DAYS & PLACES
The Manhattan of Yemen.
Like soldiers standing sentry against the desert winds, Shibam’s forest of mud skyscrapers looks like something from a dystopian sci-fi film. Their reddish, rough-hewn façades merge together in the landscape, like a single city block was somehow transported from New York, then dusted with sand. These narrow towers were built in the 16th century – a strategic design that kept occupants tightly confined within the city, more easily defendable against Bedouin attack. They must be regularly patched up with new mud and paint, damaged by the far more powerful forces of nature – erosion from sand, wind and rain.
Some structures reach 11 stories high. Many have just one or two rooms on each floor. Up close, you’re privy to gorgeous design flourishes: domes, stained-glass inserts, doors with detailed arabesques, elaborately carved wooden window frames. Unfortunately, despite its heritage listing, Shibam still faces threats from flooding and modern-day war. Here, we showcase its striking mud-brick architecture.