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A Brief History of Yemen

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The history of the Yemen stretches back over 3,000 years, and its unique culture is still in evidence today in the architecture of its towns and villages. From about 1000 BC this region of the Southern Arabian Peninsula was ruled by three successive civilizations -- Minean, Sabaean and Himyarite. These three kingdoms all depended for their wealth on the spice trade. With the rise of the great ancient civilizations in Egypt, Mesopotamia, and along the Mediterranean Sea, historic Yemen became an important overland trade link between these civilizations and the highly prized luxury goods of South Arabia and points east and south. As a result, several pre-Islamic trading kingdoms grew up astride an incense trading route that ran northwest between the foothills and the edge of the desert. 

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Yemen — which means South Arabia in Arabic — was for centuries the center of civilization and wealth on the Arabian peninsula. The Romans referred to the area as Arabia Felix, or "Happy Arabia." Its once fertile plains were irrigated with the aid of the great Ma'rib Dam built around 700 B.C. by the kings of Saba — biblical Sheba. Bustling market towns along the coast thrummed with activity.A pivotal crossroads for trade and travel, Yemen in antiquity became home to a mix of people and faiths.Islam came to Yemen soon after its rise in the 6th century AD . Yemeni cities flourished. Sana'a and the principal port, Aden, grew into important medieval centers for textiles and spices. Yemeni merchants formed diasporas from Spain to India's Malabar coast and China's Pearl River delta. In Yemen's eastern Hadhramaut region, caravan towns developed into fortified settlements now thought to be the oldest "skyscraper" cities in the world, where, to stave off Bedouin attacks, residents lived in multi-story mud-brick towers. The most famous example of this architecture is at Shibam, a UNESCO World Heritage Site where much remains as it was 600 years ago.

The process by which Yemen and the Yemeni people were divided into two countries began with the British seizure of Aden in 1839 and the reoccupation of North Yemen by the Ottomans in 1849. Throughout the second half of the 19th century, both the Ottomans and the British expanded their control of Yemeni lands. In the early 20th century, the two powers drew a border between their territories, which came to be called North and South Yemen. This boundary remained intact for most of the 20th century.  After years of rebellion, in 1911 the Ottomans finally granted the Zaydi imam autonomy over much of North Yemen. Defeat in World War I forced the Ottomans to evacuate Yemen in 1918. For the next 44 years North Yemen was ruled by two powerful imams.The two imams strengthened the state and secured its borders. Many events happened in Yemen from 1918- 1990 which  eventually led to the merge of North Yemen with South Yemen in 1990. 

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The ancient culture of Yemen has  magnificent traditional clothing.The most interesting are vintage handmade garments with lots of colorful embroideries, intricate gold jewelry, pieces made by a unique Yemeni tie-dyeing technique, and traditional daggers that always complement the male look.In Yemen, the people are skilled in many skills including embroidery, weaving, jewelry and metal work, producing baskets, decorative objects, and souvenirs, pottery, making stained glass and etc.

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Sadly, the events leading from the 1839-1990, then the 1990's to the present have left Yemen in a place of many conflicts and civil wars making it the poorest country in the Middle East. What once flourished as on of the richest and greatest civilizations is now plagued with famine, disease and war. Click here to find out how you can help.