10 December, 2007

A Visit To Shibam in Wadi Hadhramaut

Surrounded by a fortified wall. Five centuries old. Several times, it has been the capital of Hadhramaut. It has been, in the past, an important center for trade in the Arabian Peninsula. And since 1982, has been on UNESCO's programme for safeguarding cultural heritages. Often referred to as "the oldest skyscraper-city in the world", or "the Manhattan of the desert". And now: it still is a place very much worth visiting. Still, ancient in many ways. And still, inordinately fascinating. That's Shibam. In Wady Hadhramout. Below, are a few photos from a recent visit:

Hadhramy style: seated, local men, smoking 'rushba'

A few items on sale, used by women for smoking homes and themselves - using incense

A window in one of the old houses

Beautifully, hand crafted window shutters, on sale

A few old guns, necklaces, bracelets - on sale, too

I have visited and passed through Shibam very many times; but, still, whenever visiting the Old City,I find it just as fascinating and interesting as when I first did see it. And each time, I do visit Shibam, there seems to be some thing new I learn or notice. And some thing always keeps coming to mind, and I wonder: what kind of men, hundreds of years ago, when most of the World was still in darkness and backwards - what made them think of building such a city. From mud and straw. All tall. All clustered together. With a beautiful mosque right in the center. And a wall enclosing all this. Necessity and the need for security must have been the main reason. But, then, only very brave, smart and very ingenious people could have come up with a place like Shibam.
Shibam, is said to have existed for about 2,000 years. Still standing today, is the Great Mosque (Al'Rashid, Jami'i Mosque); it was originally built in the 8TH century, and some houses still standing - have been built during the same time. But most of the houses that are now still standing within the walls, are said to be around 500 years old. The old walled city of Shibam stands on an elevated piece of land; when there are floods, water runs on all sides of the elevated land. It could be that, at one time, the older Shibam was destroyed by floods and then the city was rebuilt.
Note: there is another Shibam in Kawkaban, Northern Yemen - which too, has a 'wall' of mountains on its three sides; and too, has a great mosque. The Kawkaban, Shibam, is said to have been in existence since the 2ND century. And there are a few other, smaller, historical places named Shibam, in other parts of Yemen.