The Old Walled City of Shibam Yemen

The old walled city of Shibam and Wadi Hadramaut constitute an outstanding example of human settlement and land use. The domestic architecture of Shibam is an outstanding characteristic example of houses in the Arab and Muslim world. The rigorous city planning based on the principle of vertical construction is exceptional and an example of a traditional but vulnerable culture. In Shibam there are some mosques, two ancient sultan's palaces, a double monumental door and 500 more buildings, separated or grouped, but all made uniform by the material of which they are constructed: unfired clay.

Old Walled City of Shibam
Continent: Asia
Country: India
Category: Cultural
Criterion: (III)(IV) (V)
Date of Inscription: 1982

Chicago of the desert

Sometimes called the 'Chicago of the desert' or the 'Manhattan of the desert', the old city of Shibam presents to historians and urbanists one of the earliest and most perfect examples of rigorous planning based on the principle of vertical construction.

The Old Walled City of Shibam Yemen
The Old Walled City of Shibam Yemen

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The city is built on a hillock, which has allowed it to escape the devastating floods of Wadi Hadramaut and to become the capital of the territory after the destruction of ancient pre-Islamic capital, Shabwa, in AD 300. Its plan is trapezoidal, almost rectangular; and it is enclosed by earthen walls within which a block of dwellings, also built from earth, have been laid out on an orthogonal grid. The highest house is eight storeys high and the average is five.

The impressive structures for the most part date from the 16th century, following a devastating flood of which Shibam was the victim in 1532-33. However, some older houses and large buildings still remain from the first centuries of Islam, such as the Friday Mosque, built in 904, and the castle, built in 1220.

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