Normally, people don’t really think of mud as something glamorous or exciting. After all, mud or dirt is basically found everywhere and seems to be more of a nuisance than an asset. However for thousands of years the human race has been using mud to construct everything from small little huts to large palaces, fortresses and grand religious complexes. Often you’ll find mud brick structures in the desert where other raw materials are relatively scarce. It’s also much easier to create bricks of mud and dry them than to carve them from stone. Below are some pretty amazing mud brick structures and even whole cities located in various parts of the world.
Djinguereber Mosque – Timbuktu, Mali
Mention the name “Timbuktu” and automatically one thinks of a place far, far away. And you know what? They’d be correct. Timbuktu is a city in the west African country of Mali and home to the Djinguereber Mosque. First constructed in 1325, this mud brick mosque is unique due to it’s strange-looking minarets with the trunks of trees jutting out. Timbuktu itself was a popular stop for caravans transporting goods between the Islamic empires along the Mediterranean and Middle East and the African kingdoms further south and to the west.
Askia Mohamed Bvd, Timbuktu, Mali
Oasis of Siwa – Egypt
The desert oasis/town of Siwa is legendary. It is literally in the middle of the Egyptian desert and isolated from any major city. Siwa traces its fame to being the site of the ancient Oracle of Amon, the ruins of which are still a popular tourist attraction. The type of mud brick located here is called karsheef and is made from the unique dirt and sand from along the shores of the nearby Siwa lake. Due to its rare supply of fresh water, Siwa was also a place for trading caravans to come and drink from the towns natural springs as well as to take shade in the area’s date palms before making their long journeys across northern Africa and beyond. The town thrived under the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, after which the city began to lose its lustre and fall into decline. Today Siwa is a sleepy Egyptian town and home to tribes of Berbers. It’s mud brick character however still remains.
Ait Benhaddou – Morocco
Located at the edge of the Sahara desert, Aït Benhaddou is a fortified mudbrick city that is famous for being a beautiful caravan stop as well as the site where several feature films, including Gladiator, The Mummy, Kingdom of Heaven, Babel, Prince of Persia and others were filmed. Today though, most residents of the city no longer live in mud brick dwellings but in modern, air-conditioned homes. The city is one of Morocco’s top tourist attractions and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.
Shibam – Yemen
Nicknamed the “Manhattan of the desert” due to its desert skyscraper-like buildings, Shibam is a Yemeni town famous for its mud brick apartment towers, many of which were built in the 16th century and over 15 stories high. These tall but sturdy dwellings were also used to spot and protect residents from bedouin raiding parties. Despite the ongoing civil war in Yemen, Shibam remains popular as a tourist attraction for those who still venture to explore this war-torn country.
Chan Chan – Peru
Everyone knowns of the great Peruvian wonder-cities of Cuzco and Machu Picchu, but few have heard of Chan Chan. Located near the modern Peruvian city of Trujillo, the ancient city of Chan Chan was once the capital of the Chimú culture. Covering 20 square km, Chan Chan was the largest adobe mud brick city in the world. Surrounded by walls that are approximately eight feet high, the complex contains numerous buildings including several palaces, temples and eleven citadels.
The Chimú were eventually conquered around 1460 by the Incas and the city was abandoned soon afterward. Despite this, it is fascinating that many of these mud brick buildings have been extremely well-preserved. Chan Chan was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1986.
Jr. Torre Tagle 178, Trujillo, Peru
+51 44 227705
Khiva – Uzbekistan
The walled city of Khiva in Uzbekistan is a city of approximately 50,000 people. Legend has it that the city was founded by Shem, the oldest son of the Biblical Prophet Noah. While maybe not exactly that old, archaeologists have determined that the foundations of the city go back at least 2500 years. Today the old city of Khiva is filled with mud brick mosques, towers and defensive walls. The site was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991.
Arg-e Bam – Bam, Iran
Bam was one of the great trading centers on the silk road for much of the first millennium AD. Located in southwestern Iran, the citadel of Bam was constructed almost completely of mud brick from the clay soil and palm tree trunks found in the area. At one time, the area around the citadel could hold over 10,000 people. Unfortunately in 2003, a large earthquake struck the region and destroyed half of the city’s houses. Despite this, what is remaining of this once great trading station is still extremely impressive.
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