Iram of the Pillars, the Lost ‘Atlantis of the Sands’
The literature of past civilizations often mention cities which are now lost to humanity, the most famous of those being the lost city of Atlantis. On a smaller scale, Arabia has its own legend of a lost civilization, the so-called ‘Atlantis of the Sands’ – a lost city, tribe, or area spoken of in the Quran, which has come to be known as Iram of the Pillars.
In the Quran, Iram was said to be adorned with lofty buildings, and was populated by a group of people known as Ad. As they had turned away from Allah and led wicked lives, the prophet Hud was sent to summon them to return to the worship of Allah without ascribing partners to Him, and to obey Him. The people of Iram reacted with hostility and did not heed to words of Hud. As a result, the Ad were punished, and a sandstorm was sent against their city consecutively for seven nights and eight days. In the end, Iram vanished beneath the sands as though it had never existed. On one hand, the story of Iram may be taken just as a morality tale, used in order to preach that people must obey Allah, and not behave in an arrogant manner. On the other hand, there may be some truth to this story, and indeed there are many who believe that such a city could have once existed.
A sketch of Iram of the Pillars. Image source.
In the early 1990s, a team, led by Nicholas Clapp, an amateur archaeologist and filmmaker, announced that they had found the lost city of Ubar, which was identified as Iram of the Pillars. This was achieved using NASA’s remote sensing satellites, ground penetrating radar, Landsat programme data, and images taken by the Space Shuttle Challenger, as well as SPOT data. These resources allowed the team to identify old camel trade routes and the points at which they converged. One of these converging points was a well-known water hole at Shisr, in Dhofar province, Oman. When an excavation was carried out at the site, a large, octagonal fort with high walls and tall towers was uncovered. Unfortunately, a large portion of the fort was destroyed when it sunk into a sinkhole.
A large portion of the fortress was destroyed when it collapsed into a sinkhole. Photo source: Wikipedia
So, is the city of Ubar identical to Iram of the Pillars as mentioned in the Quran? Perhaps it is. Yet, another interpretation suggests that Ubar was not a mystical city, but rather was the ‘Omanum Emporium’, as marked out on the map of Arabia compiled by Claudius Ptolemy in the 2nd century A.D. After all, the old camel tracks do indicate that some kind of trade, most likely incense, was going on at the site of Ubar. In antiquity, Arabia was well known for its production of incense, a valuable and important natural resource used for religious ceremonies. Therefore, it is not surprising that towns and cities would have grew up on the routes of the camel caravans.
Although it remains uncertain if Iram of the Pillars actually existed, or whether Ubar and Iram are one and the same, it may be possible that the story of Iram was inspired by the city of Ubar. Merchants or travellers passing by the ruins of Ubar may have been puzzled about what happened to that city. Over time, the story about a race of people who defied Allah, and were punished for their wicked ways would have been told. As a result, this story would have become a familiar tale to the people of Arabia. Still, it is also possible that Ubar is not the legendary city of the Quran, and that the actual Iram of the Pillars, wherever it may be, remains hidden under the sands of Arabia, still waiting to be found.
Featured image: Artist’s interpretation of Iram of the Pillars. Credit: RogerMV
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Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iram_of_the_Pillars
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