Arch of Marcus Aurelius - History and Facts | History Hit

Arch of Marcus Aurelius

Tripoli, Tripoli, Libya

The Arch of Marcus Aurelius is an Ancient Roman structure in Tripoli, Libya.

Peta Stamper

10 May 2021
Image Credit: Shutterstock

About Arch of Marcus Aurelius

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.

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.

Arch of Marcus Aurelius history

Oea was founded by the Phoenicians in the 7th century BC, likely attracted to the natural harbour there which was flanked by a small and easily defensible peninsula where they established their colony. The Greek rulers of Cyrene then claimed Oea but it was shortly after wrestled back by the Carthaginians.

By the later 2nd century AD, Oea was conquered by the Romans who included it in their province of Africa. The Romans left their mark on Oea by building a magnificent triumphal arch to their emperor, Marcus Aurelius, around 165 AD. The arch was dedicated not only to the emperor Marcus Aurelius but Lucius Verus, the emperor’s adoptive brother, to commemorate his victories during the Roman-Parthian War of 161-166 AD.

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.

Oea, becoming Tripoli, was continuously occupied throughout the ancient to the modern period, meaning that many of the ancient buildings were used to build others or have since been buried beneath the newer city. After the Italian conquest during World War One, the site gained immediate attention and was restored.

Unfortunately, since 2017 the Arch of Marcus Aurelius has suffered from consistent visitor damage and the effects of acidic rain.

Arch of Marcus Aurelius today

In today’s city of Tripoli, visitors will find this monument to the ancient Roman presence in Oea nestled within a popular tourist spot. Guarded by a low fence and railing, you can get reasonably close to the triumphal arch to see the figures depicted either side of the gateway, believed to be the city’s deities Apollo and Minerva.

Surrounded by several great restaurants, the Arch of Marcus Aurelius is a must-see for any visitor to Tripoli, particularly in the evening lit up by the sunset.

Getting to the Arch of Marcus Aurelius

Situated just off Al-Shat Road by the port, the Arch of Marcus Aurelius is easily found when walking around Tripoli. Otherwise, the city bus station is a 10 minute walk away on Al-Rashid Street.

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