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krisek Ghadames - A travel report by Krys
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Ghadames,  Libya - flag Libya -  Ghadåmis
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krisek's travel reports

Ghadames, the jewel of the Sahara.

  11 votes
Page: 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16
The oasis in the Sahara Desert, which in the Middle Ages became home of a town called Ghadames, is a wonderful place. It is unforgettable, magical and unique. A true gem and incomparable urban miracle.

Ghadames travelogue picture
Perhaps the most famous Berber town anywhere in Northern Sahara, Ghadames, is also called the Jewel of the Sahara. I would definitely agree to that statement. There is absolutely no exaggeration here. The roofed streets and passage ways of this amazing town create inexplicable atmosphere and climate. I seriously find the right words to begin describe the place. I cannot really compare Ghadames to any other place I have seen in my life. It truly feels like you landed somehow in XIII century in the middle of a desert. When I was visiting the lighting of the passage ways did not work so my experience was authentic. Luckily when I let myself loose in the old town, there were absolutely no tourists around – only local people wandering around or attending prayers in the very old mosques. When I say that I let myself loose, I mean it all the way. I did not have any guide and I simply did know which way to turn and I did not care much if I get lost. There was always someone from the locals, who would be able to let me out of this amazing maze. In fact, after making two circles, I realised that it was not that hard to follow after all. Obviously, I had no idea what I was passing and what I was looking at, but it felt great to wander pointlessly in those dark passages. Every now and then, I ended up in a small courtyard or an entrance to a mosque. Uh, in fact, names of certain streets in Ghadames, are unusually for Libya provided on the buildings in two languages – Arabic and English.

I walked for about an hour and a half taking, what I think are, some great photographs. I tried not to use the flash to capture the ambiance and the play of shadows in the passages. Yet, the photos do not represent what it felt like to be there. Eventually, I ended in a small café called Dan Baro, which is based in a very pleasant garden of a traditional four hundred year old Berber house. The person behind the bar, offered me to see the house, of which I was rather curious.

Favourite spots:
Ghadames travelogue picture
The house was very richly decorated in gold, red and white. The young man explained everything to me and even let me on the roof for a view. Well, I thought it was for a view, but actually he was trying to explain that in the past, women were not allowed in the streets so they were walking on the roofs. And by the way, the kitchen, for the convenience apparently, was also located at the top terrace of the house. Well, the view was great. It made it clear how the houses were connected, and showed that no inner street was visible from the air. There are a few narrow streets leading to the gates of the city, but no inner street can be seen. The view showed that Ghadames is simply an oasis. A nice, large oasis!

Extinction threatened this oasis in the late 1970’s as the underground water levels dropped killing many palm trees and cutting off the water supply to the houses and gardens. Now, the main water reservoir of Ghadames is now being modernised to secure the water supply.

What's really great:
Ghadames travelogue picture
I was genuinely impressed with the size of the keys to Ghadames’s houses. Some of them could be one meter long, but usually, they measure from 25 to 60 centimetres. They are still in use, and they operate massive locks in the old doors. They are truly magnificent, those keys.

When I arrived to the town it was about 3:45 pm and at first, I did not realise that everything was actually closed. I could not get anything to eat in the town before 6:30pm. It was not an issue for me actually, because I did want to see the old town in the late afternoon light. When the time came, I moved out of the old town to find a restaurant. I found one, but although it was already open and the tables were ready, the kitchen was not. They claimed that they needed two more hours to get ready and start taking orders for food. I thought it was a bit ridiculous, and went to see if maybe some other restaurant had a faster kitchen service. One had (see below).

Girls' school
Girls' school
After dinner, I made arrangements for the next day. I wanted to go back to the old town in the morning, but well before the crowds. And in the afternoon, I thought it would be a good idea to see the desert lake near the Tunisian and Algerian borders with Libya, a desert castle and desert dunes. In the morning of my next day in Ghadames, as I went back to the old town, I recognised the places I have seen before. However, having a guide, who can show things and let you climb to the roofs of the houses for a good photographic opportunity is invaluable. I went on top of the old girls’ school and now UNESCO building, and the view was great. The guide showed me a place, where, as he claimed, 85% of the tourists do not come. The view from that house was superb. As I was walking through the old city again, I knew that this was the ultimate Libyan experience. No-one should ever come to Libya without visiting Ghadames. The wandering around in the dark corridors was an unforgettable experience.

Ghadames travelogue picture
Winzrik Motel - not really a motel but a pleasant hotel from the WTS Group, charged LYD 30 (€17) for single and LYD 35 (€20) for a double with en suite shower. It was a very good value. The premises were clean, well organised, skillfully decorated and spacious. The very friendly and helpful staff on site was available to assist in organising trips to the desert and nearby attractions. They could help with bookings of other places to stay in Libya for no extra charge. Almost like a very good travel agent. Unlike other hotels from the same group (the one to avoid is in Nalut) this one was very well maintained and its bathrooms were clean. Management maintained a large book for guests feedback. It was huge.

The hotel was located on the main road leading to Ghadames, about 800 yeards from the core of the new town, which was in turn a few yards away from the walls of the old town. Very convenient.

Ghadames travelogue picture
At night, from 8pm to 7am, when the city was locking all its gates and no-one could come in or leave the city. Ghadames was using oil lamps to light the passages, squares and streets. Otherwise it would be absolutely impossible to navigate through the labyrinth. Later, electrical bulbs replaced the oil lamps, however nowadays none of them work anymore. The old city of Ghadames is now completely uninhabited. It is almost like a ghost town. Families moved to the new town leaving the old district only for praying in the mosques and relaxing. There are two reasons why the old town was abandoned. First is the damage that the city suffered from the bombing on the 11 January 1943. More than 200 houses were damaged and many were completely destroyed including the oldest mosque of Ghadames (now rebuilt and in full glory and completely operational). The second - comfort of living. The old town has no running water or comfortable washrooms, no connections to the telephone lines or television.

Dan Baro
Dan Baro
Apart from two cafés (when I visited only one was open – the Dan Buro Café), the old mosques and one traditional house, which operates like a museum and a traditional eatery for the hordes of buss-loads of tourists, there are no other dwellings with live souls in them. The same is applicable to the many gardens around the old town. Now, few of them are used to grow groceries and dates. The rest is decaying.

After dinner, I went back to the Dan Baro Café for a drink (LYD 1 (€0.60) all soft drinks) with my young guide Uthman. As I was passing through a very short stretch of the old town again, this time at night, the little lamps in the walls created magnificent ambiance. I loved it. Since this part of the town was open, it was just possible to see in the dark. The café was beautifully lit with small lamps, which gave subdued light in the little garden. I ordered beer (non-alcoholic, of course!) and the owner prepared shisha for me.

Ghadames travelogue picture
To my greatest surprise the shisha had tobacco in it. As I don't smoke and was expecting dried fruit not tobacco, I struggled a lot. The amount of tobacco in that shisha exceeded half a packet of cigarettes, so it was quite a strong issue for me. Plus of course, shisha being based on a water pipe, one can imagine how intense the smoke was. I tried desperately to separate honey from tobacco and enjoy my smoke somehow. It didn't work very well. When I asked for shisha, I didn't specify what kind I wanted. At least it felt great to be sitting in the middle of the desert in an ancient Berber town, drinking ice-cold beer and puffing smoke. Apart from wrong smoke, the shisha was real, the ancient Berber town was real, the ice-cold nonalcoholic beer was real, and the desert was real.

The restaurants meantioned above serving set menu for LYD 15 (€9) were Jawharat as-Sahra, the one with poor food and slow serivce and Awal Elsuahi with adequate traditional Berber dishes and very friendly staff.

Other recommendations:
Mjezzem lake
Mjezzem lake
In the early afternoon, I went some 40 km east of Ghadames to see a salt lake of Ain ad-Debanem, called Mjezzem. It is a tourist trap. The lake is uninspiring and the shores are polluted heavily with rubbish, mainly empty cans and plastic bottles. It looks more like a rubbish dumping site than a lake in which anyone would consider swimming. One of the lakes is reportedly seventy meters deep, and the condensation of salt in it would make the skinniest person float like a hundred kilograms of lard. I did not like the place at all. Furthermore, the swarms of flies getting into one’s mouth, ears and hair were a total nightmare! I could not wait to get out of there.

Later in the afternoon, I went to see two other places around Ghadames, the desert castle of Ras al-Ghoul and the Sahara desert sand dunes for the sunset. The castle, called Mountain of Ghosts, is beautifully perched on a dramatic hill. It is said to be standing there well before Islam arrived with the Arab invasion in 668.

Published on Tuesday December 16th, 2008

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Sun, Dec 28 2008 - 02:05 AM rating by bootlegga

Great photos!

Wed, Dec 17 2008 - 04:42 AM rating by jorgesanchez

A serious candidate for RoM in December, for sure.

Tue, Dec 16 2008 - 07:45 PM rating by basia

The very interesting report and beautiful photoes .Thanks.

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