Described as the Pearl of the Desert, Ghadames is an attractive oasis town on the edge of the Sahara near the border with Algeria. The old town is one of the best preserved of Berber town in Libya and has been placed under UNESCO protection.
Ghadames is a tranquil old city, with covered streets that are both dark and quite cool even during summer. And of course, the colour chosen, is white. Ghadames represents popular engineering, and is the result of a complex knowledge on how to deal with extreme temperatures. The arrangement of the houses is far from casual. Every angle, every wall, every opening in the roofs over the alleyways, are parts of the same organism.
Even if Ghadames still stands, the people were moved out of it from 1984 until 1986, into the modern settlement nearby. Only one family refused to abandon their quarters. But locals return to their old homes when summer becomes unbearable.
The settlement at Ghadames goes back at least 5000 years. Before that time, Sahara was greener, allowing different settlement patterns. The first historical information we have is from 19 BCE when the Romans occupied it, and named it Cydamus. The present old town is probably 800 years old; town centre had then moved around the oasis a few times. From the 18th century until 1874 was Ghadames an independent state, thriving from trans-Saharan trade.
For a long time, trade lines across the Sahara, including the transportation of slaves, was the life line of Ghadames. Today the 10,000 people living here make a living out of agriculture, but tourism has become a new and important source of income.
The Ghadames festival is staged through three days every September, bringing back life to the old town on the second day of the festival. People put on traditional dresses, and weddings are held as well as rites of passage for young men passing to adulthood.