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Three Days In Libya

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Old Jan 6, 18, 5:44 am
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Day 3.

The view from the hotel roof at the beginning of day 3.


And another decent breakfast at the hotel restaurant.


Today's plan was to head east along to coast to the town of Khoms and visit the nearby ruins of the ancient city of Leptis Magna, one of the best preserved Roman ruins in the Mediterranean.


Some murals on a wall from the 2011 Libyan Revolution as we head out of the city.


Yousuf pouring us some tea his wife had made earlier.


Just before 10am we arrived at Leptis Magna, one of five UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Libya.


The Berber and Punic city was founded in the second half of the 7th century BC. At the end of the Third Punic War in 146 BC, when the Romans conquered and completely destroyed the former Phoenician colony of Carthage and annexed all remaining Carthaginian territory, the city consequently became part of the Roman Republic.

We entered the site and walked north towards the magnificent Arch of Septimius Severus. Apart from a handful of local visitors, we had the place all to ourselves.


The triumphal arch was built in 203 AD and commissioned by Septimius Severus, who was born at Leptis Magna and was Roman emperor from 193 to 211. As Emperor, Severus led numerous conquests and the Roman Empire reached its greatest extent under his reign, encompassing an area of over five million square kilometers and stretching from present day Scotland all the way to what is now Iraq.

The arch was discovered in 1928 by Italian Giacomo Guidi and then subsequently under went extensive excavation and reconstruction.


Looking up at some of the ornate and very intricate sculpture work on the arch.


After being buried for many centuries under the sand, the detailed reliefs were remarkably well preserved.


We then continued along the paved road south-east of the arch.


A symbol of an evil eye, a curse believed to be cast by a simple malevolent glare dating from classical antiquity. On it's left is a variety of symbols to ward off the evil eye, including a fist shaped as a fig sign and a fascinus (divine phallus).


The Palaestra, dating to the reign of Roman Emperor Commodus (180-192). A field where men would partake in running, wrestling and ball games. As they wore no clothing while exercising, the field could also be called a gymnasium (from the Greek work gymnos for naked).


Next to the Palaestra was the Hadrianic Baths. In the foreground is the swimming pool and behind are the remains of the tepid and warm baths. The columns in the bath house were made from granite imported from Egypt and marble imported from Greece.


Yousuf pointing out an inscription in Latin on a marble slab in the centre of the frigidarium (cold room).


The inscription was a dedication to Emperor Arch of Septimius Severus.


As the hometown of Roman Emperor Septimius Severus, Leptis Magna achieved its greatest prominence beginning in AD 193. The Emperor favoured his hometown above all other provincial cities, and the attention and wealth he lavished on it made the city the third-most important in Africa, rivaling Carthage and Alexandria.

The inscription translates as: To Emperor Caesar [Lucius Septimius Severus] Pius Pertinax Augustus, victor in Arabia, victor in Adiabene, greatest victor in Parthia, chief priest, holding tribunician power for the tenth time, acclaimed victor eleven times, father of the country, proconsul, consul for the third time; the Septimian Lepcitanians, (set this up) publicly on account of his outstanding and god-like favours to them.


One of the hot baths. Yousuf told us about a film made in 1957, Legend of the Lost, starring John Wayne and Sophia Lauren and shot partly in Libya. Leptis Magna was used extensively as a filming location and as a replacement for the ancient city of Timgad (actually situated in neighbouring Algeria).

Last edited by DanielW; Jan 6, 18 at 5:58 am
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Old Jan 6, 18, 5:45 am
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A still from the film with John Wayne, Sophia Loren and Italian co-star Rossano Brazzi washing their new found treasure in the baths at Leptis Magna.


Arches of the Caldarium (hot room).


A public latrine with suitably placed 'keyholes' where people would perform their ablutions.


The facade of the Byzantine Church. Built in the sixth century after Leptis Magna was conquered by armies of the Byzantine emperor Justinian.


The gravestone of a bishop inside the church.


Looking over the Severan Forum and Basilica.


It was quite surreal to be able to walk about such extensive and magnificent Roman ruins with no guards or ropes to obstruct us and very few other people about. I could almost imagine what it felt like to discover a lost ancient city as a fictional adventurer in a Hollywood film or video game such as Indiana Jones or Nathan Drake.


The Crisis of the 3rd Century was a period in which the Roman Empire nearly collapsed under the combined pressures of invasion, civil war, plague, and economic depression. The dramatic drop in trade during the time severely affected the city and it's importance also fell into a decline, and by the middle of the 4th century, large parts of the city had been abandoned.

Birds up in the blue sky, flying over some of the marble pillars.


A symbol carved into marble.


Another Latin inscription.


A bush growing within the Basilica. Yousuf said that 200 guards and caretakers were employed by the government to look after the site, but after the revolution they had simply stopped working despite still collecting their paychecks.


Three marble pillars, originally from the Hadrianic Baths, that had been moved to the coast for a shipment to Europe that never came.


Between 1686 and 1708, the French consul in Tripoli, Claude Lemaire removed over 600 columns from Leptis Magna and they were presented to Louis XIV for use in his palaces at Versailles and Paris.

Both British and Italian names from a hundred years ago had been engraved on the marble pillars.


In 1816 the British Consul General in Tripoli persuaded the local Governor that he should also be able to ‘help himself’ to the ruins. Consequently 22 granite columns, 15 marble columns, 10 capitals, 25 pedestals, 7 loose slabs, 10 pieces of cornice and and 5 inscribed slabs were shipped to the UK.

Between June 1827 and March 1828 the antiquities were arranged by George IV’s architect in the form of a ruined Roman temple of his own design, and now reside beside Virginia Water Lake in Windsor Great Park.

A fascinus (divine phallus) on a wall, to ward off the curse of the evil eye.


And another carved into the pavement. It was quite amusing to see phalluses about in random places.


Another phallus combined with a fist shaped as a fig sign as double protection against the evil eye.


Looking down on the Macellum.


The Macellum (a Roman indoor market building that sold mostly provisions) was built in 9-8 BCE and consisted of a large square, surrounded by a portico with two octagonal buildings.


We then moved onto the Leptis Magna Theatre. The Theatre is the oldest of Roman Africa, and also the second largest after the theatre at Sabratha.


A scene from the film Legend of the Lost, with John Wayne and Sophia Loren standing centre in the Leptis Magna Theatre.


The Duke climbing up the stairs of the theatre. Unfortunately it may be a while until a Hollywood production returns to Libya to film a movie again.


By the front seats there was some two thousand year old graffiti with an engraving in the rock made long ago by a member of the audience.


Two marble pillars on the Theatre extending up to the sky.


By the time of the Arab conquest of the Maghreb in the 7th century, Leptis Magna was mostly abandoned except for a Byzantine garrison force and a population of less than 1,000 inhabitants. Under Arab domination Leptis disappeared and by the 10th century the city was forgotten and fully covered by sand.

We then walked back to the entrance after an amazing several hours exploring the ancient ruins. Enjoying a cool drink after all the exploration. There were a few souvenir shops and Jordan took the opportunity to get some gifts to take home for his daughter.


Stopping to fuel up with diesel. Despite being extremely cheap (at the fixed price of less than 2 cents a litre), fuel is very scarce in Libya due to the instability and turmoil. With a fresh delivery having just been made to the local service station, Salem grabbed the chance to fill up the van. Yousuf said that Salem had to sometimes sleep in the van overnight so as to not lose his place in the queue while waiting to fill up in Tripoli.


Having a hearty lunch in Khoms just after 2:30pm.


In the late afternoon we headed to the Leptis Magna Amphitheatre, which was situated ~1 kilometre from the rest of the city. The Amphitheater was excavated in a former quarry, close to the sea, in 56 AD and dedicated to the Roman Emperor Nero.


With a capacity of about 16,000, people would come to see both men and beast face off until death.


In one of the tunnels under the amphitheatre to access the lower rows.


A normal show started early in the morning, when animals had to fight against each other, such as a bull and a bear. At noon a typical spectacle was the execution of criminals, runaway slaves and Christians who were thrown ad bestias, a form of Roman capital punishment in which the condemned person was killed by various wild animals such as hyena, elephant, wild boar, buffalo, bears, lions, tigers, bulls, wolves, and leopards.


The gladiators performed in the afternoon and entertained the audience with bloody battles with other gladiators as well as with wild animals and lesser mortals. It was great again to wander about the ruins unimpeded and almost alone, and imagine the savage and brutal performances of the mighty gladiators that delighted the masses nearly two millenia ago.


Salem serving some hot coffee.


And enjoying the amazing view.


On our way back to the van a local shepherd spotted us. He was worried that we were from UNESCO and that we would report him for grazing his flock too close to the ruins! Luckily Yousuf and Salem quickly reassured him that everything was ok and we were just innocent tourists.


At the entrance to Leptis Magna Port, situated to the southeast of the old city center. Yousuf said that the lump of concrete was scrawled with the name of a particularly brutal militia that was part of the 2011 Libyan Revolution.


The caved in remains of a bath house by the sea. Yousuf said that years ago a French archaeologist had stupidly used a tractor to try and excavate the area, and the weight of the tractor had broken and destroyed the roof of the underground bath house.


Looking out to sea along the eastern pier of the port. An artificial port, the area to the left was originally filled with water with the pier protecting the harbor against wind and storms.


With dusk approaching, we then headed back to Tripoli after an amazing day of exploration and marvel at the ruins of Leptis Magna.

Back in Tripoli just after 7:30pm, where we headed to a local seafood restaurant for dinner.


Outside they had a large display of fish freshly caught from the warm waters of the Mediterranean.


Salem told us that as all the Egyptian and Moroccan fisherman had fled the country after the post revolution turmoil, fish was now quite an expensive luxury in Libya.

After selecting a Red Snapper each, we gave it to the cook ready to be barbequed.


Jordan wanted to take a photo of the Libyan currency before the end of the trip. Although Salem only had a few notes, the friendly restaurant manager was very helpful and provided a clean and unwrinkled note of each denomination.


And a very sizable portion of grilled Red Snapper for our last dinner in Libya. It was my first time selecting a fish for dinner and I badly overestimated how big a fish I could eat!



Day 4.

I woke to rain on the morning of day 4. There was also a quite bit of thunder which we initially mistook for something more sinister.


After a final breakfast at the hotel we packed our bags, checked out of the hotel and met up with Salem and Yousuf at 9:30am.


Our flight back to Tunis today didn't depart until 2:35pm so we still had a bit of time in Tripoli.

Driving past a mosque in Tripoli that was still under construction at the time of the 2011 Libyan Revolution for Safia Farkash, the wife of Gaddafi. It now sits unfinished.


At a local café that was holding an exhibition of paintings by a local Libyan artist.


A painting of kids playing on French Street in the Medina, where we had visited two days previously.


The paintings were all incredibly detailed and showed Tripolitanians in simpler times.


French Street again featuring in one of the paintings.


Cappuccino and local pastries for morning tea.


Yousuf and Salem posing in front of one of the paintings.


Fayez al-Sarraj, the current Prime Minister of the GNA government based in Tripoli, had visited the previous day and purchased the painting.


A beautiful print of a Libyan girl dressed in purple, brown and red.


The art director approached us and asked us what we thought of the paintings and then kindly gave us a print to take home. They were selling them for €60 each so it was quite a nice and unexpected gesture.


We then headed back to the van. A pile of rubbish with 'no rubbish' written in black on the fence just behind.


Visiting the local mall and supermarket on the way to the airport. At the official currency exchange rate the prices were very expensive but at the black market rate they were close to normal.


Yousuf leading us to the terminal entrance at Mitiga International Airport. We then checked in and said farewell to both Salem and Yousuf and thanked them for the great few days in Libya. In case of any issues exiting the country, they said they would wait outside for 30 minutes or so just in case.


I had read online how other travellers exiting Tripoli had had numerous questions on why they had visited Libya, extensive bag searches and even one who was taken into a back room for a minor interrogation to see if he was a spy!

Luckily I was just simply asked what country I was from and was then waved on. Jordan was asked what company he worked for and was allowed to proceed after showing his company ID badge.

Seat 15E for the short hop to Tunis.


And about to board the Libyan Wings A319 after an exciting and amazing trip to Libya!

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Old Jan 6, 18, 7:03 am
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Great report once again! This brings back some memories from my visit to Libya in 2004 (the "good old days"). Back then, there were hardly any tourists either; many people wanted to take pictures with me . The tourist visa cost "just" 90 euros. We did a circle trip through the country, visiting Ghadames (غدامس‎), Sabha (سبها‎), Ghat (غات‎), Sirte (سرت‎) and Banghazi ( بنغازي ). We tried to go to Tobruk (طبرق‎) as well, but unfortunately it was too far to visit in one day from Banghazi.
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Old Jan 6, 18, 8:23 am
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Happy New Year to you DanielW from Washington DC where it is -13 C. A great report to read over a cup of coffee. Thanks for posting and thanks for incorporating the Wikipedia links. I know that takes a significant effort. I very much want to go to some of those, lets say 'discouraged', countries at some point, but I think my family would disown me!
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Old Jan 6, 18, 8:29 am
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Wow. Just wow! Another fantastic TR - thank you for sharing
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Old Jan 6, 18, 9:11 am
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Thanks for another great trip report from you Daniel, it looked a very interesting country to visit.
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Old Jan 6, 18, 9:47 am
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Brilliant, as always.

Thank you very much.

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Old Jan 6, 18, 11:07 am
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Absolutely stunning report, Daniel. Just saw your upcoming Baghdad to Basra trip report and I have to admit I'm slightly jealous.
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Old Jan 6, 18, 12:15 pm
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I think you may have outdone yourself this time, Daniel! You so crazy to go to Libya, but wow, walking in those ruins, priceless.
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Old Jan 6, 18, 12:17 pm
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Fantastic TR. Leptis Magna looks incredible. I know 5 others who went in 2017 and at that time, the guide said only about 20 tourists had visited Leptis Magna all year. I'm not sure if that was an exaggeration, but it wouldn't surprise me. Did you experience any hostility during your trip? I'm told reactions were "mixed" to the others. I've got quite a lot planned for the first half of 2018 but may well put Libya on the list for later in the year.
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Old Jan 6, 18, 12:42 pm
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Wow. Absolutely Amazing. Thanks so much. Stunning historical sights and a "Risky" visit no doubt about that. Thanks very very much for sharing.
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Old Jan 6, 18, 1:04 pm
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HNY, Daniel - another wonderful TR with awesome photos. All the Roman ruins were so cool and the amazing preservation of so many drawings and carvings. Libya is a country I will probably never get to but I have you to share your trip - thanks again!
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Old Jan 6, 18, 2:25 pm
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Great trip report, especially enjoyed reading about the Roman ruins!
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Old Jan 6, 18, 5:13 pm
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Wow! Talking about starting 2018 with a bang! Great report.
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Old Jan 6, 18, 5:28 pm
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I really enjoyed reading your trip report, and I enjoyed the prolific use of photographs. A wonderful walk through your trip to Libya. It's always an exciting experience to visiting a new country! Glad you enjoyed your time there.
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