Mukalla

Aden - Scott #41 (1951)
Aden – Scott #41 (1951)

Mukalla (المكلا‎ — Al Mukallā) is a seaport and the capital city of Yemen’s Hadhramaut Governorate. The city is located in the southern part of Arabia on the Gulf of Aden, on the shores of the Arabian Sea. Mukalla is 300 miles (480 kilometers) east of Aden and is the most important port in the Hadhramaut, the largest governorate in Yemen. It was founded in 1035 as a fishing settlement. This area was part of Oman until the middle of the 11th century, and later this area became part of Yemen.

Mukalla is situated not far from Cane or Qana, the ancient principal Hadrami trading post between India and Africa, with incense producing areas in its hinterland. It was the capital of the Qu’aiti State of Hadhramaut until 1967, when it became a part of South Yemen. The Qu’aiti State was part of the Eastern Aden Protectorate until that merger, and a British Resident Advisor was stationed at Mukalla.

Political map of Yemen
Political map of Yemen
Map of the region surrounding Mukalla, 1949
Map of the region surrounding Mukalla, 1949

Captain Haines, a British officer who surveyed Yemen in the 1830s, described Mukalla as a town of 4500 inhabitants with a significant trade in slaves. In 1934, British traveler and explorer Freya Stark began her journey into the hinterland of the Hadhramaut from Mukalla, and her stay in that city is recorded in her book, The Southern Gates of Arabia. The Qu’aiti sultans ruled the vast majority of Hadramaut, under a loose British protectorate, the Aden Protectorate, from 1882 to 1967, when the Hadhramaut was annexed by South Yemen.

The Qu’aiti dynasty was founded by ‘Umar bin Awadh al-Qu’aiti, a Yafa’i tribesman whose wealth and influence as hereditary Jemadar of the Nizam of Hyderabad’s armed forces enabled him to establish the Qu’aiti dynasty in the latter half of the 19th century, winning British recognition of his paramount status in the region, in 1882. The British Government and the traditional and scholarly sultan Ali bin Salah signed a treaty in 1937 appointing the British government as “advisors” in Hadhramaut. The British exiled him to Aden in 1945, but the Protectorate lasted until 1967.

In 1967, the former British Colony of Aden and the former Aden Protectorate including Hadramaut became an independent Communist state, the People’s Republic of South Yemen, later the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen. South Yemen was united with North Yemen in 1990 as the Republic of Yemen.

Mukalla, Yemen
Mukalla, Yemen

The capital and largest city of Hadhramaut is Mukalla. It is the fifth largest city in Yemen. Mukalla had a 1994 population of 122,400 and a 2003 population of 174,700, while the port city of Ash Shihr has grown from 48,600 to 69,400 in the same time. One of the more historically important cities in the region is Tarim. An important locus of Islamic learning, it is estimated to contain the highest concentration of descendants of the Prophet Muhammad anywhere in the world. The city is served by the nearby Riyan Airport. The main market soukh is one of the main commercial hubs of the city.

During the Yemeni Civil War, Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) stormed the central prison of Mukalla on April 2, 2015, freeing hundreds of prisoners including two senior AQAP commanders. They attacked the central bank and seized 17 billion Yemeni riyals and 1 million U.S. dollars before taking control of the presidential palace in the city. It was reported the entire city was under their control and they planned to establish an Islamic emirate in the wider Hadramaut region. Mukalla became AQAP’s headquarters, and the capital of their Emirate in Yemen after their takeover.

In April 2015, Nasser bin Ali al-Ansi was killed in a drone strike in the city, Cyclone Chapala struck the city on November 3, 2015, and destroyed the city’s waterfront.

Mukalla port (Yemen). View from the route between port and town, which named Khalf Street. Cement carrier
Mukalla port (Yemen). View from the route between port and town, which named Khalf Street. Cement carrier “Olympic Carrier” (gray hull, white superstructure and red funnel) is alongside. Tanks of “RAYSUT” cement company (factory in port) behind the cement carrier. Oil tanks are on the port side and behind. There are plenty of fishing vessels in port and at anchor close to the port entrance. Photo taken on February 10, 2010.

On March 23, 2016,, a U.S. airstrike hit an AQAP training camp, killing at least 50 people. Some days later, AQAP held a major rally in the city of Mukalla, against the United States and their airstrikes. In mid-April 2016, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula took over control of Mukalla’s airport from forces affiliated with the pro-Ansar al Sharia Hadhrami Domestic Council, while also evacuating and planting explosives around nearby al Dhaba oil port. AQAP also arrested seven Yemeni fighters from a camp north of Mukalla in Wadi Hadramawt.

Mukalla was recaptured from Al Qaeda on April 25, 2016, after president Hadi loyalists along with UAE troops, expelled them from the city. Mukalla and the rest of the surrounding towns and cities had been cleared of AQAP forces by April 26. On May 6, U.S. Navy Captain Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, confirmed that U.S/ forces were deployed near the city of Mukalla and would not disclose the number of troops. On May 15, a suicide attack was carried out in the city by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. The attack targeted a police base, killing at least 25 police recruits and wounding at least 54 others.

Al Mukalla Square in the Old City of Mukalla_Trading bread in the late evening. Photo taken on February 8, 2010.
Al Mukalla Square in the Old City of Mukalla_Trading bread in the late evening. Photo taken on February 8, 2010.

Historically, Hadhramaut was known for being a major producer of frankincense, which was mainly exported to Mumbai in the early 20th century.[18] The region has also produced senna and coconut. Currently, Hadhramout produces approximately 260,000 barrels of oil per day; one of the most productive fields is Al Maseelah in the strip, which was discovered in 1993. The Yemeni government is keen to develop its oil fields to increase oil production in order to increase national wealth in response to the requirements of economic and social development in the country. Oil contributes 30-40% of the nation’s GDP, over 70% of total state revenues, and more than 90% of the value of the country’s exports.

Mukalla port is located to the east of the town. The port is available for vessels with length not more than 490 feet (150 meters), as per Pilot Book Pilot Directions (as of 2010). At the same time, two vessels 490 feet long each and about 20 small fishing vessels can stay alongside in Mukalla port with the fishing vessels moored alongside one to another. The port is fitted with oil pipe line for tankers. Oil tanks located close to the port. The factory of the Raysut Cement Company (Oman-Yemen company) is located in the port and is able to receive cement in bulk from cement carriers.

Al Mukalla, Yemen. Al Rawda Moaque Minaret in the center of the photo. Al-Ghwayzi Fort is visible in the upper left background. Photo taken by Ljuba Brank on April 30, 2008.
Al Mukalla, Yemen. Al Rawda Moaque Minaret in the center of the photo. Al-Ghwayzi Fort is visible in the upper left background. Photo taken by Ljuba Brank on April 30, 2008.

The old town is open for tourists. Sights include the royal palace of the sultan. Guard towers that were outposts surmount the mountains around the old town. The Fortress of Al-Ghwayzi (حصن الغويزي)  is one of the old fortresses in Mukalla. It is considered an architectural masterpiece built on the foot of a rock designed to protect the city from Bedouin attacks.

Al-Ghwayzi dates back to 1716 when the sultans of the Emirate of Al-Kassad ruled the Hadhramaut area. The fort is located in the northeastern entrance of Mukalla, a historic center for visitors surrounded by a public park. Historical sources indicate that the purpose of its establishment was to monitor the military raids, which targeted the city on the coast of the Arabian Sea from the north, especially the raids launched by the Sultanate of Kathiriyya who occupied the city of present Seiyun, and the raids launched by the Sultanate of Qu’aitiyya, which was stationed in the city of Ash Shihr. The city of Mukalla however was eventually taken over by Qu’aitis in 1881 and the city was designated as its capital. The fort was then used against the other waves of raids coming from the north of Wadi Dawan led by the Mayor of the State Sheikh Al-Amoudi.

The Fortress of Al-Ghwayzi at Mukalla, Yemen
The Fortress of Al-Ghwayzi at Mukalla, Yemen

The fort consists of two floors. The first floor has several rooms, in which its outer walls have several circular windows facing all directions. The second floor is characterized by its wide windows. The roof of the fortress is surrounded by a barrier that reaches up to 1.5 meters from the roof level. The building materials for the barrier were traditional stones. The rest of the fort was built with straw-battered bricks and a roof with palm trunks. Its external walls were recently painted with white plaster.

Although many archaeologists have cautioned against negligence of the fortress, which turned into a birdhouse and facing serious damages, the General Authority of Antiquities are unable to make a serious move for preservation due to lack of budget to begin the restoration work. The Commission stated that if restored, it could be turned into an important tourist attraction that generates considerable income that can assist the improvement of the province, which needs substantial funding to improve its other tourist spots similarly subject to destruction. The other problems faced by Al-Ghwayzi Fortress today are the slum buildings surrounding the building, as well as many modern houses, crawling towards the area adjacent to the fort and threatening its current location. The fever of tourism investments can destroy the fort under many pretexts as well, the most important of which is the location overlooking the city of Mukalla. There is a concern regarding the exploitation of its location in order to build hotels or tourist chalets.

In 1949, the currency in the Aden Colony changed from annas and rupees to cents and shillings. The set of stamps issued in October of that year to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Universal Postal Union were surcharged in the new currency (Scott #32-35). On October 1, 1951, eleven of the definitive stamps released between 1939 and 1948 were released similarly overprinted with new denominations (Scott #36-46). The orange 8-anna stamp portraying the post of Mukalla was originally released on January 19, 1939, recess printed by Waterlow & Sons Ltd., perforated 12½ (Scott #23). The black surcharge of 50 CENTS  was applied on the stamp by Waterlow (Scott #41).

Flag of the Colony of Aden
Flag of the Colony of Aden
Flag of the Republic of Yemen
Flag of the Republic of Yemen
Emblem of Yemen
Emblem of Yemen
Flag of Hadramout
Flag of Hadramout

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