The Mud Brick Villages of Wadi Hadramaut and Wadi Dawan

May 2, 2015 4 comments

Yemen in a desert country located on the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, bordered by the Red Sea and the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait in the west, Saudi Arabia in the north and Oman in the east. With the exception of the costal plains in the west, Yemen is continuously elevated with high and dry mountains having jagged peaks and plateaus covering most of the country. Yemen has no permanent rivers, but the highland regions are interspersed with several seasonal river valleys, called “Wadi”, that remain dry in the winter months. The most notable among these are Wadi Hadhramaut and Wadi Dawan, in eastern and central Yemen.

Wadi Hadramaut consists of a narrow, arid coastal plain bounded by the steep escarpment of a broad plateau (al-Jawl, averaging 4,490 feet), with a very sparse network of deeply sunk wadis. The undefined northern edge of Hadhramaut slopes down to the vast dry desert of Rub al Khali. The upper portions of Wadi Hadramaut contain alluvial soil and floodwaters while lower portion is barren and largely uninhabited.


Haid Al-Jazil, a village perched entirely on a boulder. Wadi Dawan, Yemen. Photo credit


Photo credit

The Hadhramis live in densely built towns and villages centered on traditional watering stations along the wadis. The buildings cling to the hillside or stand on the plateau, at a height of 100 or 200 meters above the level of the valley. Many of them hang above the rocks. The houses are build of mud bricks with wooden floors and rises several stories tall. These adobe structures need to be constantly repaired particularly after the summer rains that tend to wash away the mud coatings and weaken the structure.

Wadi Hadramaut’s most famous town is Shibam, also called “the Manhattan of the Desert”, because of its unusually tall buildings that rises abruptly out of the desert plateau. This small town of 7,000 is packed with around 500 mud houses standing between 5 and 11 stories tall and reaching 100 feet high, all constructed entirely of mud bricks. Shibam was previously covered on Amusing Planet where you can find more details and more pictures of this place.


Shibam. Photo credit


Shibam. Photo credit


Shibam. Photo credit

Lying adjacent to Wadi Hadramut is another spectacular place - Wadi Dawan. Wadi Dawan is a tributary of Wadi Hadramut and it too contains numerous towns and villages alongside the wadi banks and above the surrounding terraces and plateau. According to Dawan Architecture Foundation, “the architectural heritage of Dawan today outshines that of Wadi Hadramut, since its towns and villages have been much better preserved in the past two decades, during which speculation and cement construction have hit the region.”

The wadi’s most attractive villages, lying in a north to south direction, include Al-Mashhad, which, with the 15th-century Tomb of Hasan ibn Hasan, is a local pilgrimage site and a near-deserted village. This is followed by the impressive village of Al-Hajarayn, clambering up the side of a cliff and is among the oldest villages in the region. One of the biggest villages in the wadi, called Sif, lies next. 

Yemen was one of the oldest areas of human civilization, yet remains one of the poorest Arab countries. In recent decades, it has become a hot zone for terrorist groups making travels to this beautiful country a considerable risk to life.


The village of Al-Hajarayn. Photo credit


The village of Al-Hajarayn. Photo credit


The village of Al-Khurayba. Photo credit


The village of Khaylla, Wadi Dawan. Photo credit


A painted mud brick house in Wadi Dawan. Photo credit


A house in the village of Sif, Wadi Dawan. Photo credit


Crumbling buildings in Wadi Dawan, Photo credit


The village of Al-Quwayrah, Wadi Dawan. Photo credit


The village of Sif, Wadi Dawan. Photo credit

Sources: Wikipedia / Lonely Planet


  1. Yemen is not a desert country actually only 20% of Yemen's land is a desert ...

  2. Am Guessing..this is where Killer Elite (Jason Statham & Robert De Niro) was shot

  3. My Yemen experience
    Been in this country last 12/2007 to 05/2011 working in the deserts of Hadramout and Marib. I miss the tsai halip, salata and kubs(bread). Missed having tea with the army and the village soldiers hahaha both have AK47 and me my ID as contract worker. Missed my Yemeni friends from Tais, Mukalla, Aden and Hadramout enjoying our break time in the desert hahaha of course with sahawig. Dates (dat) after meal... at night I visit the carabanas to see my friends and its show time...hahaha Qat time. Everytime I go to my balad for vacation they always ask if Im coming back.
    My last vacation was the day Bin Laden was killed May 11, 2011, I didn't know what happened when I went out to buy bread for breakfast all I see was SUV's with uniformed armed men on board rushing in the streetsm helicopters in groups flying above less people in the street that morning and I didnt have any clue what was going on. So I bought my bread went back to our office where I stayed from the desert before going to the airport. Then at 730am my phone rang it was my Yemeni friend Ali who drives a taxi he speaks english very well, and told me to get ready by 9am because his going to bring me to the airport, told him its to early my flight is at 3pm.
    He then told me that we go to airport now because Yemen might close its boarder and airport because of what happened to Bin Laden. Took a bite from the bread I bought sip coffee took a bath and before 9am my friend arrived shouting Filipini!! taal !! taal !! suraah!! suraah!! shuff saa ... mushkella... i was on the 3rd floor and told him alatul akho ana t'hat usbur lawsmaat. On our way to the airport that usually takes us 30 mins this time it took us 1hour and 15mins because of check points, he said that some of these are not the army some are from the tribes and all are fully equipped with long fire arms. I felt the tension in Sana'a for the first time.
    When we arrived at the airport, there was no one there except for trees where hundreds of noisy crows on the branches. Took my things out and he told me to stay here (the front door) do not go anywhere what ever happens he was talking loud because of the noise coming from helicopters and fighter planes. dont waste you phone battery , tasil if anta mushkella. At around 1130am people are starting to arrive mostly expats working in the oil field some are anxious to go inside the terminal, at 12noon the airport doors are opened and one by one we went inside, there where Filipinos, Yemenis, Indians, French, Canadians, Americans and Chinese.
    On the boarding area there was silence some talked in whispers cant figure out whats going to happen next. Then a flight was called for Aden, then another for Oman, then another Aden, then Qatar not my flight yet... then my flight was called for Qatar. Took the window seat to have my last look at the beautiful Yemen, one last look at the craters the black sands, the wadis the mud houses and then no more. Clouds covered the view of the country and the people who gave us the opportunity to work in there soil. Thanking all was okay until we landed in Qatar Airport.


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