Shibam – Here and Beyond
Photo by: mavlimon, Creative Commons

Shibam Hadhramaut, or simply Shibam, is an ancient Yemeni town with roughly 7,000 inhabitants. The earliest written reference to it is found in an inscription that dates back to third century AD. It was then the capital of the Hadramawt Kingdom.

Shibam, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site today, owes it fame to its diverse architectural design. All the houses in this town are made of mud brick. Five hundred of these houses are towers that reach five to eleven stories high, with one or two apartments in each floor. The tower houses have been designed this way so that the inhabitants would be protected from Bedouin attacks.

One of the most popular attractions in Shibam is its big and ancient mosque. This mosque is also one of the oldest in all of Yemen and was constructed during the Ya’afuride Dynasty making Shibam its capital city. It was Mohammed Bin Ya’afur who, in ninth century AD (third century of Hegira) ordered the construction of this mosque. At later stages, it was made bigger and many of its parts were destroyed eventually until the first Ottoman rule of Yemen, when renovations began to take place. Non-Muslims are not allowed to enter the mosque; they can get the best view of it, particularly of its minaret, right under the mountain, from the edge of town.

Another must-see in Shibam is the series of rock cemeteries on the face of the mountain overlooking the town. These cemeteries have been carved by hand. Basically, they are holes that were formerly used as the traditional burial grounds.

Although it has been estimated that Shibam has been in existence for almost 1,700 years, majority of its houses stemmed from the sixteenth century. However, several of them have been rebuilt many times during the last few centuries.

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