09 November, 2010

Gulf 20: Aden's moment

Strategically located on the Gulf of Aden, between the Arabian Sea and the Red Sea; very close to the narrow 32km. wide Bab El'Mandab, which separates Asia from Africa, and which is one of the world's main shipping transit points - especially for oil shipped to Europe; it could have been what Singapore became; it could have been what Dubai is. But Aden is neither. Still, it is cosmopolitan, vibrant, one of the most pleasant places to be in and with some of the friendliest people you will ever find; and it is developing. Its sea port is thriving. It will also be one of the venues hosting the much awaited Gulf Cup 2010. Which will kick-off on the 22nd of this month.

This is Aden's moment. About two weeks from now, sports lovers and football fans will focus on this rugged city, of about 800,000 people, built in the dusty crevices of an extinct volcano. A city whose sea port in the 1950s was the second busiest in the world, after New York; it was also the Dubai of the 19th and early 20th Centuries, swarming with expatriates from all corners of the earth and it was, then - a duty-free shopper's paradise. That was then. A few days from now: many, from around Yemen and from foreign lands, will go to Aden to watch the matches. The weather is pleasant there right now and the city has many other attractions. It has many mosques, bustling souks, museums, forts and a few decent beaches.

The two most important historical land marks in Aden are: the Sira Fort which is an old guard post overlooking the old port of Aden - built on a triangular shaped rock island, jutting out in the sea; the island adjoins Crater by a short causeway. This important Islamic architectural monument, was a symbol of strength in protecting the city in bygone times. The fort dates back to more than a thousand years and has been mentioned in ancient Yemeni inscriptions. Throughout history it has been used to defend Aden against invaders and raiding freebooters from across the sea.

And there are the incredible ancient water tanks located at the head of Tawila Valley in the southwest of Crater known as the 'The Tawila Tanks'; they are also known as 'Aden Tanks', the 'Cisterns', 'Queen of Sheba Tanks' or 'Solomon's Tanks'. They are considered one of the greatest historical engineering feats in South Arabia, likely built and developed during the rules of Banu Zuraia’, the Roulades, the Tahirides and the Ottomans and mentioned in the ancient Al- Musnad inscriptions. However, not much is accurately known of their history.

The city of Crater lies within the crater of an old, extinct volcano; in the olden days, it was Aden's center with most of its inhabitants living there; and it was the focal point for trade, housing many commercial institutions and shops. Crater is still densely populated, bustling and still has many shops, banks and many other establishments.

With its many religious, historical, recreational facilities and very friendly people, Aden never disappoints visitors. Visitors who have for ages, for various reasons, been attracted to the city. Visitors who in ten or so days time, will be descending on the city to watch eight teams compete for the every two years Gulf Cup. For the matches, the Yemeni team which has always done poorly - seems to be well prepared and is at its best form ever; in the last few friendly matches it has played, it has done rather well. It has never won the Cup; or even come close to winning it. Can it do it now? Can it win the Gulf Cup? We shall know soon.

For photos of Aden go to: Picasa and Flickr.