Shibam Hadramawt is a town in Yemen. With about 7,000 inhabitants, it is the seat of the District of Shibam in the Governorate of Hadhramaut. The first known inscription about the city dates from the 3rd century CE. It was the capital of the Hadramawt Kingdom.
At the edge of a desolate expanse of desert known as the Empty Quarter, the 16th-century Walled City of Shibam remains the oldest metropolis in the world to use vertical construction. Once a significant caravan stop on the spice and incense route across the southern Arabian plateau, British explorer Freya Stark dubbed the mud city “the Manhattan of the desert” in the 1930s.
Every aspect of Shibam’s design is strategic. Perched upon on a rocky spur and surrounded by a giant flood wadi, its elevated position shields it from flooding while maintaining proximity to its primary source of water and agriculture. The city was built on a rectangular grid behind a fortified wall—a defensive arrangement that protected its inhabitants from rival tribes and offered a high vantage point from which enemies would be seen approaching.
The mud-brick high-rises, which stretch up to seven stories high, were constructed from the fertile soil surrounding the city. A soil, hay, and water mixture was fashioned into bricks and left to bake in the sun for days. The windowless, ground floors were used for livestock and grain storage, while the uppermost levels typically served as communal floors for socializing. Connective bridges and doors between buildings also provided a means of quick escape—another one of the city’s impressive defensive features.
In 2015, Shibam was added the list of World Heritage in Danger along with two other sites when violent civil war erupted in Yemen, thrusting the country into an ongoing humanitarian catastrophe.
According to nationalgeographic