Everyone has heard of the famous Biblical Queen of Sheba, known to Arabs as Queen Balqis. She ruled in the Yemen over the mighty Sabaean trading kingdom and left her mark in literature, history and religion. Queen Arwa is the second of Yemen's legendary women. In the southern part of the Arabian Peninsula, especially in Jibla, her capital, she is affectionately remembered in popular folklore for her statesmanship and fondness for her subjects.
We left the wide dusty streets of New Sana'a, Yemen's capital, and our party of six made its way southward on an excellent two-lane highway heading for Jibla, near Taiz, the country's second largest city. On both sides of the road, barren mountains dominated the landscape, but our route followed a fertile valley crowded with tiny fields and villages, some perched atop or actually climbing the mountain cliffs.
Soon we drove through majestic mountains. Higher and higher we climbed to Sumara Pass, 2,700 m (8,856 ft) above sea level. Hundreds of feet below, the terraced fields and rich-looking green valleys overflowed with crops and flowers. In places, some of the mountains were cultivated to their loftiest peaks.
Continuing our journey, I enjoyed the captivating beauty of the terraced mountain landscape. Soon, Jibla stood atop a basalt hill, edged by two valleys, 10 km (6 mi) from Ibb. With its commanding view, one could see why al-Sayyida al-Hurra Arwa bint Ahmed al- Sulayhi, who came to power in the Yemen in 1086 A.D., chose it as her capital.
Historians have written that Queen Arwa was fully versed in all fields and arts, especially history and poetry. A fine writer, she became so engrossed with academic life that she assumed responsibilities of rule reluctantly. However, her enriched background and gift of statesmanship enabled her to rule one of the most tempestuous countries in the world of that age for 52 years.
Her memory is well preserved, not only in Jibla, but in every part of the country. People are proud of her and her wise rule, the ideal Muslim woman reigning over 8,000 inhabitants.
Our first stop was the mosque built by al-Sayyida Arwa. We examined this historic yet fully functional religious edifice with its Koranic school. We rested by Arwa's tomb in the prayer hall, not far from an exquisite mihrab. On the other side of the mausoleum, was a door that led to a library of ancient manuscripts.
While leaving by the entrance to what some consider the most remarkable and beautiful mosques in Yemen, I stood, surveying al-Sayyida Arwa's town, considered one of the most picturesque in the country. The half- ruined palace located on the highest spot of Jibla's hill, dominated the scene, an impressive structure needing renovation. In Arwa's time, it was a luxurious palace supplied with water through an aqueduct, which today remains operational.
Walking back to our auto, we were followed by a legion of friendly children. One told us that many of the town's girls carry Arwa's name thus perpetuating the name of the legendary Yemeni queen.
Habeeb Salloum has authored numerous books, his latest: Arab Cooking On A Saskatchewan Homestead: Recipes And Recollections - winner of the Cuisine Canada and The University of Guelph's Silver Canadian Culinary Book Awards in Winnipeg in 2006. He contributes to Forever Young (Oakville), Contemporary Review (Oxford, UK), Canadian World Traveller (Quebec) and the Toronto Star.
- Entrance visas to Yemen are available from all Yemeni embassies or consulates and for some countries at the airport. Travellers to Yemen require a passport that is valid for at least six months.
- Currency in the Yemen is the riyal - current value about 202 riyals to one US dollar. Foreign currencies can be exchanged at banks, exchanges offices and hotels. Only upscale hotels and restaurants will accept credit cards.
- Drink only bottled water found in all parts of the country and eat only well-cooked meat, and peel all fruit. Try the local dish, Saltah.
- Bring warm clothing if travelling in the cold mountainous areas; light clothing for the desert and coastal areas. Travelling to the Yemen is fine in all seasons, but the coastal and desert areas are quite hot in summer.
- Lady travellers should dress modestly in public places. Visitors should not take photos of people at prayer, women, military places, police personnel and installations without permission. With few exceptions, non-Muslims cannot enter most mosques.
- For information regarding Yemen's hotels see website:
- To travel around the country, it is best to book a tour through a travel agency that can arrange for government permits, plane tickets, a guide and driver, and hotels.
If you go
Embassy of the Republic of Yemen: 54 Chamberlain Avenue Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1S 1V9.
Tel: (613) 729 6627. Fax: (613) 729 8915. E-mail: email@example.com
Embassy of the Republic of Yemen: 2600 Virginia Avenue, NW, Suite 705, Washington, DC 20037, USA.
Tel: (202) 965 4760/1. Fax: (202) 337 2017. E-mail: Webmaster@YemenEmbassy.org
Ministry of Tourism - Tourism Promotion Board: Al-Hassabah, P.O. Box: 5607, Sana'a, Yemen.
Tel: (967-1)251-033/5 /6 /7. Fax: (967-1) 251-034. E-MAIL: firstname.lastname@example.org
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