Originally build in the 3rd century, the walled city of Shibam in Yemen was one of the first urban areas with high rise buildings and is still a populated and functioning city today.
Despite being built with sun-dried mud bricks, the fortified city from the the 16th-century is in fact based on the principle of vertical construction, with almost no fenestration on the ground level, rising up to the height of eight storey. Its plan is trapezoidal, with tower houses built within the outer walls for defense from rival families and political prestige. Located in a caravan route of spice and incense across the Southern Arabian plateau, the city was built on a rocky spur, above an earlier settlement destroyed by a flood in 1532-3.
If this dense, isolated city plan looks familiar but you thought it was more modern, then you’re probably thinking of Kowloon Walled City in China. Roman Mars’ 99% Invisible radio show did a great episode about Kowloon recently.