Mud is generally a very neglected thing and in our wildest of imaginations we cannot think of an attraction made of mud. Although many people around the world still live in houses made of mud, for most others it is difficult even to imagine living in one. But that does not make mud unattractive. It has been used as the main construction material in many parts of the world since time immemorial. And once you read this snapshot that lists 20 of the most amazing man-made mud structures of the world, we are sure your opinion is going to change. Architects generally opine that mud structures are not only durable, lasting some thousand years as you will see here, they can also be amazingly beautiful and each of the entries in this list compiled by Touriosity deserves to be in the bucket list of our esteemed readers for years to come.
1. Arg-e-Bam, Bam, Kerman Province, Iran
The Arg-e Bam is often regarded as the largest adobe citadel in the world and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This citadel is believed to date back to 6th to 4th centuries BC when the Achaemenid Empire ruled over the region. It is located in southeastern Iran, in the Kerman Province.
Bam was a prosperous trading center being on the crossroads of the ancient Silk Route. It was known for production of silk and cotton for trade. It largely flourished during the Sassanian period (224-637 AD).
The citadel of Bam was constructed entirely of bricks made of a combination of clay soil and palm tree trunks. The citadel is spread over an area of 6 sq km. It has thick walls and 38 watchtowers for protection against invasion. There is a series of underground water canals, supporting about 12,000 people who lived here.
During the devastating earthquake of 2003, more than half of the structures at the historic mud-brick Bam citadel were destroyed. However, the citadel has been restored to its past elegance.
2. Bobo Dioulasso Grand Mosque, Burkina Faso, Africa
Bobo Dioulasso is the second largest city in Burkina Faso, after the capital city of Ouagadougou. It is famous for a the Bobo Dioulasso Grand Mosque that is popularly known as just Bobo. It is an important tourist attraction in Burkina Faso. The construction of this mosque is similar to that of the Djinguereber Mosque in Timbuktu, Mali and represents Sudano-Sahelian architecture. The building is made up of clay and timber only and is the largest building of this type in the country. The mosque was built in the later part of the 19th century.
The Bobo Dioulasso Grand Mosque is a century old West African mosque, with timbers sticking out of the wall that are supposed to help in maintainence of the exterior. The timbers allow workers to climb the structure whenever replastering of the exteriors with additional layer of clay is done.
The mosque sits on the edge of the old city, and because of a nearby highly polluted stream, it is surrounded by bad odours. The structure is being currently repaired. However, the renovation work is using cement rather than clay in order to protect it against erosion.
3. Aït Benhaddou, Ouarzazate, Morocco
Morocco as a country is full of tourist attractions. One of the top tourist attractions here is the Aït Benhaddou in Ouarzazate. A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987, this place was once located along the ancient caravan route between the Sahara Desert and Marrakech. In this incredibly beautiful place, there are kasbahs, or small villages, dotted with clay houses. These were built to provide accommodation to the travellers but today look more like part of a filmcity. Being located on the border of the Sahara Desert, Ouarzazate was a popular stopping point for travellers even in the ancient times. Aït Benhaddou is one of Ouarzazate’s ancient walled cities. Inside the high mud walls there are 6 kasbahs and a few homes, that house about 8 families today.
Aït Benhaddou is a popular location for shooting of movies. These mud brick structures were covered in a few Hollywood movies like the Lawrence of Arabia, Gladiator and Star Wars.
The place is also a photographer’s delight, with hardly any rivals. The place looks the most beautiful in the late afternoon and during sunset.
4. Chan Chan, Trujillo, Moche Valley, Peru
Chan Chan is a pre-Colombian city that lies in ruins in the Moche Valley near Trujillo on the northern desert coast of Peru. It is an incredibly beautiful complex of adobe mud buildings. Once the seat of the ancient Chimu Dynasty (900 - 1470 AD), before it fell to the Incas, this place is replete with mud brick structures. There are a total of eleven citadels, the Tschudi Palace, a pyramid, temples, plazas, cemeteries, court rooms and more. The site is surrounded by a 15 - 18 meter high wall. There are warrior statues carved into the wall of the Palace. The lower-class people lived outside this wall, the inside being reserved only for the for royalty and their servants. Many of the structures here appear to be in perfectly good shape.
During its heydays, Chan Chan is said to have large walk in wells. Chimus were adept metallurgists, potters and woodworkers.
In the pre-Colombian era, Chan Chan was the largest city in South America. Today it is a huge archaeological site in La Libertad Region and lies 5km west of Trujillo.
5. Al Fahidi Fort, Dubai, UAE
The city of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates is not just about high rises, grass-covered malls, shopping centres and air-conditioned markets. Parts of the Old Dubai (from the days before oil was discovered in the region) have also been retained as a tribute to the humble beginning of the place.
The best example of the old Dubai is the Al Fahidi Fort situated at the south of the Dubai Creek. This old fort also houses the Dubai Museum and provides visitors with glimpses of how life was in the region before the locals here turned into oil-rich sheikhs.
The Al Fahidi Fort was built around 1787 AD to defend Dubai against external invasion and was residence of the local ruler. It is the oldest building in the city and is located close to the heritage site of Bastakia Quarter. The fort is built with the help of sea rocks, gypsum and mud. The fort has three towers and watchtowers inside and is 41 metres in long and 33 metres in width. In front of the fort a huge boat is displayed as a testimony to the old days when fishing and pearl used to be the only industries here.
6. Great Mosque of Djenné, Djenné, Mali, Africa
Built in 13th century, this mud brick mosque on the flood plain of Bani River is considered as the largest mud brick structure in the world. The walls of the Mosque vary in thickness between 40-60cm depending on the height. There are three towers, each 11 metres high and topped with an ostrich egg symbolizing fertility and purity. The building is in Sudano-Sahelian architectural style and has timber jutting out of its walls to help people climb the outer walls during annual replastering time.
The mosque was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1988. During the rainy season, Niger and Bani rivers overflow thereby flooding the region and turning the town into an island that is accessed by causeways. The Mosque it is built on a raised platform of mud bricks that protects it from severe floods.
During the annual festivities, the replastering is done and the local communities join hands. The mud used for the adobe bricks and plaster comes from the Niger River. The mud is mixed with rice husks and straw and fermented for a month when it becomes very tough, viscous and rain resistant.
7. Mud Walls of Ichan Qala, Khiva, Uzbekistan
Another desert sanctuary, Ichan-Qala or Itchan Kala in present day Uzbekistan is a walled inner town in the city of Khiva. The city of Khiva is believed to have been built more than 2500 years ago by Shem, the eldest son of Noah.
Ichan-Qala means ‘within the wall’. The inner town is surrounded by mud walls, a 10 meter (33 ft) high rampart made of high quality clay. The clay was mined from a lake shore in Ghovuk Kul. It is believed that the mud walls were built using the same clay as was used to build Medina by Prophet Mohammad. The wall is 2.5 km in length and has four entrances on four sides. The stairs to go up can be accessed at the north gate.
Ichan Qala has been granted the UNESCO World Heritage Site status. It is like an Open Air Museum which abodes a collection of madrasas (Islamic schools), mosques, other buildings and about 250 houses.
Khiva is located in the Kyzylkum desert in the Khorezm province of Uzbekistan. It was part of the ancient Silk trading route.
8. Narin Qal’eh Castle, Meybod, Iran
The historic Narin Qal’eh Castle in the town of Meybod in Yazd Province is one of the best preserved mud castles in the world. The castle was built more than 2,000 years ago in pre-Islamic Iran. The castle architecture incorporates mud bricks of the Medes period and of the Achaemenid and Sassanid dynasties. It is beleived that the Narin castle is a descendant of the ancient fire-temples.
The ruins of the Narin castle stands 40 meters in height and a striking feature of this ancient fortification is the plumbing system which was built into its massive walls. There are four towers surrounding the complex, and a large gate leading to a large courtyard.
The beautiful Narin castle sits atop a hill and has 3 different floors, each meant for a different class of society. The entire castle is made of adobe and mud.
The castle has been victim of many earthquakes through the ages. As a result, the outer gates have been destroyed but the inner castle still exists. Some part of the outer walls also exist.
9. Manhattan-like towering residential houses, Shibam, Yemen
In the remotest valleys of Yemen surrounded by palm groves is the city of Shibam. It abodes more than 500 years old high-rising residential buildings that look more like Soviet-style blocks found across the Arab world. Because of these high rise buildings, Shibam is often referred to as the Mahattan of the Desert.
But there is something unique about these buildings. These are made of mud bricks and present a sight that a tourist would not like to miss. Some of these mud-brick buildings are huge, even 16 stories tall and up to 40 meters high. The buildings were built to protect the citizens from Bedouin raids 500 years ago.
Shibam is a city of only 2,000 dwellers. Yet it has got the status of a UNESCO World Heritage site as a city, thanks to these mud-brick high rises. The use of mud bricks was done to meet the challenges posed by the harsh climate here.
Despite the uniqueness, the mud buildings are difficult to maintain. They have to be frequently renovated by the inhabitants in order to protect them from rain and erosion.
10. Sankoré Mosque, Timbuktu, Mali
Timbuktu was in the ancient trading route for Silk and cotton. There were three mosques here where Muslim men passing by for trade would often visit. Soon the town started to gain importance as a centre of exchange of ideas and learning. The town also became wealthy and prosperous in the process.
The Sankoré Mosque was one of the three mosques of Timbuktu. It is especially significant for its huge pyramidal mihrab. It was built during the final years before the fall of the powerful Mali Empire, in the early 14th century. It was founded by Emperor Musa I of Mali and flourished as an important centre of learning in the Islamic world under the patronage of the Askia Dynasty. However, this dynasty’s rule came to an end in 1591 AD with defeat in the hands of the rulers of Marrakech in the Battle of Tondibi.
By the end of the rule of Musa I, the mosque had become a functional Islamic school and had one of the largest libraries in the world with 5,00,000 to 7,00,000 manuscripts. It had the largest collections of books in Africa ever since the fall of Library of Alexandria.
11. Siwa Oasis, Egypt
In ancient time Siwa was an important town in the western Egyptian desert. It was located on the ancient date trade route.
With natural springs and plenty of palm trees providing the much needed shade to the wearied travellers across the harsh desert, Siwa was like an oasis. Hence it played an important role in the trade. There were fortified buildings at Siwa built for the purpose of sheltering the travellers. In order to provide a cooler temperature inside, the buildings were made of karsheef, a local type of mud that was extracted from the lake shore that is high in salt content.
With the fall of the Roman Empire, the trade collapsed and the importance of Siwa declined. It was gradually forgotten. In course of time the place came to be inhabited by the Siwan Berbers from North Africa.
The place has been rediscovered as one of the biggest tourist attractions in Egypt. There are some resorts here which promote eco-tourism. It is possible to spend a few days here to experience the lifestyle of the old days.
12. Cliff of Bandiagara, Mali
This is yet another UNESCO designated World Heritage Site in Mali since 1989 and provides a unique experience to visitors.
Bandiagara is a small town and commune in the Mopti Region of Mali. It is also known as the Dogon County or the Land of the Dogons. The place is covered with sandstone cliffs, some of which are up to 500 metres high. A unique feature of these cliffs is that these are home to 30 villages that feature unique mud huts of the Dogon people. These small huts are carved into the mountains and sometimes they look almost like hanging from the mountains thereby defying nature’s laws.
The Dogons adapted to the hostile environment which protected them from any potential attackers back in the 15th century. Over the years they have retained their culture and continue to live here. The place is now open to tourists. However, the terrain is very rough and the climate very harsh. A guide is essential to know more about the place. For visitors it is possible to stay in one of these houses thereby giving them a unique hostel experience.
13. Kuchesar Fort, Bulandshahar District, Uttar Pradesh, India
The Kuchesar Fort, also known as the Mud Fort, is the sole entry of an Indian destination in this snapshot. It is an 18th-century fort that was originally constructed as a defense against British cannon attack. It was abode of the royal family of Kuchesar, a former princely state. Currently it is a heritage resort owned by the family of Ajit Singh. The family members occupy a part of the fort that houses the erstwhile reception and dining halls built in the colonial style.
The location of the fort is picturesque. The main palace sits atop a large bastion that overlooks gardens on three sides and the ruins of a replica of Robert Clive’s Calcutta house to the west. The holy River Ganges is just 24 km away from the Mud Fort. There are sugarcane fields and Mango orchards in the vicinity. The nearby Banks of Brijghat, are a good place for picnics.
The Kuchesar Fort is situated 80 km from Delhi, very near to Hapur, Rao Raj Vilas. The Mud Fort of Kuchesar speaks tales of the chequered history of the Jats who contested with the Marathas, Sikhs and Rajputs as well as East India Company, to the take place of the weakening Mughal Empire.
14. Beehive Houses, Harran, Turkey
In the town of Harran in the southern part of Turkey, there are houses shaped somewhat like beehives. These were once a very popular housing structure in the region and the huts were constructed out of mud, brick and stone found in the region.
The beehive houses are dome-shaped and could be built quickly. Additionally, being built of mud, the houses were resistant to heat and cold, unlike the common tent and could retain the heat in winter. These meant that the nomadic people here preferred to have these houses for themselves. The ventilation holes on the sides provided cooling air circulation through cross-ventilation, and the top of the dome, acted like a chimney.
The erstwhile nomads have now more or less settled. Hence the beehive houses are no longer used as homes but these have been retained as storage spaces or barns. Due to the decline in their importance and value for residential purposes, the upkeep of the houses has also suffered. Nevertheless, these continue to be tourist attraction of the region.
15. Sar Yadz Castle, Yadz, Iran
About 45 km from Yazd is the Sar Yadz Castle that was once the oldest and largest treasury in the world. The castle juts out like a giant sand castle from the desert. But much of it lies in ruins today and exploring it calls for a good fitness level. From atop the tallest tower, visitors can have a bird’s eye view of the surrounding desert and mountains.
Built in the 7th century AD during the rule of the Sassanid Dynasty, the Sar Yazd Castle was built to make it difficult to enter and navigate. Small openings made it almost impossible for intruders to enter, and narrow passages allowed only one person to pass at a time. It was not only used to store grains and food, but also to safeguard valuables like gold and jewellery from attackers and invaders. Hence it was like a bank.
The ancient bank continues to be a tourist attraction, a short drive away from Yazd. The exterior walls and towers are still intact. These are surrounded by a 20-foot-wide moat. The maze-like interior is replete with 450 chambers in three floors. To explore all the hidden entrances and chambers, one needs a guide.
16. Villa de Leyva, Boyaca, Colombia
Along the Caribbean coast of Colombia, there are beautiful small towns to explore. Villa de Leyva is one such Spanish colonial town, established in 1572 and currently a tourist hub of the region. It presents beautiful scenery, with waterfalls, vineyards, hiking and camping options, and some interesting attractions like a complete fossil of a Kronosaurus and pre-columbian phallic menhirs. Earning it a spot in this list, there is also a mud house here, which is a little bizarre.
The mud house is a bit unusual. It has no ethnic or historical beginning to make history digging interesting. The owner simply wanted to have a unique house and got creative with the design. While you cannot really fit it into any specific architectural style, it is still interesting and is like a tourist attraction of the place now. So during your drive across the scenic towns across the region, you may drop in to see the house. The interiors are beautiful too.
At Villa de Leyva, there is also a monastery worth visiting. Built in the 1600s by four Dominican monks the rocks used in the construction of the monastery have fossils of trilobites, critters and other plants.
17. Taos Pueblo, New Mexico, USA
Taos Pueblo is one of the oldest, continuously inhabited communities in New Mexico. The Pueblo people have lived here in adobe houses for more than 1000 years. The place is known for the iconic multi-storied ancient community dwellings made of mud. Made of sun dried mud bricks (using clay soil called caliche and straw for strength), and coated with an adobe plaster, the mud houses have thick walls. The roofs are made of cedar trees. There are external ladders to reach the second floor. Interestingly, the houses were originally entered through holes in the ceiling meaning that the doors were later additions by Spanish Explorers.
Taos Pueblo is set at an elevation of 7,200 ft and the houses have four to five stories. These were initially meant to be lookout posts for residents to be warned about aggression by enemies. There are two main structures, the Hlauuma in the north and the Hlaukwima in the south.
The pueblo people have an annual village ceremony when they re-plaster their houses. Tourism in the region centres round these unique houses. The place is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1992.
18. Djingarey Ber Mosque, Timbuktu, Mali
One of the three mosques with which the University of Timbuktu was associated was the Djingarey Ber Mosque. It was initially built in 1327 AD after Sultan Musa I returned from a pilgrimage to Mecca. It was designed by Egyptian architect Abu Es Haq Es Saheli and it is said that at its first sight the Sultan was so impressed that he gifted the architect 200 kg of gold.
The mosque was built of mud, fibre, straw and wood and has three inner courts, two minarets, twenty five rows of pillars and a huge prayer hall that can accommodate up to 2,000 people. The mosque was reconstructed between 1570 and 1583 AD by Imam Al Aqib, the Qadi of Timbuktu. During this reconstruction, the southern part and the wall surrounding the cemetery were added. The minaret of the mosque is one of the most noticeable landmarks of the town and dominates is skyline.
Once a prosperous city on the ancient trade route and an important centre of learning in the region, Timbuktu today is a sparsely populated desert town. In 1988, the mosque was given the UNESCO World Heritage Site status.
19. Zekreet Film City, Ras Abrouq Peninsula, Qatar
This is a mini Arabic town located on the west coast of the Ras Abrouq Peninsula (also known as the Zekreet Peninsula). The Peninsula is located on the western coast of Qatar.
The Film city is built in the middle of nowhere, inside a UNESCO Biosphere reserve. It was constructed for a television series and features mud houses and other structures with wooden doors. There are many small houses, a mosque, some beautiful gates and a lookout point. A small cafe inside provides refreshments for visitors. If you are lucky, you may also see animals roaming about.
Settlement in the Ras Abrouq region dates back to the neolithic age and has a beach, some archaeological sites and a nature reserve. Excavation in the area has revealed many artefacts used by the ancient people. At Zekreet, there is also a fort to check out.
The best way to reach here is by a drive from Doha, which is 80 km from here. But it is important to have a 4 x 4 vehicle.
20. Shali Fortress, Siwa, Egypt
The Shali Fortress dates from 1203 AD. It sits perched majestically on a small hill in the Siwa Oasis of Egypt, about 300 km south of the Mediterranean Sea. The elevated position was chosen for the fortress to serve as a lookout for possible attacks from nomadic raiders. The building material used was karshif, a unique material produced naturally through the calcification of clay mixed with chunks of salt from the lake and rock, in simple words, mud.
Inside the fortress is a mosque, the oldest mosque in the world constructed using Karshif. The rough, undulating texture of the façade still has the 800-years old handprints of the builders. The mosque has a chimney-shaped minaret and it is possible to climb to the top for panoramic views of the surroundings.
The fortress was strongly guarded against invaders and outsiders were hardly allowed inside. But 3 days of rain in 1926 as well as devastating floods during the 20th century caused it heavy damage. Bombings during the Second World War also caused much damage to the mud buildings of the region. However, the mosque still stands today and is a tourist attraction.