Articles/The Mysterious Girl’s Dam by Sheila Anthony

The Mysterious Girl’s Dam by Sheila Anthony

"سد البنت" تحفة معمارية نادرة

04 APR 2021

Source: Sheila Anthony

Sadd Al Bint is described as an ‘architectural masterpiece’ and is said to be thousands of years old.  On a recent trip to the area, we stopped off for a closer look. Located just off the main road between Medina and Khaybar, to the south of Thamad, it’s easy to find.

Taking a closer look from above

We drove along a rough but passable track, through a harsh flat landscape covered in volcanic rocks. Nothing of particular note so far, but then we saw it. Nestled in a deep wadi, flanked by trees. It was far bigger than I expected, over 140m long. Overlooking the wadi from this side you can see in detail this masterful piece of engineering. It has a stepped profile, wide at the bottom (approx. 30m), narrower at the top.

There is a walkway along the top, looking over the side you realize how far it is to the bottom (40m). I carefully climbed up and peeped over front edge. This side is rendered, the stones are covered in a sand cement, almost pink in colour.

At the bottom.

From the wadi floor you really see the structure in its full glory. The wall is solid almost all the way across the wadi until it suddenly stops. Here it’s breached, the cross-section allowing one to see how it was built. Big rocks at the bottom, gradually getting smaller at the top. Whoever built it knew what they were doing, the engineering is sublime.

It feels very different down at the bottom, calm cool air with shade from the trees. In the peaceful clam I try to imagine it being built, hundreds of people no doubt, each with their own task. There must have been a quarry of some sort where stone was sorted before being brought here.

A Mysterious Name 

Its name is intriguing. Why Al Bint Sadd, Dam of the Girl? It’s also called Qusaiba’a Dam, but further information is scarce. There is however a local legend saying it was built by the Queen of Sheba.

This is the biggest mystery. There are other ancient dams like this one in South Arabia, in an area that was once known as the Kingdom of Saba’. Some believe that this was also the land of Sheba. In ancient times could some of these people of had a hand in building this dam. 

It’s in an area linked to Khaybar city, an oasis known for thousands of years for growing all manner of fruits to feed the many travellers passing through on the western caravan trade route from Yemen to the Levant. This dam was undoubtedly part of the water management system for this area.

We enjoy the serenity of the place, eating our lunch in the shade. Lots of chat on theories about the name and why its history has not been remembered. Then on again, up the lava track, to our next adventure.