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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.