Shibam, Yemen - The Traveller


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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Shibam, Yemen


Shibam – Oldest Urban Planning of Vertical Construction

Shibam the 16th century city is surrounded by a fortified wall and is one of the oldest as well as the best example of urban planning created on the standard of vertical construction. Due to its impressive tower-like structures when tend to rise out of the cliff edge of Wadi Hadramaut, it has received the nickname of `The Manhattan of the desert’.

 Situated at an important caravan halt on the spice and incense route through the Southern Arabian plateau, the city of dwellings up to seven storeys high is developed on a fortified, rectangular grid plan of streets as well as squares.

The Shibam city is said to be constructed on a rocky division several hundred metres above the wadi bed and out-datesan earlier settlement which had been partially ruined due to massive flood in 1532-3. The dense layout of Shibam that is surrounded by adjoining tower houses with the outside walls tends to express an urban response to the need for refuge as well as protection by opposing families and their political and economic prestige.

Susceptible Expression of Arab/Muslim Traditional Culture

The domestic architecture of Shibam comprising its visual impact coming out of the flood plan of the Wadi, functional design, and material as well as construction technique is said to be outstanding though extremely susceptible expression of the Arab and the Muslim traditional culture. Shibam is said to be the first city on earth with vertical master plan. Since 1982, it is a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site and the city is a home to densely packed buildings that tend to range from four to eight storeys which began in 300 AD though now mostly built after 1532.

It is well-known due to its distinct architecture where the houses are made of mud brick and around 500 of them are tower blocks. The architectural style had been utilised to protect residents from Bedouin attacks. While Shibam had been in existence for around 1,700 years, most of the houses in the city tend to originate from the 16th century and several of them have been rebuilt various number of time in the last few centuries. Shibam has been a symbol for the rise as well as the flexibility of Middle Eastern culture in the misery of the surrounding desert.

Outstanding Universal Value

Due to the fortified ring wall, the city has survived almost two thousand years in spite of its risky position adjacent to the Wadi floodplain. It was built over the pre-Islamic capital of Shabwa after it was ruined in 300 AD, mainly levelling the former community. Few types of wreckage seemed to remain from the earlier constructions in Shibam comprising of a mosque that was constructed in 904 together with a castle which was built in 1220.

Shibam seems to bear witness to the cultural identity of the Wadi Hadramaut people together with the earlier traditional way of living. The characteristics which tend to carry Outstanding Universal Value comprise of the layout of the city, the city skyline, the city wall, the traditional buildings as well as the relationship of the city and its surround landscape which continues to be maintained.

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