On my first visit to Shibam, I arrived from Al Mukallah in the south of Yemen, in a fourwheeldrive though Wadi Dawan. After a day of driving and marvelling at the beauty of the region, I saw the remarkable skyline of Shibam appear in the distance. I arrived in the legendary city of adobe skyscrapers at around 4pm. After a cup of tea, I took an afternoon stroll around the fairy tale town of Wadi Hadramaut. Walking the alleys of this medieval town, I finally managed to appreciate the colossal size of the buildings rising high above me. Almost anywhere else in the world, Shibam would be swarming with tourists, but I am the only foreigner in this World Heritage site. There are very few cars around; the streets of Shibam are quiet. Some kids ask me for a picture and follow me, and I see a goat roaming around. At several times, I need to jump away to avoid being hit by trash thrown down from above.
Before sunset, I made sure to climb a hill to the south side of Shibam, on the edge of the wadi. I was awarded sweeping views over the adobe town. From above, the medieval town looks like one entity. You cannot see the space between the buildings, you cannot see the alleys, which makes it appear like one big house. Still, the town counts approximately five hundred buildings. I watch as the sun plays hide and seek on the rooftops of the buildings before it finally sets. A few days later, I would be back in Shibam for a sunrise stroll around the outskirts of the walled city. The silence was only interrupted when a pack of dogs started to bark. It was hard to imagine the town looked different hundreds of years earlier, when it was an important stopover for spice traders crossing the Arabian Peninsula.
Over the course of many years, the memory of my visit to the legendary town reached mythical levels. Then, on a dusty summer morning seventeen years later, I find myself approaching Shibam again. It is often risky to re-visit a place that you love after a lot of time has passed, as the reality might disappoint. But as the same skyline appears in the distance, I am excited to be back. The situation in Yemen has changed dramatically. A war has been going on for years, and we are travelling with an armed guide. We are only allowed to stroll the streets of Shibam for a limited time, and come back for a sunset view the next day. I find myself on the same lookout point, and comparing my old pictures, I can now confirm that the look of the city has changed very little. We are, however, not free to roam around as much as we want, and only have a limited time in a few locations around the medieval town. We watch as the sun sets over the adobe buildings that point defiantly towards the sky just as they did on my first visit, and just as they must have appeared for those traders centuries ago. When we drive away, I promise myself to be back when Yemen will have found peace again.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Shibam (Yemen). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Shibam. Read more about this site.