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Once known as the 'White Bride of the Mediterranean', Tripoli has lost much of its pristine allure, though its historic mosques and lively medina retain a good deal of character. Tripoli is the de facto capital of Libya, despite attempts in recent years to move some government departments elsewhere.
Easily the most dominant feature of Tripoli is the Red Castle, Assai al-Hamra, which sits on the northern promontory. The massive structure comprises a labyrinth of courtyards, alleyways and houses built up over the centuries with a total area of around 13,000 sq metres (140,000 sq ft).



On the eastern edge of the Gulf of Sirt, Benghazi is the second largest city in Libya and a major commercial centre. What Benghazi lacks in historical charms, it more than makes up for in its location, with its proximity to the lush Jebel Akhdar area and the numerous Roman ruins along the coast.
You can cover central Benghazi easily on foot. The covered souqs really come alive on Friday morning, when the whole city seems to convene for a shopping spree. The main market, the Souq al-Jreed on Sharia Omar al-Mukhtar, sells all manner of clothes and household goods.



Famous for its desert architecture, the oasis town of Ghadhames lies 650km (400mi) southwest of Tripoli, close to the borders of Algeria and Tunisia. If your time in Libya is limited and you plan to see one traditional desert place, this is the one to visit.
Ghadhames earned the sobriquet 'Pearl of the Desert' back in the 1950s, when it was a popular getaway for Tripoli folk. Since then, a new town has sprung up around the old one, and the latter's dark, covered walkways and whitewashed mud-brick walls are a lot less boisterous than they once were.


Leptis Magna

If you only see one archaeological site in Libya, this is the one to choose. Regarded as the best Roman site in the Mediterranean, Leptis Magna's spectacular architecture and massive scale will impress even the most ruin-weary traveller.

The city was originally a Phoenician port, settled during the first millennium BC. Slaves, gold, ivory and precious metals brought it great wealth, which was supplemented by the rich agricultural land surrounding it. Roman legions ousted the Carthaginians following the third Punic War, after which the city flourished until the Vandals did their namesake thing in 455.

Roman rule briefly returned to Leptis in 533, and intensive repairs were carried out on the city, but local tribes revolted and eventually the area reverted to pastoral nomadism dominated by the Berbers. The Arab invasions of 644 swept away the last traces of Roman life from the region, and in the 11th century Leptis Magna was finally abandoned to the encroaching sand dunes.

It wasn't until the 20th century that excavation began in earnest, and, much to archaeologists' delight, the sands had preserved the ruins remarkably well. There's an excellent, large museum next to the main entrance to the site, but the real treasures wait out in the site itself.

The first thing you'll encounter is the Severan Arch, which was erected in honor of Emperor Septimus Severus' visit to his hometown in 203 AD. Not far off are the marble and granite panelled Hadrianic Baths, the largest outside Rome. Keep exploring and you'll come across the partially covered nymphaeum, a shrine dedicated to the worship of nymphs; a pair of massive forums, similar in design and grandiosity to the imperial forum in Rome; the extraordinarily detailed basilica and theatre; and, if you continue west along the seashore about 700m (2100ft), the circus and amphitheatre, where chariot races and similar spectacles were held for the locals' amusement.
Off the Beaten Track


Second in importance only to Leptis Magna, Cyrene is a must see. It ranks as the best preserved of the Greek cities of Cyrenaica, with its temples, tombs, agora, gymnasium and theatre originally modelled on those at Delphi. Apart from the spectacular Greek ruins, its location high on a bluff overlooking the sea is stunning.

The city covers a huge area and is still only partly excavated. It's not often you find world-heritage sites still in this rather romantic condition: mosaics can still be discovered underfoot, and priceless statues often lie covered with creepers.

Enough of the city has been resurrected to give the visitor an impression of how it originally looked but without the over-restored look that detracts from so many classical archaeological sites. Cyrene still has very few visitors and correspondingly few facilities. Pack a meal, and you could easily spend a day or several wandering and exploring.

Jebel Akhdar

North of Benghazi is the Jebel Akhdar, an extremely beautiful stretch of mountains that are sure to resonate doubletime with anyone fresh out of the desert. Also known as the Green Mountains, this part of Libya is indeed green and a great deal wetter than other parts of the country.

Geographically the area resembles Crete, and much of the high jebel (mountain) is given over to agriculture. It was a key area for food production during Italian colonisation, and the simple, low-built farmhouses from the 1930s still stand today amid fruit and cereal farms.


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