A UNESCO World Heritage Site
Origin & Etymology of The Name Ghadames
Ghadames, or Google's Ghudamis, is the Berber Pearl of the Sahara, located at the edge of the Sahara Desert, close to the Libyan-Algerian border. The name Ghadames has nothing to do with the promulgated etymology of “ghadana ames” (‘where we had lunch yesterday’), as it was mentioned by the Romans in the form: Cydamus, in turn from Tamaheqt (Berber Tuareg) Tidamensi; and so the question becomes: what does Tamazight Tidamensi mea? Classical historians inform us that Tidamensi is the name of an ancient Berber tribe belonging to classical Phazania (or modern Fezzan). Fezzan is a Garamantian country, which Pliny associates with the ethnic group Phazanii, south of the Syrtis Major, and to whom he attributes the towns of Alele, Cillaba, and Cydamus, the latter of which is today's Ghadames. Hence it is evident that the Romans derived their Cydamus from local Tidamensi. Tidamensi > Cydamus > Gadamus > Ghadames. In the year 19 BC. the Proconsul Cornelius Balbus invaded Ghadames during the reign of Augustus Octavius.
Unique Berber 8-pointed star, built on wall, Ghadames.
The Old City (Old Town):
Archaeological research suggests that the old city of Ghadames is the oldest habitable medina in the entire Sahara, with evidence going back to the Paleolithic period. The oasis attained a high status in historical records from being one of the busiest caravan trade centres in the Libyan Sahara, with routes connecting it with Fezzan and Sub-Saharan Africa, Algeria, Tunisia and the northern parts of Libya. One of the main features of the old town is the fact that it is built entirely out of mud and is completely covered, except for small ventilation holes found occasionally along its dark lanes and labyrinthine passages and streets. This ancient design has a good reason to be invented in the Sahara: the mud houses maintain a cool town in the summer and warm habitat in the freezing winter nights. In addition to protection from the scorching heat of the desert sun, the roof of the city acts like another city with complete open streets and lanes, exclusively used by women, to move from one house to another and from one area to the other. Hence it does not come as a surprise that Ghadames has been declared a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO.
The roofed streets of Ghadames are used mainly by men and children (above). Women use the special streets built above the roof (below).
Ghadames roof paths, strictly for women who use them to move from one house or area to another.
The Fate of The Old Town:
This old city of Ghadames is now under threat as it is being slowly abandoned by her inhabitants. In 1983 the UNESCO was alarmed by the state of some of the rapidly deteriorating houses, and as a result they made some proposals to the Libyan Government to revive the old city. In 1990 a feasibility study was presented to UNDP by the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat), to the effect that if conservation work did not start in the next few years, Ghadames, a world heritage site, would become an archaeological site. It appears that it is heading that way, and it only comes to life during the hot summer months when the air-conditioning of the modern houses of the new Ghadames cannot cope with the scorching heat of the Sahara. It is blindingly evident that only the traditional clay houses of the old city seem to maintain an excellent degree of coolness beneath the Sahara's merciless sun. The walls of the old city are made of thick mud (mixed with straw), which are proven to have the ability to breathe through the natural microscopic cavities present in the clay structure, in the same way traditional clay pitchers and pots are used to cool water naturally. See what happens if you put some water in a metal or concrete container in the desert?
The magical sand dunes of Ghadames.
Have you ever heard of the phrase: "watch the sun set over the sand dunes of Ghadames". Well, this is what it looks like: a wonderful and memorable evening.
Ghadames Tuareg Wall Designs:
Traditional red paint on white
wall designs & house decorations from Ghadames.
One can easily say that the people of Ghadames live art.
The interiors of the houses are uniquely painted with intricate Berber designs, using red paint on white walls, and decorated with hanging ornaments; giving the rooms a vibrant and fascinating atmosphere, which makes Ghadames truly unique. The traditional Berber designs used include the triangle, the diamond, the sun, the moon, the palm, the eye, the hand, and the Tuareg cross. The objects used to decorate the rooms include mirrors, ornaments made of palm straw (such as food covers), brass and copper, and Berber carpets, rugs and cushions.
Ghadames The Oasis
One of the ancient streets of Ghadames. The palm trunk is taking half of the street, but the locals are very supportive. In the desert every tree counts. But the following palm seems to literally reach for the sky.
Toujda Coffee Shop.
A view of Ghadames.
Map of The Old Town of Ghadames.