In Yemen, specifically in the central region, you will find one of the most spectacular engineering feats of all time. This engineering feat was actually completed in ancient times, and it is called the Ma’rib Dam. This dam has stood the tests of time and has stood in the same location in the Arabian peninsula for many years.
The Ma’rib Dam is said to have been made between 1750 and 1700 BC. For a couple of centuries, water was stored in the dam for the people of Yemen, and it brought a lot of prosperity to the dry region through irrigation. Unfortunately, the dam collapsed in the sixth century and has not been utilized since. The walls remain and are still able to be marveled at today, as well as the new dam build during the twentieth century.
Ma’rib was the capital of Sheba, or the Sabaean Kingdom, throughout the first thousand years BC. Sheba was located in the Arabian peninsula, and the kingdom saw the rise of Islam. Sheba became a very rich and exotic kingdom. The kingdom was built along the spice route, allowing for easy exchange of goods and a prosperous economy. The economy was quick to collapse in the sixth century, however, when the importance of the Spice Route ceased and the dam collapsed.
Engineering the Marib Dam
The foundation of the Ma’rib dam consisted of stones and a wall made of dirt. The wall was secured with more stone and gravel around it, on both sides and over the top of the wall. The walls were almost fifty feet high and about 197 feet wide. The entire Ma’rib Dam itself was about 2362 feet long.
The Ma’rib Dam was located across the Dhana Valley from northernmost to southernmost Balaq. April to August is rainy season in the Arabian peninsula, and often the rain waters would run into Dhana Valley. This dam assisted in blocking flood waters as well, which further increased its stock supply of water. Extra water could be utilized for irrigation purposes as well.
The Ma’rib Dam continued to receive additions and repairs. It had broken a few times before this with repair, however. It was essential that the dam remain functional even throughout the defeat of Sheba. The engineering techniques were slowly forgotten, however. This led to the dam breaking for a final time in 570 AD.
Some believe that an earthquake shattered it. Others think the flood waters and rain waters were so high that the Ma’rib Dam could not handle it. Locals of Yemen, formerly Sheba, believe that rats destroyed the base.
The Marib Dam Today
It is still possible to see remnants of the Ma’rib Dam in Yemen today. You can see the gates in which the extra water was kept for irrigation purposes and some of the walls are still visible as well.
Part of experiencing authentic Yemeni culture is in eating at a Yemeni restaurant. Come to Shibam Yemeni Kitchen to experience Yemeni culture first hand. You can only learn so much about a culture from its history, so find a location near you (locations page) and experience Yemeni culture firsthand.