Ask your Tour Guide to leave you in Kawkaban and walk down the mountain to Shibam. It is a breathtaking view and you can walk down in about 45 minutes. You need to be in reasonable shape and have very good shoes or boots. The great thing is you cannot get lost. You can see where you are going. You will also see the people living in caves on the edge of Shibam. If you are lucky you will have travelling companions like my new friends pictured here.
The rock cemeteries are found carved (by hand) on the face of the mountain overlooking Shibam. They are holes which, in the past, were traditionally used as burial grounds. Not very much unlike Petra, although the populations inhabiting this area were not Nabateans.
Similar cemeteries can be found in other places within a day range from Sanaa - for example in Wadi Dhahr or in Dhofar Al Molk. To see Shibam's ones, you had better enlarge the photo.
Shibam is well known for its big and old mosque - one of the oldest in Yemen, by the way. It was built during the Ya’afuride Dynasty, which had made Shibam its capital. The man who ordered the construction of this mosque was Mohammed Bin Ya’afur, in the third Hegira century (our 9th Century AD). It was then enlarged at later stages - and eventually partly destroyed, until renovation works took place under the first Ottoman rule of Yemen.
The mosque is off-limits to non-muslims - so the best view you can get, especially of its minaret, is from the edge of town, right under the mountain.
Something peculiar I noticed in SHibam - but admittedly I have seen very little of Yemen - is the fact that in the old town, crumbling down, you can still see some buildings that were "kept standing" by pillars... very much like the columns that Romans used to build as shop fronts.
Definitely a familiar sight - which left me puzzled about the use of such pillars. So if anyone knows... i'm all ears.
Also know as the long drop. At some point you are going to have to face up to this challenge. I suggest that you do 2 things. The first is practice. The second is plan in advance. There is a very good chance there is no toilet paper and water all over the floor already. The locals clean themselves with a small water hose rather than paper. Figure out where you are going to put your things and how you will position yourself so you can get the job done and not slip and make a real mess. Also plan on there not being any soap to wash your hands once you have completed this big challenge.
(The photo was taken here in Shibam)
What was once the capital of the Ya’afuride dynasty (Shibam Aqyan) is now a mountain village in ruins, at about 2300 metres above sea level. It is best known for its lively Friday market, which left me disappointed - hence no photos of it were taken.
The town (village) itself is not deprived of charm - and its old mosque is amazing. It is also at the foot of Jebel Kawkaban, which in theory can be reached on foot. However, due to lack of time, we could not attempt the hike.
Fondest memory: My fondest memory has to do with the children, which followed us everywhere... not aksing for money, not asking for candies but... asking for a football. Zidane, they kept shouting- thinking we were French. Materazzi, we felt like shouting back - but we remained silent.
However - in the end - they got what they were aksking for - and the joy on their faces for the new football was priceless.