Aden's Ancient Marvel: The Story of Tawila Tanks

Down in the southwest corner of Crater, you'll find the Tawila Tanks, or as some folks call them, the Queen of Sheba Tanks, Aden Tanks or Cisterns. These aren't just any old tanks; they're like a time capsule of Aden's history and a shout-out to some serious ancient engineering skills. Dipped in a bit of mystery and legend, some say they've got connections to the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon. Historians reckon they go way back to the Himyarite Kingdom, we're talking between 115 BC and 525 AD. That's old school, making them a pretty big deal in Aden's historical lineup.

Once upon a time, there were about 53 of these tanks. Fast forward to today, and we're down to just 13. But here's the cool part: they were all designed to scoop up every drop of rare rainwater and keep Crater from turning into a flood zone. Picture this: tanks carved right out of solid rock and lined with this tough stucco stuff that looked a lot like marble. Pretty nifty, right? But, as time rolled on, floods did a number on them, and they ended up nearly buried under all the rubble and dirt the rains brought down.

Back in the day, the Brits really put their stamp on Aden's Tawila Tanks. Sir Robert L. Playfair, while he was Assistant Resident in 1854, saw the goldmine these tanks were and got cracking on fixing them up. Before him, though, Commander Haines had already clocked the tanks during his 1839 visit. The Brits had big plans – they swapped out the old, smaller tanks for fewer but bigger ones, hoping to store more water. Handy, sure, but it kinda muddled up the tanks' original story.

When they were fixing up the Tawila Tanks, the government wasn't exactly over the moon with how the cash was flowing in. So, when it came time to spruce up the biggest tank of the lot, the Playfair Tank, they weren’t too keen on shelling out more dough. Captain Haines, the Resident at the time, tried to convince them, but no dice.

Looking out from the tanks over the town of Crater

That's when Cowasjee Dinshaw, a big name Parsee in town, along with two other top merchants, Eduljee Manekjee and Hasan 'Ali, stepped up. These chaps were pretty sharp. In 1863, they got together and said, "Hey, let's fix these tanks ourselves!" They formed a partnership, struck a deal with the government, and got a 10-year contract to restore the Playfair Tank and six others up on the hill.

This wasn’t just a one-off thing either. In 1873, they renewed the contract for another 30 years. And here's the kicker – during this time, they actually sold the water from these tanks. Yep, they turned it into a proper business. Just goes to show, where there’s a will (and a bit of entrepreneurial spirit), there's a way, even with something as everyday as water in a place as dry as Aden!

Right next to these historical gems was the Parsee Fire Temple, built on top of one of the tanks. This place was like a spiritual hotspot for the Parsee community, with their sacred flame burning bright until everything turned topsy-turvy in 1967.

But let me tell you, flooding in Aden has always been a bit of a drama. The Tawila Tanks were the city's umbrella, but when the heavens opened, it was chaos. I remember, back in the early 60s, after a particularly wild downpour, kids were literally swimming in the streets of Crater. It was like the city turned into a giant pool!

This flooding business wasn't just a spectacle – it wrecked homes, especially the makeshift ones clinging to the mountainsides. Folks had built these places out of whatever they could find – packing crates, cardboard, you name it. And when the rains came, it was all washed away. Just like that.

Fast forward to today, and the Tawila Tanks are more of a chill-out spot and a hit with tourists. But they're not holding water for the city anymore. Since the Brits left in '67, the tanks have seen better days. Floods, time, and people have all done a number on them. Buildings popping up in the flood path and up on the tableland don't help either.

Still, the Tawila Tanks are something special. They're like a shout-out to the clever clogs who built them way back when, in a volcano no less. They've seen a lot, those tanks – floods, changes, you name it. They're a slice of Aden's history, showing how folks back then were pretty smart at figuring out how to live in a tough spot like South Arabia.​​​​​​​​​