Manhattan of the Desert: Oldest Skyscrapers in the World

Most people think of skyscrapers as inventions of the post-industrial world, characteristic of tightly-packed urban environments. Density in cities is, of course, nothing new. Surprisingly, neither is the art of constructing tall buildings, as evidenced by the city of Shibam.

City of Shiblam

Shibam, Yemen has been continuously occupied for over two millennia. This remote desert city boasts buildings of mud brick that reach up to fourteen stories in height, many dating back hundreds of years (and parts of which date back thousands).


Since becoming a World Heritage city over 20 years ago, the area has largely catered (for better or worse) to tourists. However, this has at least helped preserve both the buildings and aspects of the regional culture that might otherwise have been lost.

Desert Skyscrapers

Shibam’s structures are built of load-bearing materials, as opposed to modern frame-and-cladding techniques (the building blocks of contemporary skyscrapers). As such, the bases of the buildings are up to four feet thick. For a better look, check out these two amazing videos of the city – a flyover and a short tour of the city