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This 2,000-year-old city in Yemen is known as the ‘Manhattan of the desert’

Shibam is called Manhattan of the desert as it is one of the oldest and best examples of vertical planning urbanism. The walled old city contains about 500 tower houses, from 5 to 11 storeyed and made of mud bricks. A protected UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1982, the city is home to densely packed buildings ranging from four to eight storeys, beginning in 300 AD but now mostly built after 1532.

A few fragments remain from the earliest construction in Shibam, including a mosque built in 904 and a castle built in 1220, however the city was largely rebuilt after 1532 when a devastating flood swept the region, crippling the foundations of the city’s ancient towers.

“Sometimes called the ‘Chicago of the desert’ or the ‘Manhattan of the desert’, the old city of Shibam presents to historians and urbanists one of the earliest and most perfect examples of rigorous planning based on the principle of vertical construction,” reads the UNESCO brief on Shibam . Credited as the home of the first highrise apartment buildings, Shibam has become a symbol for the rise and resilience of middle eastern culture in the desolation of the surrounding desert.

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