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The Rich Heritage of Ghademes

Known as the 'Pearl of the Desert' (Jawhart Al-Sahra), Ghadamès in Libya is one of the earliest & most famous Saharan cities. This oasis town is an outstanding example of a beautiful & sustainable settlement, making it one of the region's greatest architectural wonders...

Though Ghadames has been known for at least 2,000 years, its present compact structure was developed by Muslim Arabs in the 7th Century. A Unesco World Heritage site, this oasis town was perfectly designed to withstand desert winds and harsh climates.

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Ghademes is known for its distinctive architecture; the city's houses and public buildings blend Libyan, Moorish, and Andalusian elements. It is one of the oldest habitable medinas in the Sahara, and it is made almost entirely out of mud.

Image credit The Beautiful Side of Libya


Rugs, metalwork, and pottery are also famous handicrafts from the city of Ghademes, which are seen decorating the interiors of traditional homes.

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Ghadames is an outstanding example of a sustainable human settlement. This is due to its highly developed urban planning, architecture, and adobe construction that was perfectly adapted to human needs, cultural and physical environments, and remote location.

Image credit George Steinmetz


Historically, it has been a vital part of the trans-Saharan caravan trade network and a social and cultural hub for the region.

Image credit Aisha Ausha


The Old City of Ghadames" is an iconic city of natural resources located in an arid desert. It was built by people who had no formal training in architecture.

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Old Ghadames has no permanent residents today, but its environmental superiority to the concrete apartment blocks in the new town attracts a steady trickle of Amazigh & sub-Saharan locals who visit its mosques and tearooms during the hot summer & enjoy the cool surroundings.

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Buildings in the Ghadamsi style feature stone foundations, adobe walls, roofs that are made out of palm trunks baked in adobe mortar, and vaults with gypsum or spongy stone arches.

Image credit Fiona Dunlop


One can say that the people of Ghadames live art. The interior decoration of the houses makes Ghadames truly unique.

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Building activities in Ghadames are heavily dependent on local raw materials, skills, renewable energy & collective labour; hence their economic & environmental sustainability.

Image credit Fiona Dunlop


Whitewashed walls of Ghadames architecture deflect sunlight and provide excellent climate control by maintaining a cool climate in summer and retaining heat in winter. Sunlight was used for drying. Gypsum & whitewash were burned with wood, including oasis residuals. Recycled Adobe was used to make new bricks. Using sun-dried mud bricks, the inner walls were covered in limewash & glowed white.

Image credit Mohamed Alazrak


By skillfully using available materials, maximum comfort was achieved with minimal resources. In the desert, this means coolness without air conditioning and warmth without heating.

Ghadames Taylwan School - Libya

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Private houses are open to the public. The interiors are an explosion of colour, texture and decoration. With geometric wall paintings, patterned cushions, and rugs, with wall-hung copper pots and mirrors, both designed to refract available light.

Image credit Fiona Dunlop


The main room of a traditional house is a two-story space with a grate in the ceiling, providing light. Whitewashed interior walls are decorated with red paint, textiles & copper by the women of the household. Guests are welcomed into this room which is the heart of family life.

Image credit George Steinmetz


There are more than 20 mosques spread over six neighborhoods In Ghadames' old town. The Atiq mosque is one of the largest, built from mud bricks and with little decoration. The original construction was completed in 1258/666 AH.

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By preserving its building designs, materials, and workmanship, the Old Town of Ghadamès has maintained a high level of authenticity. Ghadamès is highly regarded for its urban and architectural value, as well as for its cultural traditions, which continue to influence modern housing outside the historic city.

Image credit Unchartered Backpacker


Sources of inspiration & information

Alabid, Jamal & Taki, Ahmad & Cowd, B.. (2014). Desert architecture review of Ghadames housing in Libya. 1st International Conference on Energy and Indoor Environment for Hot Climates. 240-247.


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