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90 km west of Sana’a in the Harraz Mountains lies Manakha, about 2200 meters above sea level. Manakha is remarkable for its enormous deep ravines and fog-topped mountains. Its beautiful terraced hillsides are bountiful due to the amount of rain it receives, mostly during the monsoon season. The Harraz region is famous for its coffee, qat and landscape. Depending on whom you ask, people will also tell you that the men of Harraz are some of the best dancers in Yemen. Manakha is about a two and a half hour drive from Sana’a through some of the most striking mountain roads in the country. Just out of Sana’a Jebal al Nabi Sha’oub, the tallest mountain in the Arabian Peninsula can be seen. Visitors will pass through Al Heima, a region known for its hot peppers and then pass through Beni Matar, a region known for its qat. As the road winds on, visitors arrive to Al Maghraba and then head up the mountain to Manakha. For the trained eye traces of the old road from Hodeidah to Sana’a can be seen throughout the drive.
Manakha has played an important role in Yemeni history as well as in Islamic history. At the end of the 12th century, the great Sulayyhid Dynasty, of which Queen Arwa was a member, was founded here. Manakha’s strategic location during the Ottoman occupation of Yemen allowed for the protection of supply lines between Sana’a and Hodeidah. Religiously Manakha is an ancestral home of the Ismailis, a Shia’a sect of Islam, and the Ismailis in Manakha still have very strong ties to Ismaili sects abroad, especially in India and Pakistan.

The Ismailis are a sect within the Fatimi sect of Islam. Forced from their first home in Egypt, they relocated successfully to Yemen under the able leadership of Al Monsour bin Al Hassan bin Za’adan in the 3rd century (H), but then dissipated into small scattered groups. The Ismailis again achieved importance during the Sulayyhid Dynasty, founded by Ali bin Mohammed al Sulayyhi in 439 (H). Ali was a generous, well-educated and charismatic ruler. Despite contemporary tribal warfare, Ali was admired for his willingness to forgive. Upon completing his second fortress in Hoteib, he made one of his acclaimed public addresses, outlining a fair, just political agenda and his peaceful intentions. The dynasty to follow, including the great Queen Arwa, took his rule as an example. Ali built a fortress at Al Messar in 439 (H). It was strategically valuable due both to its high elevation at 3,500m above sea level and its location on the old road from Hodeidah to Sana’a. Sadly, little survives: pieces of the city wall, a defense tower, an old grain silo, a mosque, and a water cistern.
Ali also had a career as a missionary. A famous Yemeni Sheikh undertook his religious education after Ali reported impressive religious visions. He developed a large following, and after his teacher introduced him to the Egyptian Imam al Mutanasser al Fatimy, his ideas began to spread internationally. The Imam also sent the money to fund construction of a fortress in Hoteib. The fortress is no longer standing, although its stones were used to build the houses of the Ismaili community living in Hoteib.

Hoteib

Hoteib is a small village and pilgrimage site perched on the easternside of Jebal Messar. Ismaili pilgrims come to Al Hoteib to visit the tomb of the 6th century (H) Ismaili scholar Hattem bin Ibrahim bin al Hussein al Hamadi. Thousands of pilgrims visit every year from Pakistan, India, America, and other places. The Bukhara Ismailis of Bombay financed the paved road to the village of Hoteib where they make a yearly pilgrimage on the 16th of Moharram.
The work of the scholar Ibrahim bin Hussein was disseminated widely by his son Hattem, who was well-known and well-respected in his own right. Hattem spread bin Hussein’s work to other Islamic peoples in Arabia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India. His writings developed the theology of the new sect. He started off in Kawkaban but soon faced problems from the Sultan in Sana’a (Ali bin Hattem Al Yami), who was threatened by Hattem’s widespread acclaim as a wise ruler. Hattem returned to the Harraz mountains, where the Sultan of Harraz Saba’ bin Yusuf al Yabari at first encouraged Hattem’s teaching. They allied to take over the fortress of Shibam Harraz (al Meassar). Once this was done, the Sultan, apprehensive about Hattem’s political power, pushed him and his followers to the peak of al Hoteib, where Hattem continued to preach in a cave. The Ismailis held an important position in the ruling of Harraz until the Zayedis conquered them in 914 (H).

Al Hajjerah

Al Hajjerah has always been an important village, but unfortunately not much has been written about it. It was a great suq on the old road between Hodeidah and Sana’a and has become a common destination for tourists in Yemen. Visiting this village gives tourists a great opportunity to see another example of what Yemen is famous for- building villages in impossible places. It is also a place where the visitor can see how Jews and Muslims lived together and there are still relics relating to this to be found while walking around.

 

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