Wednesday, August 29, 2012

#942 Aden, Yemen

Very few people know that during the Cold War, it wasn't just Korea, Vietnam and Germany were split in half. Another country that fell victim to the power plays of the powers was Yemen. The capital of South Yemen was the city of Aden, an ancient shipping city, with connections to Africa, the Middle East and the Indies because of its strategic location on the Gulf of Aden (across from the Horn of Africa in Somalia). Infamous today for the bombing of the USS Cole in 1992 which occurred in its harbor and was the start of awareness of Yemen's long terrorism connection which continues to this day. Aden, however is a much more interesting city than just that. 

It was a British port in the Colonial era (a convenient stopping off point en route to India), and one particularly interesting hapstance was when a group of Indian-origin migrant workers built a fascinating Zoroastrian temple on the top of the hill above the city. Zoroastrian temples are used to place the bodies of the dead with the intention that the vultures will pick the bones clean so that they can be collected and stored. The temple is no longer functioning as a temple today in conservative Islamic Yemen, but remains a fascinating relic of a bygone era. 

Another really fantastic historical feature of the city are its series of water cisterns that sit at the bottom of the hills that surround the city. These (the Cisterns of Tawila, named for the Wadi Tawila) form the remains of a highly sophisticated water collection system that supplied the city with water from the hills perhaps as far back as 115BC. They were rediscovered and reused in the 19th Century and can still be used today if needed, although water has not filled them for 15 or so years and they are threatened with development and erosion.

In addition to these features, it is a beautiful city, with cream houses creeping up the brown hills, overlooking the clear blue Indian Ocean. It remains a busy shipping lane despite being one of the poorest and forgotten corners of the world. 

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