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The Southern Gates of Arabia: A Journey in the Hadhramaut

4.2 of 5 stars 4.20  ·  rating details  ·  88 ratings  ·  8 reviews
In 1934, famed British traveler Freya Stark sailed down the Red Sea, alighting in Aden, located at the tip of the Arabian peninsula. From this backwater outpost, Stark set forth on what was to be her most unforgettable adventure: Following the ancient frankincense routes of the Hadhramaut Valley, the most fertile in Arabia, she sought to be the first Westerner to locate an ...more
Paperback, 304 pages
Published July 24th 2001 by Modern Library (first published 1936)
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Freya Stark was a remarkable woman who travelled throughout the Middle East in the 1930’s. She was fluent in Arabic and Arabian history and wrote many popular travel books at a time when women did not travel alone. When travelling through Yemen, she hired members of local Bedouin tribes to guide her to historical regions, old villages, and along the ancient spice routes. The Hadhramaut region of Yemen is the home of the rare Frankincense tree from the species Boswellia. This is a humorous and de ...more
I think this pretty much says it all:
"On the occasion of the arrival of the free and respected one, and of her honouring the court of our excellent school, I rise to welcome her happy visit to the abode of the noble Sharifs, the country of Al Ahqaf, the place of residence of our venerated ancestors and that where our forebears were born. Her spirit and firm courage are show to us inasmuch as she is the first woman to visit the province of Hadhramaut alone, without any companion of her own sex or
In the early 1930s, Stark, a single British woman, traveled through southern Arabia alone, visiting country that few other Europeans had seen, particularly few women. This might sound incredibly dangerous, and it probably was, but Stark was helped along by her passion for Arabic history and her genuine interest in the people she met (as well as near fluency in Arabic, as far as I can tell), as well as her poise, charm, humor, and sense of adventure. She befriends bedouins and sheiks alike, as we ...more
Later writers have snide things to say about her, but which other woman was riding about without a man to protect her in the back country east of Yemen back in the 1930's. And, she is a literate writer. Thus the 4 stars.

It's a quick read, but it is soooo personal, in contrast to all the geo-political tomes of today.
Yes, she heavily edited the friction out of this, but it's a great glimpse inside the closed society of the emirates area when significant remnants of the ancient economy and society
Maybe 3.5 stars, as I did feel my eyes glazing over from time to time, but generally I really enjoyed both her account, as well as the opportunity to read a description of a Middle Eastern region from a historical perspective.
Beautiful. Especially suited to the 1980's in Manchester during a slow burning heroin habituation. Somehow nodding out didn't spoil a thing...
Another intrepid traveller
in Araby. I so love these
people and the luck of living
when they did and the worlds
they got to see.
Freya Stark was mentioned in To War with Whitaker
By Hermoine Ranfurly. They met during WW2.
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Freya Stark was born in Paris, where her parents were studying art. Her mother, Flora, was an Italian of Polish/German descent; her father, Robert, an English painter from Devon.

In her lifetime she was famous for her experiences in the Middle East, her writing and her cartography. Freya Stark was not only one of the first Western women to travel through the Arabian deserts (Hadhramaut), she often
More about Freya Stark...
The Valleys of the Assassins: and Other Persian Travels A Winter in Arabia Baghdad Sketches (Travel) The Journey's Echo: Selections from Freya Stark (Travels) Ionia: A Quest

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