Libya is a country with a varied past. It has been inhabited by Berbers since the late Bronze age as descendants from Iberomaurusian and Capsian cultures. The Phoenicians established trading posts in western Libya, and ancient Greek colonists established city-states in the east of the country. It has been ruled by a host of peoples such as the Carthaginians, Persians, Egyptians and Greeks before the entire region becoming a part of the Roman Empire. Later history has seen both Ottoman and Italian rule.
The result of such a diverse history is a wealth of fascinating sites. We’ve chosen 5 which make for a fantastic visit.
Leptis Magna is an incredibly well preserved archaeological site in Tripoli, Libya. Originally founded by the Phoenicians as the port of Lpgy in the first millennium BC, Leptis Magna later became part of the Carthaginian Empire and was then incorporated into the Roman Empire in 46 BC.
Most of the remaining structures now found at the site of Leptis Magna are indeed Roman and originate from the reign of Septimius Severus. Among the many remains found in Severus’ home city, the marketplace, Severan Basilica, the Forum, the Amphitheatre, and the Severan Arch represent some of the best preserved Roman sites in the Mediterranean.
Cyrene in Libya is considered to be one of the most impressive Greco-Roman sites in the world and one of the best Classical Greek sites beyond Greece itself. Amongst its fantastic remains, Cyrene is home to the ruins of the great sanctuary of Apollo which has sites ranging from the Temples of Artemis and Apollo which date back as early as the 7th century BC to the 2nd century Trajan Baths.
One of its most impressive sites is Cyrene Amphitheatre, which the Greeks built in the 6th century BC, was used as a Roman amphitheatre and is now the largest Greek site in Africa. There’s lots more to see at Cyrene including its acropolis, agora, forum and necropolis. Part of what makes Cyrene so incredible is not just its monuments but its overall planning – a mix of Greek and Roman, which is evident throughout.
Once a thriving Roman city, the impressive ruins of Sabratha lie approximately fifty miles west of Triopli, alongside the modern town of the same name. Remarkably picturesque, the ruins of Sabratha look out across the Mediterranean and give modern visitors an insight into why this location served the ancient trading routes so well.
Much of what can be seen at Sabratha today was partially or wholly reconstructed by the Italians in the early 20th century – particularly under Mussolini who gave speeches from the ancient theatre. Today, visitors can explore an impressive set of ruins, including the three-storey theatre, several temples and the remarkable remains of luxury Roman villas, which boast well preserved mosaics. Also found at Sabratha is the Byzantine-era Basilica of Justinian.
The ancient oasis city of Ghadames lies close to the Libyan border with Algeria and Tunisia. The old town is a labyrinth of tunnels, houses, courtyards and places of worship, all built underground to provide protection from the heat of the Sahara.
Today several houses of the deserted town have been furnished and restored to give the handful of visitors an idea of what they were like to live in. You can also travel across the rooftops as the local women once did – but this can involve some fairly precarious crossings – not for the feint-hearted.
The Arch of Marcus Aurelius was built around 165 AD in the city of Oea in Libya to celebrate the victories of Lucius Verus, who had defeated the Parthian Empire and sacked their capital city, Ctesiphon. Comprised of a central stone dome held by flat slabs, the arch was erected entirely of expensive marble. The arch also stood at the intersection of the city’s main streets, dominating the route of travellers who would witness the triumphant might of the Roman Empire.
Today, the Arch of Marcus Aurelius is the sole remaining structure from Roman era Oea, although the arch itself is well-preserved. Please note, it is advisable to check the official advice of your government’s foreign office before travelling to Libya.