can speak arabic..you hike down the trail that runs along the face of the cliff. It takes an hour or so depending on how much time you take to soak up the view. I grew up hiking down cliffs near my home but have to admit that this is actually kinda fun..even though there are stone steps leading down most of it.
Unfortunately despite its dramatic setting, Kawkaban is depressively abandoned and ruined.
After a lovely ride over the cliffs of the mountain with excellent views, by the time you approach the village your first impressions are great. The exterior wall follows the steep cliff perimetrically forming two towers at the village entrance.
From there on, an earthen road passing through devastated houses leads you to the edge of the mountain with unrivalled views over the plateau, Thulla, Hababah and Shibam villages.
An interesting sight in Kawkaban, is the ancient cisterns (I saw at least two) where in older times were used to keep water in town. Both of them were build by the edge of the mountain (!!) and there was staircase to their bottom.
Several Yemeni men chew qat while looking down the cliffs of Kawkaban. This naturally gives them a double high. The vehicle in the picture is less than a metre away from the edge while the men have their legs hanging over it. But that is no problem because as long as they are chewing qat they can do anything - and nothing bad can happen to them.
Don´t be confuse about the name of this town: In Yemen there are four towns with this name, one of them is the famous Shibam in Hadramawt region. This one is called northern Shibam or Shibam-Kawkaban.
The name of the city is mentioned in documents from the II century . There still remains some buildings of the old city, builded in 829 A.D. under Yufrid rulers, that claimed the independence of the town from Sanaa. In northern Shibam you can visit the suq and the Great Mosque. There are also some intereseting caves in the cliffs where some people has lived.
The old path between both cities is still used by lots of people. The walk is short and from there you will have excellent views. The path is well-manatined and not difficult, so all people can do that. It akes 45 minutes to do that (from Kawkaban to Shibam). You will have also excellent views of Shibam, down the cliffs, 350 m lower.
You can visit the all the town in a brief walk, because it ´s not a big town. The most interesting thing to visit in the city is the viewpoint near the cliffs, where there´s also a waterpool. From there you can see Shibam and Thula, down the valley.