History of Aden, the port of Yemen

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Aden is the historic port of Yemen, able to alter the country’s fortunes according to its own and to amaze travelers from all over for its prosperity

The words of Ibn Battuta

“Then I left for the extended city of Aden, a port of Yemen on the shore of the High Sea, where you can enter only from one side because the others are surrounded by mountains.”

Ibn Battuta


The city of Aden is one of the oldest and best known in the whole of Yemen, so much so that, according to tradition, Cain and Abel would be buried right next to it. Thanks to its dense network of trade between Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, the city grew incredibly in prosperity and notoriety, so much so that it was known even by the Greeks, who called it Eudaimon, which means “Blessed” / “Prosperous”. The same Arabic root of the word, عدن, can also be used to define the mythical “Eden“, which gives an idea of its incredible beauty.


The city was home to the ancient kingdom of Awsan, which will then be driven further north by the Sabeans, who in turn will annex the Himyarites, who settled in Aden and dominated its coasts for a long time. The power of this latter kingdom, however, was such that it even shattered one of the greatest powers ever: Rome. Between 25 and 24 BC, in fact, Octavian Augustus sent the prefect of Egypt Gaius Elio Gallus to try to conquer the coasts of Yemen, failing miserably. The brave Roman, however, will barely get hold of Najran, and is then annihilated at the walls of Ma’rib.

Between the Byzantines and the Sassanids

In 275 the Himyarites definitively took control of a large part of Yemen and, having converted to Judaism, they increasingly came into conflict with local Christian powers. The most daring, from this point of view, was certainly Dhu Nuwas, the last ruler of the Himyarites, who made himself known for having massacred the Christians of Najran and having asked other powers to do the same. In response to this, Emperor Justinian allied himself with the kingdom of Aksum, sending a terrible fleet that put an end to their power and placed the city under the rule of African neighbors.


The result, however, will not be as expected and Yemen will remain under the control of Aksum for a very short time and this due to the revolt of Abraha, their legendary commander. The latter expelled the legitimate ruler and imposed himself as lord of the country, later becoming famous for having tried to destroy Mecca, being punished by God with a shower of stones. With the death of Abraha, the last Himyarites asked for help from the Sassanids, who led a real military campaign in Yemen, which ended only in 578 with the Persian conquest.

The rebirth of Aden

With the arrival of Islam in the region, Aden will experience a long period of stagnation, ending only with the fall of the Sulayhide kingdom, which, while not particularly dealing with Aden, will lay the foundations for its subsequent re-flowering. The new lords, the Ayyubids, in fact, will make the city the port par excellence of the country, dramatically increasing its commercial and political value (even if the Ayyubids chose Ta’izz for capital). From 1229 to 1454 it was then ruled by the Rasulids, who greatly strengthened the South of Yemen and had the honor of welcoming Zheng He, the greatest Chinese explorer, sent here by the Yongle emperor.


When the Rasulids also fell, Yemen will then be occupied by the Tahrids, who, however, proved to be weaker than their predecessors and for this Aden began to be increasingly tempted by foreign powers. Not surprisingly, in 1513 the Portuguese leader Alfonso de Albuquerque tried to conquer it, but in his projects. The Lusitanian attempt caused a lot of fear and apprehension to the neighboring Mamelukes, who, in 1517, took the whole country.

Colonial era

In 1538, however, the Ottomans arrived in Yemen occupying it in a short time to form the homonymous eyalet/ province. The power of the Sublime Porta, however, was immediately questioned, especially in the innermost areas of the country, which already passed to the Zaydite Imamate in the early 1600s. The latter, in turn, gave birth to the sultanate of Lahej, which, although subjected to the former, managed the South of Yemen until 1839, when the British arrived.


London, in fact, was particularly concerned about possible Russian or French advances that could damage their links with India and this made it necessary to conquer a series of naval outposts. Aden was chosen and occupied due to its extraordinary strategic position and its decline, which had made it a center of just 600 inhabitants. With the arrival of the British, the city was reborn full of strength, but was forced to the condition of a colony until 1967, when it finally became free again, first becoming part of the Democratic Republic of Yemen and then of Yemen unified.

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