Old Town of Ghadames (World Heritage)

By | August 5, 2021

According to best-medical-schools, the oasis in western Libya at the border triangle with Algeria and Tunisia used to be an important stop in the Trans-Saharan trade. The old town still shows the demarcation of individual parts of the city, which goes back to the clan nature of the Tuareg residents.

Old town of Ghadames: facts

Official title: Old town of Ghadames
Cultural monument: originally as Cydamus part of the Roman province of Phazania; once a seven-gate oasis town with around 10,000 residents; in the old town adobe and palm trees as building materials for mostly two-story residential buildings
Continent: Africa
Country: Libya, Fezzan
Location: Ghadames, southwest of Tripoli
Appointment: 1988
Meaning: a traditional, clay-built settlement structure that threatens to be lost due to modern developments

Old town of Ghadames: history

19 BC Chr. Defeat of the Garamanten against Roman troops
4th-5th Century during the Byzantine Empire episcopal seat
666 Captured by Arab invaders
10th century most important caravan stop between Ghana and Kairouan
15th and 16th century important caravan stop between Cairo, Tripoli and Timbuktu
1825 Scottish explorer Alexander Gordon Laing en route to Timbuktu in the city
1860 Ghadames under the rule of the Bey of Tripoli
1914 after the conquest of Libya, Italian troops march into the city
1943 under French and British administration
1951 Ghadames’ cession from Tunisia to the newly founded Libya
1955 French colonial troops withdraw
1971 first emigration of 70 indigenous families
1986 Complete exodus of established families from the old town to the new town of Ghadames

Sleeping Beauty behind the sand dunes

Which prince will one day kiss this Sleeping Beauty awake? There is something magical about a walk through the narrow and partially vaulted alleys of the old town of Ghadames, as it were asleep: blown sand swallows every sound like freshly fallen snow; Actually, one always expects a man wrapped in a burnus, a veiled woman or playing, screaming children to turn the corner, dealers advertise their goods for sale and a donkey driver drive his pack animal along with loud cursing – but nothing stirs in the alleys, the oasis city is like extinct.

Since decades ago there was no way of ensuring hygienic conditions in the winding and narrow alleys without destroying the old building structure by laying water and sewage pipes, the residents were all evacuated after the construction of a new city immediately outside the old town wall. The old town has been deserted since then, and its alleys only come to life again after Friday prayers. The glistening light of the Saharan sun partially falls in its depths. Here and there, patches of light illuminate the mild darkness of the covered corridors, in which the visitor sometimes has to rely on his sense of touch in order to be able to move forward.

There is evidence that the place has been inhabited since the Neolithic Age. In later centuries, important trade routes crossed here, and the Romans built the base of Cydamus at this point, a bulwark in the fight against the legendary warriors of the ancient Fezzan Garamanten Empire. In the course of the climate change, the abundant flowing artesian springs of the village gained in importance: Ghadames became a classic oasis, a favored green and shady garden, surrounded by the hostile dry desert. Now five important classic caravan routes – later also pilgrimage routes – ran through the settlement, and thanks to the trade in gold, ostrich feathers, leather, ivory and slaves, the oasis residents achieved a certain wealth.

The gardens that surround the old town are largely unused today, and the legendary Ain el Fras, the “mare’s spring”, has fallen dry: the mount of Okba Ben Nafi, that Muslim conqueror of the entire North African Mediterranean coast and founder of the holy city of Kairouan, is said to be they once dug out of the sand to save his master from dying of thirst. At that time, the Berber princess and prophet Diha lived in its walls and covered alleys, who, like her comrade Kahina, successfully resisted the Arab-Islamic invasion in what is now the Algerian Aurès massif for a long time.

The Berber influence is reflected in the decorative elements with which the houses are decorated inside: straight, intersecting lines, dominating the equilateral triangle, but also floral ornaments in dark red tones. Comparable patterns can only be found among the Berber-speaking Tuareg, presumably the descendants of the ancient Garamanten.

True to an old proverb according to which the Sahara desert is the garden of Allah, in which the Almighty has removed everything in order to be able to walk in peace, the gardens of Ghadames can only be described as paradise in the garden. The elegant date palm still dominates; travel reports speak of 30,000: the head in the fire – in the scorching sun – and the feet in the water of the irrigation canals. Surrounded by a hostile desert, citrus fruits thrive under the palm fronds, paradise apples bloom and vegetables and fodder plants grow under their shady canopy. Almost a square kilometer of land, an immensely large area by Saharan standards, was traditionally irrigated and cultivated here. Compared to modern agricultural projects, who draw the water from the old wells with their high-performance pumps, however, this is a modest acreage. Because nowadays it is a challenge to reclaim a hundred square kilometers of land!

Old town of Ghadames (World Heritage)