Shibam was the capital of the Hadramaut district of Southern Arabia. This district produced incense and exported it to Timna. Later, when the maritime route opened up, the the Hadramautians traded from the port of Qana’. (Cane)
The ancient city was surrounded by a wall, seven meters tall, with only one gate. Inside, the builders constructed buildings that sometimes reached nine stories in height. All of mud! There are numerous web sites that feature pictures of Shibam and other sites in the Yemeni Hadramaut district.
Building Sky Skyscrapers out of Mud!
Throughout Yemen, multi-storied buildings can be found made out of mud. While you may find this amazing, it is very ho-hum stuff for the Yemeni’s. You see, they’ve built skyscrapers out of mud for centuries!
Below is a picture of a typical Yemen farmhouse. The tall tower in the background is for the men of the family. (Dad, and all his married sons) The lower buildings are occupied by the wives, and livestock. Then there are the gardens. That’s where we are standing. Here you can see a vineyard that is DUG. Just like the Biblical passage that says “a man dug a vineyard and put up a tower.” Here trenches are dug, and the vines are planted six to eight feet BELOW the surface of the ground. The vines then grow up and spread themselves at ground level. (Unless they are along a wall, like those in the back right of the picture below). The vines at the right are growing at ground level. In the hot summer months, the Yemeni like to go down into the trenches and relax in the cool air until the hot summer sun disappears.
So what about building out of mud? Well, first of all you need an expert who knows exactly how to mix the right combination of mud and straw. These are combined on a pile on the ground, water is added and the men start to mix with their feet. (See the picture to the left). The builder then takes the mixed mud and adds it to the top of the wall. After 2 feet or so are added to the wall, the wall is left to dry… perhaps several weeks or months. When it is rock hard, the builders will return and add another layer. When they want to create a roof or floor, logs are placed across the space, smaller sticks are placed the other direction and straw is woven to create a giant mat. Then mud is added to the floor, and the builders start working their way up another story.
It is possible to see the various layers in the houses in this picture taken in Sa’ada. Notice that the buildings all lean inward to give added strength to the building. Many of these buildings survive for hundreds of years. (They do need patching if there is a long rainstorm, or if ants have made holes in them!)