Shibam: Manhattan of the Desert

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Shibam is a mud brick town par excellence. Named the “Manhattan of the Desert” by Freya Stark, the first Western woman to come to this region in the 1930s, it consists of 500 seven storey high skyscrapers.

Shibam is the oldest of the main towns in Hadramawt and the only town to have been built in the centre of the valley.

Its distinctive architecture is designed for defense, for climatic comfort and social custom. It’s unlike anything else in Yemen. The most popular theory to account for this is that residents fleeing from the destroyed city of Shabwa, rebuilt Shibam, their new home, based on the design and structure of Shaqir, the great palace of Shabwa.

Shiibam reveals several unusual and ancient idiosyncrasies .

Ropes are spanned from windows of the higher floors to those of their neighbours, which are used for the exchange of food leftovers.

The locals swear that each house entrance has a particular sound to it, so that its inhabitant can hear whether a guest is knocking at their or their neighbour’s door.

Throughout the city the old locking system of wooden keys with pins that fall into the wooden lock not dissimilar to hairbrushes are used.

Shiibam is not  a preserved city that would never be built in

this way again. Locals are still making the mud bricks and working the lime to whitewash the houses much as they would have done a thousand years ago