Iram of the Pillars

Iram of the Pillars (Arabic: إرَم ذات العماد, Iram dhāt al-ʿimād), also called "Aram", "Irum", "Irem", "Erum", or the "City of the tent poles," is a lost city, region or tribe mentioned in the Qur'an.[1][2]


The Qur'an, composed in the 7th century CE, mentions Iram in connection with ‘imad (Arabic: عماد, pillars) [Qur'an: The Dawn 89:7]:[2]

The Quran, chapter 89 (Al-Fajr), verse 6 to 14:

6: Have you not considered how your Lord dealt with ‘Aad -

7: [With] Iram – who had lofty pillars, 8: The likes of whom had never been created in the lands 9: And [with] Thamud, who carved out the rocks in the valley? 10: And [with] Pharaoh, owner of the stakes? – 11: [All of] whom oppressed within the lands 12: And increased therein the corruption. 13: So your Lord poured upon them a scourge of punishment.

14: Indeed, your Lord is in observation.

translated by

There are several explanations for the reference to "Iram – who had lofty pillars". Some see this as a geographic location, either a city or an area, others as the name of a tribe. Those identifying it as a city have made various suggestions as to where or what city it was, ranging from Alexandria or Damascus to a city which actually moved or a city called Ubar.[3] As an area it has been identified with the biblical Aram, son of Shem and the biblical region known as Aram.[4] It has also been identified as a tribe, possibly the tribe of ʿĀd, with the pillars referring to tent pillars.[1]

"The identification of Wadi Rum with Iram and the tribe of ‘Ad, mentioned in the Qur’an, has been proposed by scholars who have translated Thamudic and Nabataean inscriptions referring to both the place Iram and the tribes of ‘Ad and Thamud by name."[5]

According to some Islamic beliefs,[2] King Shaddad defied the warnings of the prophet Hud and Allah smote the city, driving it into the sands, never to be seen again. The ruins of the city lie buried somewhere in the sands of al-Rub' al Khali (Arabic: الـربـع الـخـالي, the Empty Quarter). Iram became known to Western literature with the translation of the story "The City of Many-Coloured Iram and Abdullah Son of Abi Kilabah" in The Book of One Thousand and One Nights.

Juris Zarins and its identification as Ubar

In 1992 Ranulph Fiennes wrote a book called Atlantis of the Sands a legendary lost city in the southern Arabian sands, claimed to have been destroyed by a natural disaster or as a punishment by God. Various names have been given to it including Iram.

Archaeologist Juris Zarins discussed Ubar in a 1996 interview saying “There's a lot of confusion about that word. If you look at the classical texts and the Arab historical sources, Ubar refers to a region and a group of people, not to a specific town. People always overlook that. It's very clear on Ptolemy’s second century map of the area. It says in big letters "Iobaritae" And in his text that accompanied the maps, he's very clear about that. It was only the late medieval version of One Thousand and One Nights, in the fourteenth or fifteenth century, that romanticised Ubar and turned it into a city, rather than a region or a people."[6]

By 2007, following further research and excavation, a study authored in part by Zarins could be summarised as follows:[7]

  • As far as the legend of Ubar was concerned, there was no evidence that the city had perished in a sandstorm. Much of the fortress had collapsed into a sinkhole that hosted the well, perhaps undermined by ground water being taken to irrigate the surrounding oasis.
  • Rather than being a city, interpretation of the evidence suggested that “Ubar” was more likely to have been a region—the “Land of the Iobaritae” identified by Ptolemy. The decline of the region was probably due to a reduction in the frankincense trade caused by the conversion of the Roman Empire to Christianity, which did not require incense in the same quantities for its rituals. Also, it became difficult to find local labour to collect the resin.[8] Climatic changes led to desiccation of the area, and sea transport became a more reliable way of transporting goods.

In the Islamic Hadith

There are many Hadiths about Iram perhaps the most interesting one is the story of Abdullah bin Qalabah who lost his camel and found Iram of the Pillars while searching for his camel. The story has been rejected by some Islamic scholars who said that the story is an Isra'iliyyat Hadith and that is because Kaabul Ahbar was Jewish before he converted to Islam and he was accused by some scholars of narrating Isra'iliyyat stories.[9][10]

In fiction


  • Iram is used in quatrain 5 of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam to describe the brevity of human endeavors.
  • "Iram" is the lost city where the Muslim hero Thalaba was kept safe in Robert Southey's Thalaba the Destroyer (1801)
  • H. P. Lovecraft places it somewhere near "The Nameless City" in his stories (1921).[11] In "The Call of Cthulhu" (1926) it is the supposed base of the Cthulhu Cult. Lovecraft and other Cthulhu Mythos authors have settled on the spelling Irem.
  • "Wabar" appears in Josephine Tey's mystery novel The Singing Sands (1952), in which detective Alan Grant seeks to unravel the meaning of a strange poem found on the body of a young man. Wabar is one possible subject of the poem.
  • Iram is the theme of Daniel Easterman's novel The Seventh Sanctuary (1987).
  • In Tim Powers' supernatural novel Declare (2001), Wabar was a city inhabited by djinni and their half-human progeny, and was destroyed by a meteor strike.
  • James Rollins' novel Sandstorm (2004) depicts Ubar as an underground city in a glass bubble with a lake of antimatter at the middle. The city, which was created as the result of a meteorite impact 20,000 years ago, is destroyed and becomes a massive lake known as Lake Eden.

Video games

  • In the video game Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception, it is postulated that Sir Francis Drake made a detour here during his circumnavigation of the world and covered up all evidence of his voyage and the accursed lost city of Ubar, until hero Nathan Drake and an evil, shadowy secret society rediscover the city 500 years later.
  • In the video game Sunless Sea, a creation of Failbetter Games, Iram (here spelled "Irem") was brought into the vast cavern beneath the earth where the game is set, and can be visited and explored by the protagonist. Its characteristic pillars are present in great quantity, and it maintains the warmth of its original environment even far from the sun.
  • In the video game Fallout 4, Ubar is mentioned in the journal of Lorenzo Cabot. He describes his journey to what he believes to be Ubar.
  • In the video game 80 Days, the player playing as Phileas Fogg could potentially encounter a Bedouin Expedition in the Rub' Al Khali desert, looking for the fabled lost city of Iram.
  • In the video game League of Legends, the fictional city of Icathia is loosely based on Iram, and its subsequent use in the works of H.P. Lovecraft.

Tabletop role-playing games

  • In the Chronicles of Darkness game line, Mummy: The Curse, published by White Wolf Game Studios-Onyx Path, Irem is the Stone Age city where the game's protagonists, the Arisen, were created.
  • In the Classic World of Darkness game line, specifically Vampire: The Masquerade, Ubar is believed by some to be the First City, Enoch, where the first vampire, Caine, became king over the mortals residing in the city. It is also here where he made his first progeny, the Second Generation, and where they created their progeny, the Antediluvians.

See also


  1. 1 2 Glassé, Cyril; Huston Smith (2003). The New Encyclopedia of Islam (Revised ed.). AltaMira Press. p. 26. ISBN 978-0-7591-0190-6.
  2. 1 2 3 "Surat Al-Fajr [89:6–14] - The Noble Qur'an - القرآن الكريم". Retrieved 2013-08-16.
  3. Noegel, Scott B (2010). The A to Z of Prophets in Islam and Judaism. Scarecrow Press. p. 151. ISBN 978-0-8108-7603-3.
  4. Al-Tabari (1999). Charles Edmund Bosworth, ed. The History of Al-Tabari: The Sassanids, the Lakhmids, and Yemen. State University of New York Press. p. 180. ISBN 978-0-7914-4356-9.
  5. "Wadi Rum (Jordan)." International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Evaluation Report. May 2011. 11.
  6. Interview with Dr J. Zarins, Nova Online, Sept. 1996
  7. Blom, R., Crippen, R., Elachi, C., Clapp, N., Hedges, G., Zarins, J., “Southern Arabian Desert Trade Routes, Frankincense, Myrrh, and the Ubar Legend” in Remote Sensing in Archaeology, Interdisciplinary Contributions to Archaeology (2007).
  8. Lawton, John (May–June 1983). "Oman: Frankincense". Aramco World. 34 (3): 26–27. Retrieved 1 January 2015.
  9. "Chapter 54: Shaddad and his Paradise, those who had very long life-spans". Retrieved 2018-07-28.
  10. Haldūn, 'Abd al-Rahmān ibn Muhammad Ibn; Haldun, Ibn; Khaldūn, Ibn; Khaldun, Ibn; Ibn-Ḫaldūn, ʿAbd-ar-Raḥmān Ibn-Muḥammad; Khaldun, Khaldun Ibn; Ibn; Ḫaldūn, `Abd al-Raḥmān ibn Muḥammad Ibn (1958). The Muqaddimah : an introduction to history ; in three volumes. 1. Princeton University Press. ISBN 0691017549.
  11. "The Nameless City". Mythos Tomes. Retrieved 2013-08-16.

Further reading

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