At the southernmost point of the Arabian Peninsula sits the Republic of Yemen, a densely populated nation-state with a mountainous terrain. On two sides — the west and the south — sit bodies of water: the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden/Arabian Sea respectively. Saudi Arabia borders Yemen to the north while Oman is located just to the east. It possesses numerous islands off its coasts. The republic was formed in 1990 when North Yemen and South Yemen united as one. One of the oldest civilizations in the region, Yemen nevertheless was first among its peninsular neighbors to extend voting rights to women. Its geography influences the culture enormously.
Land Forms and Topography
Yemen is a quasi-rectangle in shape and comparable to France and Somalia in area. Its soil is considered the most fertile in the Middle East but its agricultural output is not competitive. The western coastal region is relatively flat and sandy. A traveler proceeding inland will soon encounter hills and then craggy mountain formations. North of these peaks rests fertile grasslands and desert slopes reaching into Saudi Arabia. Land off the Gulf of Aden is also flat but more rocky than that which fronts the Red Sea. The highest peak is Jabal an Nabi Shu’ayb,
reaching up to 12,336 feet. Due to a relatively arid climate, there are few permanent lakes or rivers in Yemen. While the northern highlands encompass river valleys and modest streams, most of these do not survive the summers and dry up.
Those humble inter-mountain water bodies are usually supplied by monsoon rains that fall in late spring and early autumn. The southern mountains receive the most rain — nearly 40 inches annually. The higher mountain regions enjoy average temperatures around 60 degrees Fahrenheit by day, and chilly air by night. Coastal lands are hot and humid while the Oman border region is mostly hot and dry, punctuated by very occasional rains and frost. This diverse climate yields a wide variety of plants and animals.
Flora and Fauna
The vegetation found in Yemen reflects the regions and climates in which it grows. For example, the coastal plains support citrus trees, date palms, bananas, cotton, and acacia while the eastern desert gives up much the same. Meanwhile, sycamore and fig trees, grain, carob, and eucalyptus dominate the middle highlands region. Moving closer to the rough mountain interior, coffee and khat (a stimulating herb) are abundant as are woody shrubs and trees. Though natural history indicates the presence of ostrich, lions, panthers, and antelope in centuries past, none of these species has a significant presence in Yemen today. However, baboons, foxes, hyenas, squirrels, and other small varmints are numerous; myriad birds and insects, too, occupy Yemen. The waters, in turn, host tuna, mackerel, squid, lobster, sardines and sharks, which are all a part of the coastal Yemeni diet. To have a taste of authentic Yemeni cuisine, try Shibam Yemeni Kitchen for your next cultural meal!