Across the Jaul to the south of the Wadi Hadramout lie the Gulf of Aden and its two main historic ports of Mukkalla and Shihr.
Hans Helfritz, in the 1930s, wrote of “Mukkalla, a city of glistening whiteness, of extraordinary beauty, with its countless palaces and lofty towers, lies in a delightful bya close under the dark cliffs of the Jebel el Kara. It is the gateway to the province of Hadramout.” Crammed between one of Yemen’s great volcanic mountain regions and the sea, it is approached either by the coast road from Aden or from Seiyun in the Wadi Hadramout. This road passes through a succession of wadis and interesting towns and crosses the Jaul, a semi-desert mountain plateau.
Mukalla has been of great importance for many centuries, with its trade extending to India and Southeast Asia as the many Indian influences in its architecture show.
Locals will tell you that the town was founded in 1625 by a Yafa’I sultan, Ahmed bin Madyam al Kasadi. In 1914 it took over from Shihr, some 50km to the east, as capital of the Hadramout when the Qu’aitis ( originally a tribe of the Yafa) transferred their capital.
The town’s architecture makes considerable creative use of gypsum and, in general, is distinctive for its Southeast Asian overtones and Indian inspiration, the latter evident everywhere in the narrow back streets where intricately carved doors and magnificent window screens can be found. The nightly illuminated ar-Rawdha and ‘Umar mosques are delightful.
(The traveler Jorgen Bisch writes in his book Behind the Veil of Arabia that the doors are so important around Mikalla that at times the door is erected first, and the house is then built around it.)
The Sultan’s Palace, which sits on the edge of the beach next to the town, was built in the late 1920s by Sultan ‘Umar bn Awadh sl-Qu’aiti and draws on the Indian and new-classical style.