Guide to Yemen
£12.95 + 10% p&p
The need for accessible guide
books to the Yemen is obvious enough given the number of tourists who visit the country,
and the relative inaccessibility of specialist literature. Chris Bradley attempts to meet
the needs of the visitor with a convenient guide divided between a country file on the
cultural, economic and environmental background and a quite detailed gazetteer on the
areas tourists tend to visit. Although I have not tried to use it on the ground, it is
organised well enough.
The history of the Yemen is an extremely complex issue to
summarise and make meaningful in a guidebook. The temptation must be to emphasise the
preIslamic period because it is more available for summary, whereas the Islamic period
combines unfamiliarity of names with complexity of geography The author makes a sensible
decision to attempt to deal with the Islamic period in the individual town entries,
although this intention might have been better signalled in the introduction.
The text is somewhat marred by an irritating editorial device that
involves flagging items in the text with sub-editors headlines. This may be useful
to some but the basic text really does not need such a sub-guide. Ones reaction is
exacerbated by the worst of these headings including "Billions of bugs";
"the entrance to hell" and, obscurely, "Jabberwockyland".
On another negative level, the author should stress far more
firmly the need to take the most stringent precautions against malaria on the Tihama and
the south coast. Malaria is a real threat and it does no favour to Yemeni tourism to play
it down. Tourists well protected from malaria will at least be able to return.
The bibliography is reasonable but it is poor on recent and
accessible works on architecture: it is curious to find Samar Damlujis work on
Hadrami architecture is missing. Indeed, the book as a whole is not at its best on
architecture, a pity in a guide to the "Land of Builders". However the list of
articles on the Yemen in the National Geographic, Geographical Journal and Geographical
Magazine is useful, even if authors are not cited.
In his introduction, Mr Bradley notes that earlier generations of
travellers to south Arabia had months or years to prepare for their journeys, while the
preparations of the traveller of the 1990s are marked by breakneck speed. Unfortunately,
his remark is something of a hostage to fortune as his guide bears its own witness to the
truth of his comment.
On the one hand, the speed at which Mr Bradley wrote gives us a
travel book on the Yemen that is up-to-date to the extent that it describes the country as
the tourist will find it since the 1994 civil war and the abrupt halt that this brought to
a flourishing tourist industry. The Yemen has undergone such rapid changes over the past
two years that the practical advice of a pre-1994 tourist guide may be redundant today. To
this degree, the immediacy of Mr Bradleys book is useful, as he describes the
country as it is now, although it is curious that his account of Aden museum fails to note
the losses it suffered in the aftermath of the 1994 war.
On the other hand, Mr Bradleys guide could do with some
editing and ironing out of a few unnecessary glitches deriving from haste reinforced by
error (ahmar, p. 213 does not mean green but red). The rectangular structure in the Great
Mosque of Sanaa is a treasury and certainly not comparable in significance in any
way whatever to the Kaba at Mecca, a fact that surely should be known to a writer on
an Islamic country. On a more esoteric point, it is confusing to term the sixth century
Abraha as the Axumite leader (p. 117). Abraha revolted against Ethiopian Axum and ruled
the Yemen virtually independently for some years.
A specific point deserves comment. It is unfair to say that the
present government is emphasising research on Islamic sites rather than the pre-Islamic
period: the history of archaeology in the Yemen in the past has generally neglected the
countrys Islamic sites and it is a positive development that it is now addressing
Islamic antiquities as well as encouraging major excavations of the pre-Islamic period
which continue apace.
My greatest criticism is of Bradleys failure to advise
adequately on non-Muslim tourists trying to enter mosques. He really should have warned
far more firmly against non-Muslim tourists doing this. In my view, it is better to err on
the side of extreme caution. A tourist guide has some responsibility to those who follow
its advice, and on this issue, it is unreliable. The tourist should not be advised
casually to enter the mosques of Sanaa, Taiz or Zabid as non-Muslims require
specific permits that take time to organise: that was the reality in 1994 and 1995. It is
also downright misleading to indicate that the mosque of Arwa at Jibla is open to the
tourist. It is not.
My final point is more a matter of taste. The beached assault
craft which totally ruined the beach at Conquest Bay near Aden for Mr Bradley seemed to
have become an accepted part of the beach scene by 1992. Far from ruining it, for this
reviewers seven year old son and a good few more people on the beach, it had become
a centre piece of the bay, and powerful visual evidence of recent history for the tourist.
Despite my more substantive criticisms, Bradleys guidebook
does the Yemen some service, demonstrating that the tourist industry is getting back into
its stride and that the country is open for the visitor. This is good for foreign
perceptions of the Yemen and its economy For the visitor, the guides up-to-date
character is of practical utility, and not least because it always implies that this is a
country for the more rugged tourist.
G.R.D. KING, November 1995