On the Road to Mahweet [Archives:1998/27/Culture]

June 6 1998

This week I passed along the same road to Shibam towards Tawilah and Mahweet and had no problems at the check points. My friends and I were now driving in a four door Mercedes sedan and not the Toyota pick-up used last week. Yes friends, symbols count in this country so if you travel in a top model car you’re unlikely to attract unwanted attention, I thought. The towns along the road were as attractive as Kawkaban; for example Hosn al Mukhiyar 48 km. before Mahweet lay majestically on a mountain ledge, its old style windows reflecting the morning sun. Bab Al Ahjour was the first attraction after the Kawkaban mountain chain. The town lay against a mountainous ledge along a windy road with terraced fields below.
Tawilah, 15 km before Bani Shiban, between Shibam and Mahweet was also an unexpected treat; the old part of the town lay against eroded mountain peaks and extended towards a fertile valley below.
It made sense that the road to Mahweet would probably past
through town centres along the way, unfortunately for us who just wanted to arrive quickly to our destination.
As far as terraced fields go, I could say that the most beautiful sight was at Bani Shihab just six km. before the final destination There I had a magnificent view of green contoured fields that hugged the hill slopes for tens of meters into the valley below. There are no lakes in Yemen but large pools of water like the one I saw outside the mosque of Bani Shihab, and probably used for bathing before entering the mosque.
Bani Shiban 93 km from Sanaa has a mosque and it being Friday my friends stopped for their holy prayer while curious children came out to inspect the strange Mercedes parked in front and the foreigner sitting inside.
The town of Mahweet offers the tourist a view from the old city centre on the top of a small peak and there is new city proper which stretches below leading to the Mahweet Hotel. It being Friday noon the town was a maze of markets throughout but we were able to get to the base of the old town and walk in. There was the classic door to the old town, not as majestic as for Kawkaban but just as awe inspiring. Once through it and to the left I was pointed out a building used for wedding ceremonies. Further on in I couldn’t help but notice some lovely handcarved doors that date back a few hundred years. Then we then entered a gate leading to a large pool that served as bath for prayer goers 400 years ago and was now covered with algae. The buildings date back several hundred years when wooden beams were used as a base and support especially for those homes which were located above the small tunneled walk ways of the town. Once we left, of course we left a tip to the local children who are quick to spot the out of town license plate and offer their services to the out of towners. I had a pair of binoculars with me and admired the view from the old centre, which are worthwhile seeing. For the tourist that likes to spot the local costumes as well as the sights then there’s an added treat, for the women in each region each wear their own brand of cloth! In Mahweet the shawl was dark violet with a bright pink border while at Bani Shihab I saw women covered with brighter red-yellow paisley bordered shawls.
Martin Dansky,
Yemen Times