Photographing Yemeni People – A Hidden Beauty

Photographing Yemen and of course, the Yemeni people,  is a pleasure.

It is early morning and I am walking through the old city of Sana’a. Suddenly a car pulls up and stops next to me.

The driver is dressed in a white dress (called a thoob in the Arabic language) and has his head covered with a typical Yemeni shawl. “Salaam aleikum! Can I help you with anything?”, he genuinely asks. I shake my head and explain that I am walking around and enjoying my time. He greets me again and the car rolls away…

A Veiled Beauty of Sana’a

This occurred on my first trip to Yemen and I will never forget that moment when a stranger stopped for me
to find out whether I needed anything.

Located in the Asian Continent, Yemen is a small country on the Arabian Peninsula (slightly smaller than the U.S. state of Texas). It is bordered by Saudi Arabia to the north, Oman on the east, the Gulf of Aden to the south, and to the west, the Red Sea – mere miles from Africa at the southwest tip.

Two Armed Yemeni Tribesmen
Two Armed Yemeni Tribesmen

What comes into your mind when you think about Yemen? In the western countries, Yemen is mostly known for its terrorists and probably for its recent revolution as well.

And although it is true that terrorism exists in this country, it’s just a small part of its reality. Yemenis have explained to me numerous times that Islam is all about peace and I would agree – the majority of the Yemenis I’ve met are peaceful.

Unfortunately, the small percentage that is not looking for peace creates an unsafe haven for foreigners who want to wander around in this country. At this point in time, I remain relatively safe by limiting my activities within the capital of Sana’a.

A Quran Teacher with His Students
A Quran Teacher with His Students

Yemen is a beautiful country with a remarkably rich culture and very hospitable people. The first time I visited Yemen I was struck by its distinguishing beauty and thought, “This is a paradise for photographers”. I love their cultural heritage and the people are, photographically speaking, amazing. It really feels like old Arabia.

The Sabr Mountain in Central Yemen


Ibb - A town in Central Yemen
Ibb – A town in Central Yemen

I have met people in the West that think of Yemen as one big hot desert. And yes, it does have a big desert in the east, but there is more. A large part of Yemen is very mountainous. There are green fertile areas, gorgeous beaches, and even a couple of interesting national parks.

Basically you could divide Yemen into four geographical regions: the mountain highlands, the coastal plains, the eastern plateau, and the northeastern deserts. A large part of the country can become unbearably hot in the summer, but the mountain highlands have a pleasant climate.

Yemen inhabits lots of different tribes and each region has their own customs. Amazing architecture is abundant and there are many old beautiful towns and each is unique.

Some towns lie high up on cliffs, while others are in valleys. Traveling through this country is like taking a breath of cultural air.

Old Sana’a
Old Sana’a

Sana’a is a large city that has spread out since the nineteen-sixties and it continues to grow in size and population.

The old part of the city is a great example of Yemeni architecture. It’s a fabulous jewel, almost like a magical city of the past. Wandering through this old city is a great experience you won’t easily forget.

Windows in Old Sana’a

Its houses, estimated to be around 14,000, tower high into the sky. They are built of centuries-old brick and most have at least 5 floors.

Some even reach up to 8 floors. They have a unique architecture with windows that are built in a distinguished way. Not one is the same.

Some windows are made of wood, others are made of mud, some have glass and other windows have peepholes only. Many doors have been renewed, but there are still lots of old wooden doors left, of which some are beautifully crafted.

woman in Old Sana’a
The Visitor in Old Sana’a

The city is a maze of small streets and not one is straight. The Yemenis say that no matter how many times you visit, there is always a street you have never seen before. And although I believe I have seen most of the old city, there are so many streets that I often don’t remember whether I’ve been there or not.

Bab al Yemen
Bab al Yemen

When you visit Old Sana’a, you will enter Bab al Yemen – it literally means the Gate of Yemen. Part of this old city is still surrounded by a wall with this one huge gate. In the past there were several gates, but this one is the only one remaining.

Right after the gate you will plunge into a large souk: hundreds of small shops selling lots and lots of different items. And on certain days of the week there is even a donkey market.

A Covered Souk in Old Sana’a

You might have to wait until the days come that Yemen is a safe place to travel, but you can at least start dreaming about this hidden beauty!

by Maarten de Wolf
All text & photos: © 2013 Maarten de Wolf. All rights reserved.

All written content (and most images) in these articles are copyrighted by the authors. Copyrighted material from Apogee Photo Mag should not be used elsewhere without seeking the authors permission.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.