The Great Dam of Ma’rib was built almost three thousand years ago and is considered one of the great engineering projects of the ancient world.
The medieval Arab geographer Yāqūt al-Ḥamawī described the great dam of Ma’rib: “It is between three mountains, and the flood waters all flow to the one location, and because of that the water only discharges in one direction; and the ancients blocked that place with hard rocks and lead. The water from springs gathers there as well as floodwater, collecting behind the dam like a sea. Whenever they wanted to they could irrigate their crops from it, by just letting out however much water they needed from sluice gates; once they had used enough they would close the gates again as they pleased.” reference.
According to Arab tradition, the city Ma’rib was founded by Shem, son of Noah, a thousand years previous. With 1000 miles of coastline on the Red Sea and the Arabian Sea, it flourished as a center of trade reaching from the Mediterranean to India. Agriculture flourished in large part due to its amazing irrigation systems consisting of water tunnels in mountains, and dams. Yemen’ spices, frankincense and myrrh, were traded throughout the world. Modern scholarship says the renowned Queen of Sheba came from the kingdom of Saba, centered around the oasis of Ma’rib.