LIBYA'S BEST SITES page|
Libya’s largest city, Tripoli’s ancient architecture, modern
amenities and cosmopolitan atmosphere combine to create a
jewel in the Mediterranean crown. The political and cultural
heart of Libya, Tripoli wears the influences of the many and
varied civilisations that have occupied its streets with
elegance and pride. With many teahouses, restaurants and the
country’s most extensive museum, Tripoli is the gateway to the
rest of Libya.
Considered to be one of the most beautiful Roman cities in the
Mediterranean, Leptis Magna can still be envisioned as a
living city. An excellent example of Roman town planning,
Leptis Magna has many decadent buildings, broad streets and
several grand theatres, bath houses and forums. Highlights
include the Nymphaeum, or the Temple of Nymphs, which has a
beautiful red-granite facade and monumental fountain, and the
marble strewn Severan Forum, built in the 2nd century AD by
the then Roman Emperor, Septimus Severus.
The city of Sabratha is 80 kilometres
from Tripoli and has one of the finest theatres of the ancient
world. Much restoration work has been done to recreate the
beauty of the Roman city, but there are still many sites in
disrepair, with mosaics and broken columns offering a glimpse
of Sabratha’s former glory. Some of the better sites include
the Antonine Temple and the Judicial Basilica, which operated
as a court during the 4th century AD.
East of Tripoli, Zliten is one of the
largest coastal oases in Tripolitania. Its flourishing
date-palm plantations yield the popular tarbuni (date juice).
Zliten is also home to the architecturally magnificent
Mausoleum and Mosque of Sidi Abdusalam, a 16th century sheik,
and the Marabout Tombs, which attract many pilgrims.
One of Libya's oldest cities, Benghazi can also claim to be
one of the most recent, having been destroyed several times
over the centuries by various negligent occupants, violent
civil wars and invading forces, the most recent of which was
the American air-strikes in 1986.
possesses some interesting historic sites, such as the
Ottoman-built lighthouse and the Italian-era Basilica
(unfortunately closed to the public). Also, the Souq al-Jreed
is well worth exploring, as it is still one of the main
shopping precincts for locals and offers a range of products
for everyday living.
The westernmost of the five cities of the Greek Pentapolis,
and one of the first ports to be settled from Cyrene, Tocra
has been ravaged by time, natural disasters and war. Founded
around 510 BC, the Ancient City of Tocra has few intact sites,
but it does have a reasonably well preserved mosaic and a good
artefact collection. It is still possible to see Roman tombs,
a Greek Gymnasium, the Eastern Basilica and the necropolis.
North-east along the Mediterranean
coast, the city of Tolmeita has well preserved ruins from its
Greek and Roman occupants. There is much to see and do in the
town of Tolmeita, which possesses several museums. The ruins
include the picturesque Villa of the Four Seasons, which was
built in the 4th century AD, a Byzantine Church and remarkable
underground cisterns, accessible from the Roman forum.
Cyrene was the most important city of the
Greek Pentapolis, with its abundant agricultural resources
making it a key city for the several rulers of the region,
including Alexander the Great, the Egyptian pharaonic dynasty
of Ptolemy, the Roman and Byzantine empires and, since the
march of the Islamic armies in 643AD, the Arabian empire. Home
to many great philosophers of the ancient world, Cyrene has
excellent examples of Greek and Roman architecture, including
an Agora (forum or marketplace), Gymnasium, the Sanctuary of
Apollo, Temple of Zeus and a large amphitheatre with amazing
Apollonia was Cyrene's main port and is still, to this day, a
working harbour. Towards the end of the Roman era, Apollonia
was the seat of Roman Governors in the province of Libya
Superior and as such has a wealth of ancient churches, Roman
baths and a great collection of pottery, as well as the
remnants of its Greek and Byzantine occupation.
A small town east of the beautiful valley
of Ras al-Hilal, L’Atrun has several well preserved Byzantine
churches, most notably the Western Church, which stands on a
bluff overlooking the dramatic coastline of the Mediterranean.
Green Mountains (Jebel Akhdar)
Soaring up behind
the town of Ras al-Hilal, the Jebel Akhdar are easily explored
on foot, from the plateau above the waterfall Shallal Ras
al-Hilal. A few kilometres along the road into the mountains
are the Greek tombs, with the valley shelves in this area
being an excellent place for a picnic. A short drive from the
town is Wadi Kaf: caves that sheltered the resistance leader
Omar al-Mukhtar and his mujahideen throughout their campaigns
against the Italian occupation until his capture in 1931.
Not only is Tobruk located on an attractive Mediterranean
harbour, it also offers some moving memorials to the Second
World War. The city itself is renowned for its friendliness
and pleasant climate, and is currently undergoing extensive
The battlefields surrounding Tobruk – Bir
Hakim, Knightsbridge – took on such strategic significance in
the Western Desert Campaigns that General Rommel (later known
as the Desert Fox) personally directed Axis operations in the
area. Rommel's operations centre in the middle of town is now
open to visitors, and it is surrounded by WWII relics such as
the wreckage of the USA B-24 bomber Lady Be Good.
Commonwealth, Knightsbridge, French and German war memorials
provide a timeless and evocative memorial to the fallen
soldiers, and the well-maintained cemetery grounds offer an
ideal place to reflect upon the loss of life and the nature of
Due to Tobruk's development boom, new and
renovated hotel accommodation is available, with local
restaurants serving Tobruk's regional specialty: delicious
The hostile barbed-wire anti-smuggling fence built by Italian
Marshal Graziani, lines the highway south-east to the humble
village of Al Jagbub, 3 hours from Tobruk. On the outskirts of
town is a valley covered with fossilised sea-stars, dating
from the time when this desert was the sea floor.
centre of Islamic learning, Al Jagbub is now better known for
the beautiful and therapeutic Melfa and Fredga salt lakes,
geological attractions and stands of fossilised palm trees.
The town has had little exposure to tourism and provides a
good opportunity to explore some of the Libyan wilderness.
Famous as a centre of Berber culture,
Awjila was traditionally an important staging post for
caravans travelling between the coast and the Fezzan. One of
the Jalu oases, it was a prosperous commercial town renowned
for high-quality dates. Nowadays, Awjila is noted for the
Mausoleum of Abdullah Ibn Ali Sarh, who was leader of the
Islamic conquest and friend of the Prophet Mohammed.
This region of the Sahara is the
eastern Sand Sea, its rising dunes created from the incredibly
fine sand, fish-fash. The towns of Tazerbo and Al-Kufra (the
eastern source of the Great Man-Made River) border Ramlat
Rabianeh and offer welcome relief from the desert.
Rightly considered one of the most
isolated places on earth, this extinct dome volcano lies in a
desolate part of the Sahara. Its name means "Wow, the
mosquito!", and there are still many 'namus' there today.
Its virtue lies in astounding crater lakes surrounded by
volcanic sands and waving reeds, and in its majestic
isolation, far into the desert.
Visits to this location
require a special permit, and due to its remoteness visitors
should include a few extra days in their schedule.
The town of Qasr al-Haj boasts one of
the best ancient sites in Libya – a Berber fortified granary.
An excellent example of Berber architecture, this enclosed
circular qasr is two stories high and houses 114 storage
rooms, which allowed the Berber farmers to keep their crops
safe from insects, bad weather and opportunistic thieves. The
shadowy recesses of the rooms, built from local rock, gypsum
and mud, are cool in summer and the split palm trunk doors
remain solid to this day.
Situated on a peak overlooking the
surrounding range of the Jebel Nafusa, the remains of the
ancient Berber town of Nalut cling precariously to the
mountainside. The fortified granary here is similar in style
to that of Qasr al-Haj, but it is built in winding corridors
rather than in the round. Outside the qasr, there is a simple
mosque, partially restored, and a squat building containing an
olive press, with the harness for the donkey still dangling
from its post.
The journey across the dry, dusty and bleak plains of the
northern Sahara is long and arduous – the palm-fringed beauty
of the oasis town of Ghadames is the reward for this difficult
expedition. This ancient town, white-washed and cool, was
inhabited until the late 1980’s and as such is well preserved.
The centre of the city is built along covered streets, lit by
skylights and decorated in relief patterns and the hand prints
of its original builders. Affording welcome relief from the
punishment of the desert sun, the town is still visited by the
locals, with many people wandering the streets and lying along
the stone benches situated throughout the city. The ancient
mosques remain places of worship for the men of Ghadames and
the gardens around the city are likewise still maintained by
the families of the town, penning sheep or producing dates.
The walls of the town are decorated with a pattern of upright
and inverted triangles – said to represent the crown of an
ancient Berber queen who ruled over the desert. Ghadames is
certainly a jewel of her Saharan empire.
The ancient Garamantian city of Ghat was once
one of the great trading centres of the south-western Sahara.
The modern town is home to one of the few permanent
settlements of Tuareg nomads and is still a bustling
border-town, with people from all over the Fezzan coming to
Ghat to trade and tell tales of the desert. The old-city is a
classic oasis-town, white-washed walls built thick with local
rock and mud to keep out the heat of the Saharan days. Ghat is
also an excellent base from which to explore the Jebel Acacus.
The eerie mountain range of the Jebel
Acacus is a dramatic divide in the Saharan landscape. Massive
sand dunes littered with basalt rock and natural rock
formations carved by the wind combine to create one of the
stranger landscapes in Libya. The few days it takes to explore
the wadi’s of the Jebel Acacus are worth the time, as the
mountains and valley’s are home to some of the most
magnificent ancient rock art in the world. Pictures thought to
pre-date the Tuareg habitation of the Sahara are painted on
the cliff faces and caves of the mountains, allowing a glimpse
of a way of life almost 4000 years old.
Idehan Ubari and the Ubari Lakes
The dunes of the
Libyan Sahara have to be seen to be believed. The fish-fash
sand undulates towards the horizon, creating optical illusions
of depth and distance. A 4WD expedition into the Idehan Ubari
(Ubari Sand Sea) brings with it an incredible peace, as the
dense silence of the region envelops you. Following 4WD tracks
into the desert from the villages of the Wadi al-Hayat, you
soon come upon the Ubari Lakes – Gebraoun, Mavo, Mandara and
Umm al-Maa. The palm trees, reeds and clear waters of the
lakes (except Mavo, which is now dry) are a welcome sight
after the endless sand of the Idehan Ubari. Umm al-Maa is
especially beautiful, and a swim in this hot-spring salt-lake
is an amazing desert experience. Tuareg jewellery merchants
spread their wares out on woven rugs on the shore of Umm
al-Maa and are always willing to tell stories in their heavily
accented French over a game of bok or a pot of tea.
Ghadames is Libya's unmissable ancient city, listed as a World
Heritage site by UNESCO. The original, labyrinthine medina is
surrounded by the modern town which has grown around it.
Old Ghadames' network of palm-shaded whitewashed houses was
divided into two areas representing the town's principal
families, the Bani Walid and the Bani Wazid. Many of the
houses are colourfully decorated in the traditional style and
evoke the atmosphere of a trans-Saharan caravan town.
Ghadames is justly famous for its exotic atmosphere, which
visitors soak up as they explore the Old Town's winding lanes.
The Lady Be Good
The Lady Be Good
Tuareg Silver Merchant