Located in western Libya the history of this oasis town is thought to go back some 5000 years. It owes its origins to the copious fresh water that till recent years kept the oasis full. For two centuries it was a Roman outpost and the Berbers were converted to Christianity until the 7th Century when the Islamic armies came and brought in Islam.
For centuries Ghadames has been an important trading town. Many caravans originated from and ended their journey at Ghadames. The market was rich in produce from all areas of Africa and the Mediterranean countries.
The town suffered during the Second World War. It was initially under Italian control, was bombed by the allies, and after the war was passed for a short while into British hands. Thirty years ago a modern town was built next to the old town and the people readily move to the bigger houses that had air conditioning, water and electricity.
The old town is one of the best preserved of Arab towns in Libya and has been placed under UNESCO protection. It is composed of several quarters that used to be inhabited by different family groups. Most of the streets are just narrow alleyways, almost completely covered over. The houses also are virtually part of a troglodyte world. Most families in the new town still own their house in the old town and it is possible to visit one or two of them - see picture below.
Rooftops were interconnected by walkways used only by womenfolk to meet each other. Unless accompanied by men belonging to the family women were never seen in the alleys of the old town. Amongst Arabic street and house signs are a few in English, for the post office and for the British consul!
Normally in mid-October (early November in 2005) the Ghadames festival is a colourful event when the local people gather together to sing, dance and eat together.
The scene from the past is actually a scene from the medina (old town) in Tripoli, but the similarities are very great.
It is possible to visit Ghadames in one day from Tripoli but this means 14 hours of driving. A 2 or 3 day trip is much better allowing time to visit Nalut, al-Kabaw or Yfren along the way.