The ancient oasis city of Ghadames lies close to the Libyan border with Algeria and Tunisia. The old town is a labyrinth of tunnels, houses, courtyards and places of worship, all built underground to provide protection from the heat of the Sahara.
History of Ghadames
Women were only allowed to travel on the main ‘streets’ when the men were at prayer – the rest of the time they had to travel across the rooftops.
Naturally, given the city’s location, one of the main functions of the city’s mercantile council was to ensure the efficient rationing of water. The people of Ghadames lived in this unique and extraordinary city for centuries with little change.
Its existence is first recorded in the 1st century BC by the Romans, who called it Cydamus, and its remoteness meant it survived political and military turmoil relatively unscathed.
The city was only abandoned quite recently, when Gaddafi built modern homes nearby for the population.
Today, several houses of the deserted town have been furnished and restored to give the handful of visitors an idea of what they were like to live in. You can also travel across the rooftops as the local women once did – but this can involve some fairly precarious crossings – not for the faint-hearted.
The Old Town of Ghadames enclosed by a wall was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1986. It is at risk of damage and decay because of the effect of the nearby Libyan Civil War, and was thus also placed on the List of World Heritage in Danger in 2016.
Getting to Ghadames
Many people travel around a day from Tripoli then stay for a few days in Ghadames in order to get the best experience. It is best to find a local as a tour guide, otherwise you’ll either get lost or miss the various extraordinary sites on offer!