Northern gateway of Ash Shihr on a stamp issued in 1942
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Ash-Shihr is a walled town located on a sandy beach. There is an anchorage but no docks; boats are used. The main export is fish oil. The town is divided in two by a wādi (dry riverbed) called al-Misyāl. The western quarter is called Majraf and the eastern al-Ramla. As of 1997 it had several souqs (markets): the Sūq al-Lakham, Sūq al-Hunūd, Sūq Shibām, etc.
The history of ash-Shihr (formerly also al-Asʿāʾ) can be traced back as far as about AD 780. It was a major port on the incense trade route as an exporter of frankincense to places as far as China. Ibn Khurradādhbih calls the area around ash-Shihr the bilād al-kundur, Land of Incense. It was also known for its ambergris, ʿanbar Shiḥrī. It was the main port of Hadhramaut until replaced by Mukalla in the 19th century.
Local pottery production at Yadhghat was exported through ash-Shihr, possibly as early as the 10th century. In 980, the entrepôt of Sharma was founded by Persian exiles up the coast from ash-Shihr. These rival ports are mentioned together in works of medieval Islamic geography. Writing in 985, al-Muqaddasī records that Sharma and ah-Shihr were dependencies of the Ziyadid dynasty. About 1150, al-Idrīsī wrote that Sharma and ash-Shihr were stopovers on the sailing route from Aden to Mirbāṭ and were about one day apart. Around 1300, al-Dimashqī noted that Sharma and ash-Shiḥr were the two harbours of Hadhramaut. Ash-Shihr is also mentioned by Ibn Khaldun in his al-Muqaddimah.
Politically, ash-Shihr has been under the Ziyadids (818–981), the Banū Maʿn (11th century), the Rasulids (1228–1454) and the Tahirids. After a short time the latter lost it to the sultanate of Kathiri under Badr ibn Tuwayriq in 1462. In the 16th century, it was attacked several times by the Portuguese, who called it Xaer or Xael. There are still graves along the shore said to be of victims of the Portuguese. Later, ash-Shihr became one of the three major cities of the Qu'aiti Sultanate, before a unified Yemen was formed, the other two being Mukalla and Shibam.
Yemenis who emigrated to East Africa and their descendants are known as Shihiris, because most of them moved through the port of ash-Shihr.
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