The Manhattan of the Desert: Shibam, Yemen

Posted: October 10, 2012 in Did You Know?, Interesting News, World

Deep in the middle of Yemen lays a town  nearly two-thousand years old that is best known for pioneering skyscrapers.  Shibam, a town of about 7,000 people, was founded sometime around the 3rd century AD.  The town was built in a unique format to help protect residents from regional Bedouin attacks.  Huge clay walls were built around the city, and residences were built upward rather than outward.  Shibam is often called “the oldest skyscraper city in the world,” and is one of the oldest examples of vertical urban planning.

When Shibam was constructed, the residents lacked the construction materials and techniques we have today. Instead, they built with mud and clay, which gives the town the unique title of having the tallest mud buildings in the world – some over one hundred feet tall. To protect the buildings from rain and erosion, the exterior walls are thickly coated and must be constantly maintained.

Shibam has been in existence for nearly 1,700 years, although most of the structures you see today date from “only” the sixteenth century and many have been rebuilt numerous times. About 500 structures in town are called “tower houses,” or apartment buildings that rise 5 to 11 stories tall.  (Click thumbnails to enlarge)

Like all ancient cities, Shibam has dodged a few bullets in its time. Heavy flooding in 2008 caused a scare and destroyed the foundations of many of the buildings in the city, leading to many collapses. More recently, it was the target of Al Qaeda terrorist attacks in 2009. A remote location and political instability in the region keep Shibam from becoming a more popular tourist destination.

At least it’s not abandoned. Yet.

Map it!  click here

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