Iram of the Pillars (Arabic: إرَم ذَات ٱلْعِمَاد, Iram dhāt al-ʿimād; an alternative translation is Iram of the tentpoles), also called "Irum", "Irem", "Erum", "Ubar", or the "City of the pillars", is considered a lost city, region or tribe mentioned in the Quran.
The Quran mentions Iram in connection with ‘imad (pillars): Surah al-Fajr (6-14)
89:6 Did you not see how your Lord dealt with ʿĀd—
89:7 ˹the people˺ of Iram—with ˹their˺ great stature,
89:8 unmatched in any other land;
89:9 and Thamûd who carved ˹their homes into˺ the rocks in the ˹Stone˺ Valley;
89:10 and the Pharaoh of mighty structures?
89:11 They all transgressed throughout the land,
89:12 spreading much corruption there.
89:13 So your Lord unleashed on them a scourge of punishment.
89:14 ˹For˺ your Lord is truly vigilant.
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. As an area, it has been identified with the biblical region known as Aram. It has also been identified as a tribe, possibly the tribe of ʿĀd, with the pillars referring to tent pillars. The Nabataeans were one of the many nomadic Bedouin tribes who roamed the Arabian Desert and took their herds to where they could find grassland and water. They became familiar with their area as the seasons passed, and they struggled to survive during bad years when seasonal rainfall decreased. Although the Nabataeans were initially embedded in the Aramean culture, theories that they have Aramean roots are rejected by modern scholars. Instead, archaeological, religious and linguistic evidence confirms that they are a North Arabian tribe.
"The identification of Wadi Rum with Iram and the tribe of ʿĀd, mentioned in the Quran, has been proposed by scholars who have translated Thamudic and Nabataean inscriptions referring to both the place Iram and the tribes of ʿĀd and Thamud by name."
The mystic ad-Dabbagh has suggested that these verses refer to ʿĀd's tents with pillars, both of which are gold-plated. He claims that coins made of this gold remain buried and that Iram is the name of a tribe of ʿĀd and not a location.
Iram became widely known to Western literature with the translation of the story "The City of Many-Columned Iram and Abdullah Son of Abi Kilabah" in The Book of One Thousand and One Nights.
The oldest mention of the city of Iram was found in the Ebla tablets, dated from c. 2500 BCE to c. 2250 BCE. In November 1991, the remains of a settlement were discovered in southern Oman which was hypothesized to be the legendary lost city destroyed by God. In 1992 Ranulph Fiennes wrote a book called Atlantis of the Sands about the expedition. The term Atlantis of the Sands had originally been coined by T. E. Lawrence.
Archaeologist Juris Zarins discussed Ubar in a 1996 NOVA interview:
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."
By 2007, following further research and excavation, a study authored in part by Zarins could be summarised as follows:
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