Old Walled City of Shibam – UNESCO Heritage in Yemen



Surrounded by a fortified wall, the 16th-century city of Shibam is one of the oldest and best examples of urban planning based on the principle of vertical construction. Its impressive tower-like structures rise out of the cliff and have given the city the nickname of ‘the Manhattan of the desert’. In 1982, listed in UNESCO Heritage list.


Located at an important caravan halt on the spice and incense route across the Southern Arabian plateau.

About Old Walled City of Shibam

1. The tall cluster of sun-dried mud brick tower houses of the 16th century walled city of Shibam, which rises out of the cliff edge of Wadi Hadramaut has been described as a ‘Manhattan’ or ‘Chicago’ of the desert.

2. The Friday mosque dates largely from the 9th -10th century and the castle from the 13th century, but the earliest settlement originated in the pre-Islamic period. It became the capital of Hadramaut after the destruction in AD 300 of the earlier capital Shabwa, which was located further to the west along the wadi.

3. It represents the most accomplished example of traditional Hadrami urban architecture, both in the grid lay-out of its streets and squares, and in the visual impact of its form rising out of the flood plain of the wadi, due to the height of its mud brick tower houses. These illustrate the key period of Hadrami history from the 16th to the 19th centuries, when local traders developed economic and political prestige through travel and trade abroad.

4. Shibam and its setting preserve the last surviving and comprehensive evidence of a traditional society that has adapted to the precarious life of a spate agriculture environment. It is vulnerable to social and economic change and the constant threat of annual flood incursions.

5. Within the city wall, all the physical elements, features and urban fabric that form the significance of the property are present largely undamaged and mostly in good condition. Also, the oasis, its functioning and relationship with the city is still intact, and deserves protection. The social, functional and visual integrity are still valid even though visual and structural integrity are indirectly threatened by new constructions and concrete structures in the surrounding environment.

6. Shibam bears witness to the cultural identity of the people of Wadi Hadramaut and their former traditional way of life. The attributes that carry Outstanding Universal Value including the city layout, the city skyline, the city wall, the traditional buildings, and the relationship between the city and its surrounding landscape continue to be maintained. Authenticity is threatened indirectly by outside disruptions and in certain cases, by the general tendency in Yemen of replacing traditional materials by concrete structures.

Best Time to Visit

The best times to visit the Yemen is during April/May and September/October, thus avoiding the hot weather in summer and the cold nights of December.


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