Just to walk around this place is an experience. The size of the structures will get you you.
When I first saw the place it did not have the effect on me that it did when I had a chance to look back at the trip/visit. Take a bottle of water with you and maybe a book, find a place to sit and enjoy this place....It's Yemen, there will not be many others to trace your path.
If you are lucky enough to make it out here...gotta take a few photos. There is a hillside opposite of the Old City. Depending on how fast you walk it will take 15-20 minutes to get up to the viewing area. You cross the main road and then what looked like a dirty football field and then up the hillside past some of the local's houses. It is a pretty well marked trail and you will probably see others heading up to either take photos or sell things to the tourists. If you want some great shots, take a good pair of shoes so you can wander out along the hillside.
Shibam is a town in Hadramawt, Yemen with about 7,000 inhabitants. It has been the capital of the Hadramawt Kingdom for several periods of time. (There is also a town by the same name outside Yemen's capital of Sana'a. To avoid confusion, the town of this article is therefore often referred to as Shibam Hadhramaut.)
Shibam owes its fame to its distinct architecture, which now is on UNESCOs programme to safeguard the human cultural heritage. The houses of Shibam are all made out of mud bricks, but about 500 of them are tower houses, which rise 5 to 11 stories high, with each floor being an apartment occupied by a single family. This technique of building was implemented in order to protect residents from Bedouin attacks. While Shibam has existed for around 2,000 years, most of the city's houses come mainly from the 16th century. However, many have been rebuilt over and over again during the last few centuries.
Shibam is often called "the oldest skyscraper-city in the world" or "Manhattan of the desert", and is the earliest example of urban planning based on the principle of vertical construction. The city has the tallest mud buildings in the world, with some of them being over 100 feet(over 30 meters) high, thus being the first high-rise (which need to be at least 75 feet or 23 meters) apartment buildings and tower blocks.
Shibam Main Square is in the centre of the city and all the streets lead from it.
It is very dusty, but quite charming with the mosque on one side, a small shrine and a shop at the end. There are goats lying around and the few times we found ourselves in the square there were not too many people.
The mosque is small and looks quite old. We didn't go inside.
Women in the Hadramaut area wear all black and the ones who work in the fields wear tall conical shaped straw sunhats, like witches hats, which contrast quite starkly with their black clothes. Everybody wants to photograph them but unfortunately women in Yemen do not like being photographed, those in Hadramaut more so.
We saw some women working in the fields wearing the hats and stopped to try to get a photo. They started shouting at us, waving their sticks and threw them on the ground.
Luckily the ones in the photograph were more concerned with finding a lost goat so I managed to get the photo.
It won't be too long before they realise it's the hats that are the attraction and start taking them off when tourists approach.
Take a look at the doors and windows of Shibam as you are vwalking around - they are really interesting.
The windows have ornamentally carved screens made from local wood.
The doors are heavy and carved in different patterns, but are not very high and have a distinctive lock which can be opened from inside the house with a huge key. A cord runs up to the upper floors from the lock so the door can be opened without having to go downstairs. Some of the doors are well preserved or restored, and some are in a bad state of repair. Some even have graffiti on them!
The houses in Shibam are up to 9 floors high and made from traditional mud bricks which are used for building throughout the Hadramaut. Mud brick is highly prone to weathering and needs repairing every year and after the rains. The shabbiness of parts of the city add to its charm, and although it is being restored it is very rundown in some areas.
What makes Shibam so spectacular is the height of the houses, the colour of the mud brick and the setting against the mountains. The tallest house is 30 meters high and there are over 500 of them, all set within the city walls very close together. It is fascinating to walk around and look at the amazing architecture of this place.
You get the best photographs of Shibam in late afternoon, if you cross the main road and pass the wadi area where the children are playing football. Walk up behind the houses to the hill and climb up the path until you get the view of the old city with the mountains behind.
As the daylight starts to fade the whole scene takes on a golden glow.
There's no need to ask where you can have panoranic views of Shibam. Your driver will definitely take you there as EVERY tourist does .
A narrow street and a small climb leads you up to a rocky hill above the suburb of Sahil Shibam just opposite the town.
Better arrive there around dusk (no later than 5.30pm as it gets dim and colours fade out). You will soon find yourself among other tourists and a few touts (wishing to show you the way up and down), but still you can enjoy the tranquility, the wonderful colours of the multistoreyed buildings and the grandeur of the Wadi.
Make a dozen of photos. It is well worth it.
Go half an hour before sunset to the hills south of the city. Yes, it's definitely 'on the beaten path' but worth it.