| ArchNet Place ID
| Variant Names
|| Gadames (Webster's NGD), Ghadamis (TGN), Cydemus (classical name)
|| 30 08 N
|| 09 30 E
Hide description of Ghadames
Ghadames is an oasis on the edge of the Sahara Desert in southwestern Libya at the border with Algeria and Tunisia. It is a traditional settlement of 1,300 houses and enclosed farms on an important trade route from central Africa to the Mediterranean coast.
The city's founding legend holds that travelers camped in the valley one night, and upon packing up the next day discovered their food container was missing. One of the party remembered it had been left at lunch the previous day. He rode back to the spot, whereupon his horse dug in the ground and unearthed a spring. The spring, the main source of water for much of Ghadames' history, is still called Ain al-Faras (horse spring). "Ghadames" itself means "lunch of yesterday" in Arabic.
Archaeological evidence shows occupation of the area in the Paleolithic and Neolithic eras. The Roman garrison of Cydemus was set up in 19 BC; under the Byzantines the area had a bishop. In 667 Arab forces led by Uqba Ibn Nefi conquered the oasis on their way to Tunisa. Ghadames suffered less at the hand of invaders than it has from the change in trade routes and traded goods. Once a center of trade in precious metals and slaves, Ghadames' fortunes declined as slavery was abolished in Europe and ship-borne trade around Africa took over from the land route through the oasis.
Ghadames has a harsh climate, but the architecture and settlement pattern of the old city are designed to handle summer's heat and winter's cold. The houses are built of local mud brick, limestone, palm wood and lime, with thick walls, which retain heat in the winter and keep the interiors cool in the summer. The roofs of the houses are interconnected, and many of the streets are covered, allowing for increased shade, privacy, and security. During the day, only men are allowed in the streets, while the women can move about freely among the rooftops. The houses are planned so that private spaces remain just that; a stray glance into a doorway will not compromise the privacy of the family.
Today the oasis survives on farming and tourism. The farms are integrated with the houses at the oasis, and form a cohesive unit of agriculture and settlement. The plots of land are divided by walls and narrow lanes. The water used in irrigation flows in channels along the center of the lanes or the tops of the walls.
Abdulac, Samir. 1998. Rehabilitation of the old city of Ghadames. Paris: UNESCO, 69.
Bettaieb, Salah. 1997. Ghadames: la porte du desert. Tunis: Alif, 95.
McLachlan, Anne & Keith. 1997. Tunisa Handbook with Libya. Bath: Footprint, 480.
Shawesh, Abubaker Mohamed. 1995. Traditional Settlement in the Oasis of Ghadames in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya. Libyan Studies 26. 35-47.