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Ghadames

GHADAMES, Gadames or Rhadames, a town in an oasis of the same name, in that part of the Sahara which forms part of the Turkish vilayet of Tripoli. It is about 300 m. S.W. of the city of Tripoli and some 10 m. E. of the Algerian frontier. According to Gerhard Rohlfs, the last form given to the word most correctly represents the Arabic pronunciation, but the other forms are more often used in Europe. The streets of the town are narrow and vaulted and have been likened to the bewildering galleries of a coalpit. The roofs are laid out as gardens and preserved for the exclusive use of the women. The Ghadamsi merchants have been known for centuries as keen and adventurous traders, and their agents are to be found in the more important places of the western and central Sudan, such as Kano, Katsena, Kanem, Bornu, Timbuktu, as well as at Ghat and Tripoli. Ghadames itself is the centre of a large number of caravan routes, and in the early part of the 19th century about 30,000 laden camels entered its markets every year. The caravan trade was created by the Ghadamsi merchants who, aided by their superior intelligence, capacity and honesty, long enjoyed a monopoly. In 1873 Tripolitan merchants began to compete with them. In 1893 came the invasion of Bornu by Rabah, and the total stoppage of this caravan route for nearly ten years to the great detriment of the merchants of Ghadames. The caravans from Kano were also frequently pillaged by the Tuareg, so that the prosperity of the town declined. Later on, the opening of rapid means of transport from Kano and other cities to the Gulf of Guinea also affected Ghadames, which, however, maintains a considerable trade. The chief articles brought by the caravans are ostrich feathers, skins and ivory and one of the principal imports is tea. In 1845 the population was estimated at 3000, of whom about 500 were slaves and strangers, and upwards of 1200 children; in 1905 it amounted in round numbers to 7000. The inhabitants are chiefly Berbers and Arabs. A Turkish garrison is maintained in the town.

Before the Christian era Ghadames was a stronghold of the Garamantes whose power was overthrown in the days of Augustus by L. Cornelius Balbus Minor, who captured Ghadames (Cydamus). It is not unlikely that Roman settlers may have been attracted to the spot by the presence of the warm springs which still rise in the heart of the town, and spread fertility in the surrounding gardens. In the 7th century Ghadames was conquered by the Arabs. It appears afterwards to have fallen under the power of the rulers of Tunisia, then to a native dynasty which reigned at Tripoli, and in the 16th century it became part of the Turkish vilayet of Tripoli. It has since then shared the political fortunes of that country. In the first half of the 19th century it was visited by several British explorers and later by German and French travellers.

See J. Richardson, Travels in the Great Desert of Sahara in 1845-1846 ... including a Description of ... Ghadames (London, 1848); G. Rohlfs, Reise durch Marokko ... und Reise durch die Grosse Wüste über Rhadames nach Tripoli (Bremen, 1868).

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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