Libya's desert "pearl" Ghadames awaits return of tourists

Mon Apr 22, 2013 11:56am EDT
Email This Article |
Share This Article
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
| Print This Article | Single Page
[-] Text [+]

By Marie-Louise Gumuchian

GHADAMES, Libya (Reuters) - Perched on a low wall in the center of the Libyan desert oasis town of Ghadames, 80-year old tourist guide Mohammed Ibrahim says he is waiting for the foreign visitors he used to show around to come back.

For more than 30 years, Ibrahim used to work as a guide for the thousands of tourists who came to Ghadames, walking them around its enclosed old town that is a designated UNESCO World Heritage site and known locally as the "pearl of the desert".

But since the 2011 war that ousted Muammar Gaddafi, the flow of foreign holiday makers has ground to halt, as precarious security still taints Libya's image abroad.

"I used to take the tourists to all the beautiful sites in the old city, they used to love it," Ibrahim, dressed in a traditional robe and a scarf wrapped around his head, said steadying himself with a walking stick. "They are no longer coming now but when they return, I will be here."

Ghadames, a small town of around 11,000 people that lies on Libya's western border with Algeria, was a key destination for tourists who came to Libya before its Arab Spring uprising.

Once a busy caravan trade center in the Libyan Sahara, the old city, made up of hundreds of mud-brick and palm houses, has a network of covered labyrinthine walkways designed to provide shelter from the desert sun.

Nobody lives in the old town anymore but some residents of the wider town still have patches of land where they cultivate dates, figs and pomegranate. Men pray at the mosques and in the summer, they come to cool down in its long corridors.

A few of the old town's homes, whose internal white walls are decorated with painted red patterns, bronze ornaments, colorful closets and embellished straw food covers, have been opened for the few visitors eating couscous on a floor covered in carpets and cushions.   Continued...

Residents walk on sand dunes in the Libyan desert oasis town of Ghadames April 19, 2013. REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny