Shibam, Yemen - WESTERN ASIA - Manhattan of the Desert

Shibam is located in the middle of the stream Vadi Hadramauta in Yemen and has 7000 inhabitants. The old city spreads on high rocky plateaus and is known for its 9 floors high residential buildings built of dried clay bricks.Spices, woolen carpets of earth colors, fruits and vegetables, hookah, perfumes and jewelry, and everything that exists in other Arab countries, can be found in Yemen.
However, besides this, there are a few facts that are related only to this country. One of them concerns the jewelry of silver, which has until recently been very cheap commodity. Jewish masters filigrees were cultivated for centuries silver here and brought their craft to perfection.
When the state of Israel was created, most of them moved to their homeland, so that with their departure also this handicraft died out. Silver, which can now be found on the streets of Sana, is mostly imported from India, while the gold they handle alone.

Yemen has more than 20 million inhabitants, mostly Arabs. However, for historical reasons, and also of geographic location (a sort of "bridge" between Africa and India) as well as the recent discovery of oil, its residents were Jews, even Indonesians and other inhabitants originating from Southeast Asia. Yemeni culture is therefore a mixture of Arab, African, Indian and Hebrew. Despite this, its uniqueness is so obvious, you'll rarely find in culture such as Yemen. A good example of this claim is in Yemeni architecture, so different from everything you know.

In the desert valley Hadramauta, there is also one of the jewels of Yemen, Shibam town or, as it is called the "City of 500 towers". In the amazing surroundings deserted limestone mountains, rises the city of 1001 Nights, with its unforgettable and highly unique architecture. If you think that there are only a solitary in the modern world, you'd be mistaken. Although the town has only seven thousand inhabitants, its "residential towers" that gently narrow towards the top, are eight floors high.

What makes them special is the fact that they are built of bricks made ​​of mud and reeds, as well as from wood parts up to 500 years old. The whole city is surrounded by walls, and its interior can be reached only by entering through a single city gateway. The most beautiful experience to see it at sunset, when its white houses-towers get pink shades, so they look like mignon strung on a tray in the desert.

Each "tower" inhabits one family consisting of father, mother, daughters, sons, wives of the sons and their children. Sometimes the family is numerous, especially in some rural regions where is still valid law in which man can have up to four legal wives. On the lower floors there are no windows and families are storing their food, tools and livestock.

Central floors are reserved for women, each of them has a special kitchen. The highest floors, including the last, under the name of cult mafraj, are exclusively used by male family members. It is interesting to mention why they were building such high houses. Fact is that they were built to protect the inhabitants of the ancient Bedouin attacks. Their age is estimated to be approximately 1700 years. Much of the house originates from the 16th century. Shibam is often called the city ofthe oldest known skyscrapers in the world, or even better "Manhattan in the Desert". Certainly it is one of the oldest and finest examples of urban planning.

As one of the main attractions is the walk between the high houses that we have already mentioned at the beginning. It is interesting to observe the architecture of the residence to which the people of Yemen are used to, and to us it could be be really weird. Shibam is now under protection of UNESCO.
While you're there, we recommend visiting the small cafe at the entrance to the city where tea is served, where with a few smoke, you can play dominoes and watch the locals in their daily life.


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