The Qu’aiti Sultanate of Shihr and Mukalla (سلطنة الشحر والمكلاا — al-Salṭanah al-Qu‘ayṭīyah fī ash-Shiḥr wal-Mukallā in Arabic), was a sultanate in the Hadhramaut region of the southern Arabian Peninsula, in what is now Yemen. Covering 73,359 square miles (190,000 km²), roughly the size of England and Wales, Qu’aiti was the third largest kingdom in Arabia after the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Sultanate of Oman. Its capital was Mukalla and it was divided into six provinces including Mukalla, Ash Shihr, Shibam, Du’an, the Western Province and Hajr. The Sultanate spanned the Indian Ocean coast up to the border of Mahra, encompassed Shabwa the legendary capital of the Queen of Sheba, the central valleys and oasis settlements of Hadhramaut and controlled the southern Empty Quarter.
Sons of Umar bin Awadh al Qu’aiti, who became a jemadar in the forces of the Nizam of Hyderabad State (now in India), first took the town of Shibam from the rival Kathiris in 1858 to consolidate their rule over all of Hadhramaut. They later conquered Ash Shihr in 1866 and Mukalla in 1881, largely replacing the Kathiris to control most of the Hadhramaut coast on the Gulf of Aden. They entered into treaty relations with the British in 1888 and created a unified sultanate in 1902 that would become a part of the Aden Protectorate.
The capital of Mukalla on the Gulf of Aden has been a fishing village since the eleventh century. The walled city of Shibam dates from the third century and features mud brick tower houses rising some five to eleven stories high. The flag was adopted in 1939 with three stripes of red, yellow and blue plus three castle towers in circles on the center stripe. The towers in the blue circles represent the port cities of Shihr and Mukalla while the center tower in the green circle symbolized the city of Shibam in the northern wadi.
The Qu’aiti State first postal services saw mails passed through forwarding agents in Aden as early as 1891. At the request of the sultan, a post office dependent on Aden was opened at Mukalla on April 22, 1937. A postal union between Aden and the protected states was signed in 1939 which stated that any stamps issued would be valid throughout the Protectorate and Colony. Slightly delayed by the start of World War II, the first stamps inscribed QU’ATI STATE OF SHIHR AND MUKALLA were released in 1942.
Twenty-eight general issue stamps were released between 1942 and 1953. Beginning with the set of definitives released on September 1, 1955, the inscription read QU’AITI STATE IN HADHRAMAUT.
Scott #12 was issued October 15, 1946, applying an overprint in red ink to commemorate the victory by the Allied nations in World War II. It pictures the city of Shibam (شِبَام), located in the central-western area of Hadhramaut Governorate, in the Ramlat al-Sab’atayn desert. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the city is known for its distinct architecture. The houses of Shibam are all made out of mud brick and about 500 of them are tower blocks, which rise 5 to 11 stories high, with each floor having one or two rooms. This architectural style was used in order to protect residents from Bedouin attacks. While Shibam has been in existence for an estimated 1,700 years, most of the city’s houses originate from the sixteenth century. Many, though, have been rebuilt numerous times in the last few centuries.
Shibam is often called “the oldest skyscraper city in the world” or “the Manhattan of the Middle East” and “the Chicago of the desert”. It is one of the oldest and best examples of urban planning based on the principle of vertical construction. The city has some of the tallest mud buildings in the world, with some of them over 100 feet (30 meters) high, thus being early high-rise apartment buildings. In order to protect the buildings from rain and erosion, the walls must be routinely maintained by applying fresh layers of mud.
The mudbrick buildings are frequently threatened by wind, rain, and heat erosion, and require constant upkeep in order to maintain their structures. The city was heavily affected by flooding from a tropical cyclone in 2008. The foundations of many of the buildings in the city were compromised by the flood waters, eventually leading to their collapse. It was also the target of an Al Qaeda attack in 2009.
In 2015, Shibam was added the list of World Heritage sites in Danger when violent civil war erupted in Yemen. Historic buildings were significantly damaged during heavy bombing in Sana’a, and remain at risk from armed conflict.