Inside war-torn Yemen’s ancient skyscraper city, dubbed the ‘Manhattan of the desert,’ that’s on the brink of ruin

View of the historical city of Shibam in southeastern Yemen.

Shibam in Yemen is an ancient, desert city.
Originally settled 1,700 years ago, it’s the world’s first city of skyscrapers. Many of the buildings, built from mud bricks, date back to the 16th century.
As Yemen struggles with a violent civil war between the government and Houthi rebels, Shibam’s future is uncertain.
The war has been going on for five years, resulting in 6,000 deaths and putting 22 million people in a position where they need assistance — for food, water, shelter, or sanitation.
For Shibam, things have been tenuous since 2008. Flooding, terrorist attacks, the Arab Spring Revolt, and the civil war have all put pressure on the city.
Shibam’s tourism industry has died, and funding for maintaining buildings has been cut. Now cracks are appearing across the buildings.
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After surviving wars, floods, and a harsh climate for hundreds of years, Shibam, one of the world’s most remarkable cities, could soon be in ruins.

Shibam is known as the “Manhattan of the desert,” because it’s made up of mud brick skyscrapers that shoot up in the middle of the Arabian peninsula’s longest valley. It was dubbed that in the 1930s by Freya Stark, an English traveler.

In October 2019, The Guardian’s Beth McKernan took a look at the cost Yemen’s civil war is having on its ancient cities. Shibam is no longer getting funding to preserve its mud brick buildings, and faces threats from flooding, and potential airstrikes.

Almost all of the houses in the city have eroded, and cracks can be seen across the buildings, Asia Times reported.

Here’s what the city is like.

SEE ALSO: Yemen civil war: Who’s fighting the brutal conflict that’s left millions on the brink of famine

DON’T MISS: 30 photos show what life is like in the hottest inhabited city on earth

From so high up, it might not look like much, but the Yemen city of Shibam has been around for 1,700 years. Positioned on the crossroads between Europe, Africa, and Asia, it was once an important stop for spice and incense traders.

Sources: Atlas Obscura/Slate, Business Insider

Shibam is a strategically built city. It sits on the highest point in the green valley of Wadi Hadramaut, the longest fertile valley in the Arabian Peninsula, nestled between two mountains. Shibam is almost completely isolated from other cities.

Sources: The New York Times, The New York Times

Named after a Yemen King, it used to be overlooked, and protected, by the fortress city Kawkaban.

Sources: The Guardian, Washington Post

But in 2015 Kawkaban was turned to rubble, when American-supported Saudi fighter jets fired missiles at the fortress, destroying 700-year-old houses and the city’s ancient gateway.

Source: Washington Post

Amadou-Mahtar M’Bow, former director-general of UNESCO, wrote in favor of Shibam’s defense and upkeep: “The traveler who comes unexpectedly upon it, after crossing a vast and level desert, sees a dazzling sight: rising from groves of date palms in the bottom of a luxuriant valley, the city seems to soar gracefully …read more

Source:: Business Insider


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