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Iram of the Pillars (Arabic: إرَم ذات العماد, Iram ḏāt al-`imād), also called Aram, Iram, Irum, Irem, Erum, Wabar, Ubar or the City of a Thousand Pillars, is a lost city (or region surrounding the lost city) on the Arabian Peninsula.



Ubar, a name of a region or a name of a people, was mentioned in ancient records, and was spoken of in folk tales as a trading center of the Rub' al Khali desert in the southern part of the Arabian peninsula. It is estimated that it lasted from about 3000 B.C. to the first century A.D. According to legends, it became fabulously wealthy from trade between the coastal regions and the population centers of the Middle-East and Europe. The region became lost to modern history, and was thought to be only a figment of mythical tales. Some confusion exists about the word "Ubar". In classical texts and Arabic historical sources, Ubar refers to a region and a group of people, not to a specific town. Ptolomy's second century map of the area shows "Iobaritae". It was only the late Medieval version of The One Thousand and One Nights, in the fourteenth or fifteenth century, that romanticized Ubar and turned it into a city, rather than a region or a people.

The Qur'an (1,400 years ago) mentions a certain city by the name of Iram (a city of pillars) [Qur'an: The Dawn 89:7], which was not known in ancient history and which was non-existent as far as historians were concerned. The December 1978 edition of the National Geographic Magazine records that in 1973, the city of Ebla was excavated in Syria. The city was discovered to be 4,300 years old. Researchers found in the library of Ebla a record of all of the cities which Ebla had done business. On the list was the specific name of the city of "Iram" (and not the name of the general region of Ubar). The people of Ebla had apparently done business with the people of "Iram".

The Qur'an says that Iram was a city inhabited by the tribe of 'Ad:[1]

According to folklore, King Shaddad defied the warnings of the prophet Hud and God smote the city, driving it into the sands, never to be seen again. The ruins of the city lie buried somewhere in the sands of the Rub' al-Khali. Iram became known to Western literature with the translation of The Book of One Thousand and One Nights.

Arabic tradition holds that the tribe of 'Ad were the great-grandchildren of Nuh or Noah. The Qur'an talks about 'Ad as “successors” after Noah's people (The Qur'an, chapter 7 (Al-A'raf), verse 69).

In the 2nd century A.D. Ptolemy made a map that labeled the region with the name "Iobaritae", meaning that it belonged to the Ubarites. Later legends referred to the fabulous wealth of the lost city and used the region name "Ubar" to designate it.

T. E. Lawrence showed some interest in Iram, and named it "The Atlantis of the Sands".

Evidence for Iram

The ruins of the Ubarite oasis and its collapsed well-spring

Recent discoveries have brought Iram out of the realm of fable into history.

In the early 1980s a group of researchers interested in the history of Iram used NASA remote sensing satellites, ground penetrating radar, Landsat program data and images taken from the Space Shuttle Challenger as well as SPOT data to identify old camel train routes and points where they converged. These roads were used as frankincense trade routes around 2800 BCE to 100 BCE.

One area in the Dhofar province of Oman was identified as a possible location for an outpost of the lost civilization. A team including adventurer Ranulph Fiennes, archaeologist Juris Zarins, filmmaker Nicholas Clapp, and lawyer George Hedges, scouted the area on several trips, and stopped at a water well called Ash Shisar.[2] Near this oasis was located a site previously identified as the 16th century Shis'r fort. Excavations uncovered an older settlement, and artifacts traded from far and wide were found. This older fort was found to have been built on top of a large limestone cavern which would have served as the water source for the fort, making it an important oasis on the trade route to Iram. As the residents of the fort consumed the water from underground, the water table fell, leaving the limestone roof and walls of the cavern dry. Without the support of the water, the cavern would have been in danger of collapse, and it seems to have done so some time between 300-500 CE, destroying the oasis and covering over the water source.

Four subsequent excavations were conducted by Dr. Juris Zarins, tracing the historical presence by the people of 'Ad, the assumed ancestral builders of Iram.

In fiction

  • In the Neil Gaiman novel American Gods a jinn working as a cab driver in New York City tells one of the characters that he is originally from the city Ubar
  • James Rollins's 2004 novel Sandstorm centers on Ubar and its mysteries.
  • Sean McMullen's story "The Measure of Eternity" (published in Interzone 205) is set in Ubar, describing it as the wealthiest city on earth.
  • "Wabar" is a major part of the plot in Josephine Tey's mystery novel The Singing Sands.
  • In the "The Legend of the Arab Astrologer", part of Washington Irving's Tales of the Alhambra, Iram is mentioned as a marvellous magical urban Eden that appears to sleepers that disappears as soon as you exit the gates.
  • In Weaveworld, by Clive Barker, one of the antagonists visits the Empty Quarter and finds what is presumably the magically reanimated ruins of Iram.
  • "Irem" is the name of a song by the Italian band Green Man, from their album From Irem to Summerisle.
  • In Tim Powers' novel Declare, Wabar was a city inhabited by djinni and their half-human progeny and was destroyed by a meteor strike.

See also


  1. ^{$lang}
  2. ^ "The Frankincense Route Emerges From the Desert". New York Times. 1992-04-21. Retrieved 2007-12-06.  
  3. ^ Mythos Tomes - The Nameless City

Further reading

External links



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