The Oldest Skyscraper City in the World

The high-rise architectures at Shibam, Wadi Hadhramaut, Yemen.
The high-rise architectures at Shibam, Wadi Hadhramaut, Yemen.

Shibam, a 1,700-year-old town in Yemen is listed in the Guinness World Records as “the oldest skyscraper city in the world.” It is also nicknamed as "the Chicago of the desert” or "the Manhattan of the Middle East.” So, what makes this small town with a population of about 7,000 so famous?

The Unique Architecture Of Shibam

The houses of Shibam are unique in nature with all houses being made of mud brick of which 500 are tower blocks. These mud-brick towers rise for about 5 to 11 stories where each of the building's floors have one or two rooms. The buildings originated in the 16th century and were designed to protect the town’s residents against Bedouin attacks. Many of these buildings have had to be rebuilt several times over the last few centuries. Shibam represents one of the best and earliest examples of urban planning that involved the construction of multiple-storied vertical structures. The town houses some of the world’s tallest mud buildings, some as high as 100 feet. The buildings are maintained and protected from erosion and rain by the application of fresh layers of mud.

Nearby Attractions

The town of Tarim located near Shibam hosts the mudbrick minaret of the Al-Mihdhar mosque. It is the tallest structure in the entire southern Arabian peninsula with a height of about 175 feet.

Current Significance Of Shibam

The town is situated in the Ramlat al-Sab’atayn desert in the Hadhramaut Governorate’s central-western section. The nearest towns to Shibam are Tarim and Seiyun. The latter hosts an airport. The city of Shibam currently houses 7,000 residents and is the seat of the Shibam District in the Hadhramaut Governorate. Earlier it was the Hadramawt Kingdom’s capital.

Threats To Shibam

The floods of 2008 severely affected Shibam and the flood waters damaged the foundations of many of its multi-storied mud skyscrapers. Some even collapsed during the disaster. The town also witnessed acts of terrorism when it became the target of an Al Qaeda attack in 2009.


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