Shibam Hadramawt (Arabic: شِبَام حَضْرَمَوْت, romanized: Shibām Ḥaḍramawt) is a town in Yemen. With about 7,000 inhabitants, it is the seat of the District of Shibam in the Governorate of Hadhramaut. Known for its mudbrick-made high-rise buildings, it is referred to as the “Chicago of the Desert” (شِيْكَاغو ٱلصَّحْرَاء), or “Manhattan of the Desert” (مَانْهَاتَن ٱلصَّحْرَاء).
Shibam, which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is known for its distinct architecture. The houses of Shibam are all made out of mud brick, and about 500 of them are tower blocks, which rise 5 to 11 storeys high, with each floor having one or two rooms. This architectural style was used in order to protect residents from Bedouin attacks. While Shibam has been in existence for an estimated 1,700 years, most of the city’s houses originate from the 16th century. Many, though, have been rebuilt numerous times in the last few centuries.
Shibam is often called “the oldest skyscraper city in the world”. It is one of the oldest and best examples of urban planning based on the principle of vertical construction. The city has some of the tallest mud buildings in the world, with some of them over 30 m (98 feet) high, thus being early high-rise apartment buildings. In order to protect the buildings from rain and erosion, the walls must be routinely maintained by applying fresh layers of mud. The city is surrounded by a fortified wall, giving it the name “the walled city of Shibam”.