Aden

This page includes my grandfather's postcards from Aden.

Brief History of Aden

Aden gives its name to the Gulf of Aden, at the southernmost part of Yemen, and on which it sits. Historically it was known as South Arabia; its situation on the approach to the Red Sea and Suez Canal explains its importance to shipping between Europe, the Far East and Australia.

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Middle East - aerial view showing the position of Aden [1]
Click image for enlarged view

The Ancient Greeks called Aden Eudaemon, meaning 'blissful, beautiful', and described it as a 'trans-shipping port' for trade with locations on the Red Sea. Aden's natural harbour lies in the crater of a dormant volcano; the place itself is on a peninsula joined to the mainland by a low isthmus.

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Aerial view of the Aden Penisula showing Al Ma'ala the main port area [1]

There are significant disagreements among historians with regards to the turbulent history of Yemen, but the Sabaeans are the earliest documented inhabitants and are said to have given their name to the biblical land of Sheba. The Sabaeans traded in spices - particularly frankincense (an aromatic resin used in incense and perfumes, obtained from trees of the genus Boswellia in the family Burseraceae) and myrrh (a gum-resin extracted from a number of small, thorny tree species of the genus Commiphora).

A Roman expedition to conquer Yemen in 25 BCE was unsuccessful, despite an army comprised of 10,000 men. Despite repelling the Romans, the country fell into chaos which was eventually resolved with the whole area being conquered by the Himyarite Kingdom by around 275 CE. Fortifications and/or watchtowers may well have been erected around this time but there is a lack of detailed evidence. Development of Aden was slow at first but after 1175 CE the city started to grow and was popular with merchants. The majority of the population of Aden was Persian by this time.

In 1513, Aden was besieged by the Portuguese. The Portuguese failed, but the Ottoman forces of Hadım Suleiman Pasha were successful in 1538. Aden remained under Islamic rule until January 1839 when it was occupied by the British. Alarmed after Napoleon's invasion of Egypt in 1796, the Sultan had invited the British fleet to dock. After Napoleon's defeat in 1801, British interest in Aden waned, but the East India Company pressed for a British base to be built in Aden and funds were eventually forthcoming. Around that time, the East India Company paddle steamer Hugh Lindsay started operating a mail service between Bombay and Suez. Aden became a coaling and water replenishment station from that time onwards and remained in British hands until 1967.

Aden Postcards

The Tanks

The unused colour postcard below, published by I. Benghiat Son, shows a view of the famous Aden Water Tanks. Otherwise known as the 'Cisterns of Tawila', this is the best-known historic site in Aden. There were originally about 53 tanks near Crater - the oldest part of Aden. They collected and stored rainwater for drinking purposes and helped to prevent flooding.

It is not known when the tanks were constructed but they are hewn out of the volcanic rock and lined with a waterproof cement. They had certainly been constructed by the 7th century CE as they are mentioned in manusripts from those times. The tanks have fallen into disrepair and are no longer in use.

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Aden Water Tanks

Steamer Point - The Crescent

The two unused colour postcards below, published by I. Benghiat Son, show the area formerly known as 'Steamer Point'. The first is a view along the shoreline and is captioned 'The Crescent - Steamer Point' and the second looks in the opposite direction and gives a close-up view of the Hotel d'Europe - apparently owned or rented by the postcard publisher. The location is close to where Flint Island is shown on the third image from Google Earth. Unfortunately there are no 'Street View' images available to compare the postcards with modern views.

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The Crescent - Steamer Point
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The Crescent - view of the Hotel d'Europe
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Aerial view of Steamer Point from Google Earth 2022 [1]

Camp Town

The unused colour postcard below, published by I. Benghiat Son, is captioned 'Aden - Camp Town' and shows a British Army base. A similar building is shown in a collection of photos held by the Royal Collection Trust and taken during a tour of the Indian subcontinent by the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) in 1875. The location of the camp may be the town of Crater on the East of the peninsula. Camp town remained in use by the British until at least 1959-1960 at which time the Warwickshire Regiment and Highland Light Infantry were stationed there. The Hussars were also there with tanks and there was an RAF squadron of Hunter aircraft based at an airfield in the camp area.

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Aden Camp Town

Click on the link below to go to the page on Ceylon - the next port of call on the route from Tilbury to Australia.