Ten Neglected Troves in the Heart of Aden

by Flagg Miller

Yemen Update 40 (1998)

Despite the losses that were sustained by libraries and archives in Aden during the war of 1994, there remain a number of important collections from which researchers of many disciplines can benefit. Over the course of the last few years I have been able to visit and take notes on a number of sites in and around Aden that deserve mention, some of which have been unvisited by Western scholars. While this list is not exhaustive, its purpose is to indicate the rich potential for conducting research in Aden. It should be noted that private collections can always be discovered by the researcher and are one of the city's greatest resources.

An additional pitch to those who have heard forboding tales about the oppressive heat in Aden in the summer: while temperatures average 89 F in the months of May-September, a pleasant wind during the days often serves to cool down most areas (Crater being the hottest due to its sheltered location). An air-conditioned room in a decent hotel runs about $10-15 (13-1700 riyals) per day (summer of 1998 prices), and winter prices drop by a few dollars. Also of note, some government office rooms and some of the locations below are air-conditioned, though this is usually the exception. In the last resort, the beaches are always close and several new, attractive beach-side resorts (several in the Gold Mohur area) are available for day-time swimming, lounging, and aquatic fieldwork!

Note: for the phone numbers listed below, the country code from the U.S. is 967, and the city code for Aden is 2.

1) National Library (al-Maktabat al-Wataniyyah)

Aden's largest public library, the Kuweiti-built National Library, shelves approximately 32,000 titles. The library is divided into four sections: "Yamaniyaat", Arabic-Materials, Foreign-Materials, and Periodicals. The room of "Yemaniyaat" contains shelves of literature, politics, religion, journalism, and other subjects. Many hard-to-find and valuable works can be found here. Of special note for English-readers is the shelf of English-language materials in this room, which contains an impressive host of the classic works on southern Yemen from such authors as Bujra, de Landberg, the Ingrams, Rabin, Ledger, Lackner, Stark, and many more. This section is complemented by its equivalent section -- but for the Arab world in general -- in the Foreign-Materials room, which contains everything from numerous shelves of Russian-language materials on Yemen and the Middle East, to rare volumes of early European travellers, adventurers and scholars (including a nearly complete collection of Burton's first-edition Arabian Nights), to a huge collection of microfilm recording official British correspondences and government papers. (Unfortunately, the microfilm projector is at present broken and awaits repair.) This section is an impressive reminder of the many decades that British, Russian, and other nationalities were reading avidly in situ.

As for the Arabic-Materials rooms, they contains many useful reference books, (e.g. Lane's dictionary, Arabic encyclopedias of varying origins, hadith and fiqh, etc.), as well as shelves of Arabic publications on the world in general. Finally, the Periodical room contains stacks of early and recent newspapers, many bound handily in hard-back volumes, and numerous shelves of cultural, political and general interest magazines from Yemen and other Arab countries. Be prepared for some serious dust, as these shelves seem untouched by scholar and janitor alike.

Location: Museum Street (Shari` al-Mathaf). (The collection previously held at the al-Miswat Library, but moved in 1989 to its new location, in downtown Crater.)

Hours: 8:30-1:00/3:30-7:15 Sa-W & Th mornings

Photocopying: Materials can be borrowed to photocopy at local stores.

Contacts: Abdallah Ba Kadadah, Director: (253-507/ 254-284).

2) The Hanbala Archival Center (Markaz Hanbala lil-Tawthiq)

This center is a small sizeable, private collection of books, pamphlets, documents and paraphernalia collected over the past fifty years by the Hanbala family and friends. The collection was begun by Ahmad Hassan Hanbala, a teacher and lawyer in turn-of-the-century Aden, enlarged considerably by his son Idris Ahmad Hanbala, an English teacher, cultural luminary, and leader of the Workers Unions in Aden, and continued and preserved by his sons and friends today. Until 1995 the Center was in such disarray that few were able to benefit from it, but with local contributions and a gift of photocopier from the government its rooms were restored, shelves installed and the collection organized with impressive attention to detail. This exceptionally fine collection is made all the more exciting by the administrators' admittance.

The Center specializes in the fields of literature (over 700 entries), biographies (over 350 entries), politics (276 entries) and Workers Union archives (a vast and rich assemblage of Idris Hanbala's own documentation). Other sections include: Islam (112 entries), Poetry and Art (80), reams of early newspapers (e.g. Sawt al-Yaman, Fatat al-Jazirah, The Recorder, al-Ayyam, al-Shararah, etc.), and a host of local and international Arabic magazines (al-Thaqafah, al-Jadid, al-Hikmah, al-Funun, Qadhayat al-`Asr, etc.). Given the personal nature of the library, moreover, discoveries by all researchers are bound to be made.

The staff is extremely friendly and helpful. Reading can be done at either tables or in a small majlis at the entrance.

Location: Jordan Street #5, Shaikh `Uthman (near Masjid al-Nur)

Hours: 4:30-8:30 MWF.

Photocopying: Done by administrators overnight for a small fee.

Contacts: President `Ali `Abdo Salem: (382-304 (o); 385-202 (h); 381-441 (fax)).

3) The Yemeni Center for Studies and Research, Aden Branch (Markaz lil-Dirasat wa al-Buhuth al-Yemeni)

This center was founded in 1974 (under it former name "Center for Cultural Studies") with the aims not only of administering its own library but of gathering materials on Yemeni history, society, and turath. Its members were responsible for establishing the al-Ahqaf Library in Tarim, one of Yemen's most extensive libraries. Today, they regularly publish pamphlets on local culture, history, society, etc. and translate foriegn books into Arabic.

The Center's library is located in the former Sultan Abdali's palace, and contains sections on literature, history, geography, general culture, religious studies, Yemeni and regional Gulf magazines and journals, and newspapers (October 14th and al-Thawra, but some earlier newspapers as well.) Its reading room is comfortable and air-conditioned.

Location: Box 33, adjacent to the National Museum, Crater.

Hours: 8:30-1:30 Sa-Th

Photocopying: can be arranged.

Contacts: Ahmad Salah Rabi'a, President: (253-821).

4) University of Aden Library (Maktabah Jami` `Aden)

This library is sizeable, but contains sections mostly of interest to Yemeni students of diverse disciplines. Many sections on medicine, engineering, and sciences, but also on Arab and Yemeni history, journalism and literature. A general reference section also exists. Although this library is officially restricted to university students, outside scholars can obtain permission to browse and read. Also of note: in addition to the main library, each department (located in different sections of Khormakser) has its own small library.

Location: Administrative Headquarters, University of Aden, Madinat Ahmadi, Corniche Abyan, Khormakser.

Hours: 8:30-12:30 Sa-Th

Photocopying: can be a bit problematic, but persistence has its rewards.

Contact: Dr. Saleh Ali Ba Surrah, President of the University: (234-428; fax: 234-426; email: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ).

5) Yemeni Center for Research and Studies (Markaz al-Buhuth wa al-Dirasat al-Yemeni)

This two-room library contains many Arabic and religious-studies reference books as well as a large section on religious studies, and smaller sections on Yemen history, literature, and languages. The library also contains a collection of difficult-to-find, English-language monographs and travel accounts by earlier Western scholars. Of special note is a full, 16 volume set of Doreen Ingrams' Records of Yemen. Researchers can read in a comfortable reading room with A.C.

Location: Administrative Headquarters, University of Aden, Madinat Ahmadi, Corniche Abyan, Khormakser.

Hours: 9-1:00 Sa-Th

Photocopying: available

Contact: Dr. Ja`far al-Dafari, President: (234-526).

6) Center for Research and Educational Advancement (Markaz al-Buhuth wa al-Tatwir al-Tarbawi)

This library is a branch of the University's Education Department. Unfortunately over 75% of the collection was looted or destroyed during the war of 1994. The remaining materials are shelved in a single, small room, containing sections on education, literature, religious studies, and history.

Location: In Hay Sa`d, Khormakser (near the plastics factory).

Photocopying: short-term borrowing can be arranged.

Hours: 8:30-12:30 Sa-Th

Contact: Dr. Ahmad Saleh al-Wattahi: (222-861).

7) Central Book Repository (Mustawda` al-Kitab al-Markazi)

Once the repository for the October 14 newspaper, this immense warehouse is in a sad state of darkness and neglect. Although it is officially the book supplier for bookshops throughout Yemen, tens of thousands of books sit on shelves, covered in dust, their distribution now forbidden by local authorities. Researchers looking for a recent book that has disappeared from the market might find hundreds of copies here. Books are arranged according to publishing house, and staff is friendly if bored. Reading must be done on site.

Location: al-Khusaf District, near the Ministry of Labor

Hours: 8:30-12:30 Sa-W

Contact: Shakif: (251-985).

8) The Library of Ahmad Bu Mahdi

This private library is located in the home of recently deceased Mr. Ahmad Bu Mahdi, former Minister of Culture, Lahej. One of the best libraries in Aden for culture and literature of the south. Contact the family at (345-585).

9) The Library of Sultan Naji

This private library was assembled by Sultan Naji, a leading historian, educator, and diplomat throughout the 60s, 70s and 80s. The library houses a fine collection of materials on diverse topics including Yemeni and Arab history (ancient and modern), Yemeni culture, civil service in Aden, and religious studies. Several decades of local as well as foreign Arab literary journals are also kept in good condition. Documents relating to Yemeni-Saudi border negotiations are also available to researchers. Comfortable and homey reading room available, with A.C. Contact Dhi Yazan Naji at (232-218).

10) Ministry of Justice (Wizarat al-`Adil)

Although I have not visited this library, I have been informed it contains government documents (such as the Official Bulletin and material relating to the publishing of new laws and policies) and assorted official publications, both earlier and recent. It is located near the 14th October newspaper office in Ma`alla.

As a final incentive, I should add that there are scattered bookstores throughout the city that contain invaluable references, both old and new, that cannot be found in other cities in Yemen. One of the best bookstores is called the "`Ubadi Bookshop" (Maktabat al-`Ubadi), located on Tawil Street in downtown Crater. Here several large rooms shelve books stacked from floor to ceiling on Yemeni (and particularly southern) society, culture, religion, and literature as well as diverse materials of interest to general readers. Additionally, that rare and out-of-print volume you are searching for can sometimes be found flapping in the wind in one of the several sidewalk-sales that are always being held along the same street."

Corrections to Earlier Article

Posted 1/17/02 by Flagg Miller

Fred Lawson recently reported back from Aden, where he obtained comments from the Hambala Archival Center about the piece I had written recently entitled "Ten Neglected Troves in the Heart of Aden.." While the Center's staff was deeply appreciative of the article and welcomed its publication, they had a few corrections to make. These were passed on to me by Professor Lawson:

  • The archive is currently preserved and managed by a board of trustees, rather than Idris Hambala's sons.
  • The English spelling of the Center should be Hambala in contravention to the standard transliteration of the Arabic name Hanbala.
  • The photocopier was the generous contribution of Aden University.
  • The center houses some 2600 titles.
  • Hours of operation are now: 4:30-8:30 Sun, Tues, and Thurs.
  • Contacts: 'Ali 'Abdo Salem: 382-304 (telefax); Younes H. Ibrahim: 385-536 (h)

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