The ancient city of Marib, capital of the Kingdom of Sheba
Yemen is a country rich in history and culture that offers various evidence of its ancient origins. After visiting the magnificent old city of Sana’a, a settlement dating back to 2500 years ago and defined as one of the oldest inhabited areas in the world, another fascinating and mysterious archaeological site not to be missed is the ancient city of Marib.
Located in a desert area of the country about 170 kilometres from the capital Sana’a, in the region called by the Romans “Arabia Felix”, Marib is known for being the ancient capital of the prosperous Kingdom of Sheba. The city experienced its heyday during the first millennium BC and stood in a strategic position along the incense and coffee trade routes. It was the home of the Queen of Sheba, a legendary figure mentioned in the Bible, the Koran, and the ancient Ethiopian text Kebra Nagast. The Bible and the Koran tell of a meeting between the Queen and the ruler of Israel, King Solomon. At the same time, the Kebra Nagast attributes the birth of Menelik I, the first emperor of Ethiopia, to a relationship between King Solomon and the Queen.
Although this important archaeological site is left in a total state of neglect, it is still possible to walk among the towers’ ruins and see part of the ancient walls that surrounded the city. The most fascinating and evocative monument of the archaeological site is the ancient Temple of the Moon. Its splendid columns that rise in the middle of a large courtyard are still visible. The archaeological area also includes another famous engineering work that sustained the life of this city surrounded by the desert between the eighth century BC to the sixth century AD: the great Marib dam. The retaining wall had a height of about 15 meters and a length of 650 meters. The dam was built to stem the waters of Wadi Dhana and make the entire desert area around the city fertile and cultivable.
Although the Marib site was inscribed on the Unesco Tentative List back in 2002, we absolutely did not see any archaeologists working on the conservation of the site at the time of our trip. Unfortunately, also due to the delicate situation that upsets Yemen, this fantastic testimony of the country’s ancient history risks being lost forever, as well as the many archaeological finds that are still hidden under the sands of the desert.