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GEOGRAPHY]
259
ARABIA


the gulf, it possesses no deep water port. North of Katif it is desert and only inhabited by nomads; at Katif, however, and throughout the district to the south bordering on the Gulf of Bahrein there are ample supplies of underground water, welling up in abundant springs often at a high temperature, and bringing fertility to an extensive district of which El Hofuf, a town of 15,000 to 20,000 inhabitants, is the most important centre.

South-western Arabia, from the twenty-first parallel down to the Gulf of Aden, including the Taif district of Hejaz, Asir and Yemen, forms one province geographically. Throughout its length it consists of three zones, a narrow coastal strip, rarely South-western Arabia. exceeding 20 m. in width, a central mountainous tract, embracing the great chain which runs parallel to the coast from near Taif to within 50 m. of Aden, and an inner plateau falling gradually to the north-east till it merges in the Nejd steppes or the sands of the great desert.

The lowland strip or Tehama consists partly of a gravelly plain, the Khabt, covered sparsely with acacia and other desert shrubs and trees, and furnishing pasturage for large flocks of goats and camels; and partly of sterile wastes of sand like the Ramla, which extends on either side of Aden almost from the seashore to the foot of the hills. The Tehama is, however, by no means all desert, the mountain torrents where they debouch into the plain have formed considerable tracts of alluvial soil of the highest degree of fertility producing in that warm equable climate two and even three crops in the year. The flood-water is controlled by a system of dams and channels constructed so as to utilize every drop, and the extent of cultivation is limited more by the supply of water available than by the amount of suitable soil. These districts support a large settled population and several considerable towns, of which Bet el Fakih and Zubed in the western and Lahej in the southern Tehama, with 4000 to 6000 inhabitants, are the most important. There are signs that this coastal strip was until a geologically recent period below sea-level; and that the coast-line is still receding is evidenced by the history of the town of Muza, once a flourishing port, now 20 m. inland; while Bet el Fakih and Zubed, once important centres of the coffee trade, have lost their position through the silting up of the ports which formerly served them.

The jebel or mountain-land is, however, the typical Yemen, the Arabia Felix of the ancients. Deep valleys winding through the barren foothills lead gradually up to the higher mountains, and as the track ascends the scenery and vegetation change their character; the trees which line the banks of the wadi are overgrown with creepers, and the running stream is dammed at frequent intervals, and led off in artificial channels to irrigate the fields on either side; the steeper parts of the road are paved with large stones, substantially built villages, with their masonry towers or dars, crowning every height, replace the collection of mud walls and brushwood huts of the low country; while tier above tier, terraced fields cover the hill slopes and attest the industry of the inhabitants and the fertility of their mountains. On the main route from Hodeda to Sana the first coffee plantations are reached at Usil, at an altitude of 4300 ft., and throughout the western slopes of the range up to an altitude of 7000 ft. it is the most important crop. Jebel Haraz, of which Manakha, a small town of 3000 inhabitants is the chief place, is described by Glaser as one vast coffee garden. Here the traveller ascending from the coast sees the first example of the jebel or highland towns, with their high three-storeyed houses, built of quarried stone, their narrow façades pierced with small windows with whitewashed borders and ornamented with varied arabesque patterns; each dar has the appearance of a small castle complete in itself, and the general effect is rather that of a cluster of separate forts than of a town occupied by a united community.

The scenery in this mountain region is of the most varied description; bare precipitous hill-sides seamed with dry, rocky watercourses give place with almost startling rapidity to fertile slopes, terraced literally for thousands of feet. General Haig in describing them says: “One can hardly realize the enormous labour, toil and perseverance that these represent; the terrace walls are usually 5 to 8 ft. in height, but towards the top of the mountains they are sometimes as much as 15 or 18 ft.; they are built entirely of rough stone without mortar, and I reckon that on an average each wall retains not more than twice its own height in breadth, and I do not think I saw a single break in them unrepaired.”

The highest summits as determined by actual survey are between 10,000 and 11,000 ft. above sea-level. J. Sabur, a conspicuous mass in the extreme south, is 9900 ft., with a fall to the Taiz valley of 5000 ft.; farther north several points in the mountains above Ibb and Yarim attain a height of 10,500 ft., and J. Hadur, near the Sana-Hodeda road, exceeds 10,000 ft. From the crest of the range there is a short drop of 2000 or 3000 ft. to the broad open valleys which form the principal feature of the inner plateau. The town of Yarim lies near its southern extremity at an altitude of about 8000 ft.; within a short distance are the sources of the W. Yakla, W. Bana and W. Zubed, running respectively east and south and west. The first named is a dry watercourse ultimately joining the basin of the W. Hadramut; the two others run for a long distance through fertile valleys and, like many of the wadis on the seaward side of the range, have perennial streams down to within a few miles of the sea. Sana, the capital of Yemen, lies in a broad valley 7300 ft. above sea-level, sloping northwards to the W. Kharid which, with the Ghail Hirran, the sources of which are on the eastern slopes of J. Hadur, run north-eastward to the Jauf depression. The Arhab district, through which these two great wadis run, was formerly the centre of the Himyar kingdom; cultivation is now only to be found in the lower parts on the borders of the watercourses, all above being naked rock from which every particle of soil has been denuded. In the higher parts there are fine plains where Glaser found numerous Himyaritic remains, and which he considers were undoubtedly cultivated formerly, but they have long fallen out of cultivation owing to denudation and desiccation—the impoverishment of the country from these causes is increasing. Eastward the plateau becomes still more sterile, and its elevation probably falls more rapidly till it reaches the level of the Jauf and Nejran valleys on the borders of the desert. The water-parting between central and southern Arabia seems to be somewhere to the south of Nejran, which, according to Halévy, drains northward to the W. Dawasir, while the Jauf is either an isolated depression, or perhaps forms part of the Hadramut basin.

Farther north, in Asir, the plateau is more mountainous and contains many fertile valleys. Of these may be mentioned Khamis Mishet and the Wadi Shahran rising among the high summits of the maritime chain, and the principal affluents Asir. of the Wadi Besha; the latter is a broad well-watered valley, with numerous scattered hamlets, four days’ journey (perhaps 80 m.) from the crest of the range. Still farther north is the Wadi Taraba and its branches running down from the highland district of Zahran. The lower valleys produce dates in abundance, and at higher elevations wheat, barley, millets and excellent fruit are grown, while juniper forests are said to cover the mountain slopes. In Yemen this tree was probably more common formerly; the place-name Arar, signifying juniper, is still often found where the tree no longer exists.

The western coast of Yemen, like that of Hejaz, is studded with shoals and islands, of which Perim in the Straits of Bab-el-Mandeb, Kamaran, the Turkish quarantine post, 40 m. north of Hodeda, and the Farsan group, off the Abu Arish coast, Coast of Yemen. are the principal. Hodeda is the only port of any importance since the days of steamships began; the other ports, Mokha, Lohaia and Kanfuda merely share in the coasting trade. The south coast is free from the shoals that imperil the navigation of the Red Sea, and in Aden it possesses the only safe natural harbour on the route between Suez and India. Several isolated volcanic hills crop out on the shore line between Aden and the straits; the most remarkable are J. Kharaz, 2500 ft., and J. Shamshan, 1700 ft., at the base of which Aden itself is built. In both of these the crater form is very clearly marked. A low maritime plain, similar to the Tehama of the western coast, extends for some 200 m. east of the Straits of Bab-el-Mandeb, backed by mountains rising to 7000 ft. or more; farther east the elevation of the highland decreases steadily, and in Hadramut. the Hadramut, north of Mukalla, does not much exceed 4000 ft. The mountain chain, too, is less distinctly marked, and becomes little more than the seaward escarpment of the plateau which intervenes between the coast and the Hadramut valley. This valley runs nearly east and west for a distance of 500 m. from the eastern slopes of the Yemen highlands to its mouth on the Mahra coast near Sihut. The greater part of it is desert, but a short stretch lying between the 48th and 50th meridians is well watered and exceptionally fertile. This begins a little to the east of Shabwa, the ancient capital, now half buried in the advancing sand, and for a distance of over 70 m. a succession of villages and towns surrounded by fields and date groves extends along the main valley and into the tributaries which join it from the south. Shibam, Saiyun and Tarim are towns of 6000 or more inhabitants, and Hajren and Haura in the W. Duwan are among the larger villages. Himyaritic remains have been found here and in the W. Mefat which enters the Gulf of Aden near Balhaf. A few small fishing villages or ports are scattered along the coast, but except Mukalla and Shihr none is of any importance.

The Gara coast was visited by the Bents, who went inland from Dhafar, one of the centres of the old frankincense trade, to the crest of the plateau. The narrow coastal strip seems to be moderately fertile, and the hills which in places come down to the seashore are covered with trees, among which the frankincense and other gum-bearing trees are found. On the plateau, which has an altitude of 4000 ft., there is good pasturage; inland the country slopes gently to a broad valley beyond which the view was bounded by the level horizon of the desert.

Oman (q.v.) includes all the south-eastern corner of the peninsula. Its chief feature is the lofty range of J. Akhdar, 10,000 ft. above sea-level. Like the great range of western Arabia, it runs parallel to the coast; it differs, however, from the western Oman. range in that its fall on the landward side is as abrupt and nearly as great as on its seaward side. Its northern extremity, Ras Musandan, rises precipitously from the straits of Hormuz; farther south the range curves inland somewhat, leaving a narrow but fertile strip, known as the Batina coast, between it and the sea, and containing several populous towns and villages of which Sohar, Barka and Sib are the chief. Muscat, the capital of the province and the principal port on the coast, is surrounded on three sides by bare, rocky hills, and has the reputation of being the hottest place in