The Ancient Skyscraper City of Shibam
Shibam is a town in central Yemen with a population of approximately seven thousand people. In 1982 it was made a UNESCO world heritage site in recognition of its famous mudbrick tower houses. The town’s history can be dated back to at least the third century A.D.
In Shibam there are about five hundred tower houses, with some rising up to seven storeys high with one or two rooms on each floor. The high-rise architecture was designed for both habitation and protection, defending the town’s residents from Bedouin attacks as they travelled across the Ramlat al-Sab`atayn desert.
This led to the town being given the nickname of ‘the Manhattan of the desert’ with some of the buildings reaching over thirty metres. The mudbricks themselves were made from a combination of clay, mud, sand and water mixed with a binding material. Then they were left to dry in the sun for roughly one month. It was the common material for construction in hotter regions of the ancient world and is still used in some areas. However these types of buildings are threatened by both floods and general erosion. The external walls must be regularly maintained through applying new layers of mud. Because of this, many of the buildings have been entirely rebuilt over the years. Within the town itself are several mosques (one of which dates back to the tenth century) and two sultan’s palaces.
Source: Aiman titi
Unfortunately the chance for people to visit this unique settlement has declined over recent years with the threat of terrorism. In 2009 four South Korean tourists were killed by an explosion after Al-Qaeda called for attacks against visitors to Yemen. Now most travellers come with the presence of an armed guard. With the growing unrest spreading across the country, this is unlikely to change for some time.
Surrounded by a fortified wall, the town is densely populated with its inhabitants living in an area of just nine hundred square metres. This has made Shibam’s carefully designed layout one of the oldest and most impressive examples of urban planning.