Iram of the Pillars, the Atlantis of the desert

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The story of Iram the Pillars, still hidden today by the desert sands. Many theories about its location, still unknown today.

Iram of the Pillars

As mentioned in the article about Lovecraft’s Nameless City, there are many stories within the Arab world about cities lost in the desert; one of these, however, seems to have much more foundation than the others, so much so that it is even included in the Quran. In surah 89, in fact, the Book speaks of some rebels and how they were then punished by the One God. In particular he mentions: the ‘Ad, the Thamud, the Pharaoh and Iram of the Pillars, the only one of which cited as “without equal among the districts”.


If the latter have been more or less identified with some kingdoms in the north of present-day Saudi Arabia, there is still much debate regarding the ‘Ad and the mythical Iram of the Column. This is due to several factors, the first of which has not yet been found a city as rich as described in the Holy text, furthermore the legend links it to the desert, a place in itself of difficult penetration.

So many hypotheses

There are three main theories regarding the hypothetical location of this city: the first would see them near Damascus, the second near the Thamuds and the third near Yemen. The first connects the name of Iram to the region of Aram, a historical place also mentioned in the Bible which would correspond to the territories between the current Syrian capital and Aleppo. For the second, Iram would be hidden in Wadi Rum, a desert valley in Jordan, near what were the Nabataean kingdoms.

The Rub ‘al Khali desert

The third theory, also supported by “The Thousand and One Nights“, tends to connect the ‘Ad to the city, also relying on what was the prophet of their tribe, namely Hud. According to the Quran, the latter would have tried to advise his compatriots to repent and redeem themselves, not accepting, they called to himself the wrath of Allah who will destroy them with a cloud, presumably of sand. It is thought in particular that it may be located in the south of the Rub ‘al Khali, as the alleged tomb of the prophet would be located 140 km north of Mukalla, in Yemen.

Atlantis of the desert

The latter attracted most of the fantasies, being also reported in the Book of stories par excellence in the Islamic world, then also reaching Europe. The fact, then, even the Greeks spoke of a sort of “Atlantis of the desert” (called by them Ubar), aroused the imagination of many, including Lawrence of Arabia, the first to give her this pseudonym.

Mada’in Saleh

With the growth of his fame, there were many, starting from the 1900s, to follow him, many of them with excellent results, but not enough. In fact, many cities and archaeological sites have been found in the desert, for example Mada’in Saleh in Saudi Arabia, none of which, however, corresponds to the amazing Iram; a mystery still hidden in the sands.

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