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Jewel of Roman Empire lies neglected in Libya chaos


Once among the Roman Empire's most beautiful cities, Leptis Magna lies neglected and shunned by tourists after a decade of war, but some see its potential for rebirth.


Jewel of Roman Empire lies neglected in Libya chaos
General view of marble columns looking towards the Nymphaeum in the background,
in the ancient Roman city of Leptis Magna [Credit: Mahmud Turkia/AFP]

There is no queue at the gate and only a handful of visitors, almost all Libyans, wander among the imposing ruins at the UNESCO World Heritage site.




Visiting the area, a former Roman outpost on the south coast of the Mediterranean, is "a voyage in time, a dive into history", enthuses Abdessalam Oueba, a Libyan visitor in his 60s.


Jewel of Roman Empire lies neglected in Libya chaos
View of the colonnaded temple of "the august gods" near the theatre at the ancient
Roman city of Leptis Magna [Credit: Mahmud Turkia/AFP] 

Founded by the Phoenicians then conquered by Rome, the city was the birthplace of Septimius Severus, who rose to become emperor from 193 until 211.


The ruler waged military campaigns across Europe and into modern-day Iraq before dying in York, England, far from the hometown on which he had lavished resources.


Jewel of Roman Empire lies neglected in Libya chaos
People walk under the Arch of Septimus Severus in the ancient Roman
city of Leptis Magna [Credit: Mahmud Turkia/AFP]

Perched on a hillside with a striking view of the Mediterranean, the well-preserved ruins include a large basilica, a racecourse and a theatre seating up to 15,000 spectators on arched terraces overlooking the sea.


Among the few visiting tourists are Ihab, from Tripoli, who made the 120-kilometre (75-mile) trip to show his children a site he had visited during his own childhood.


Jewel of Roman Empire lies neglected in Libya chaos
Aerial photo shows a view of the theatre in the ancient Roman city of Leptis Magna
[Credit: Mahmud Turkia/AFP]

"Leptis Magna is beautiful, the most beautiful Roman site outside Italy," the 34-year-old doctor said under a clear blue sky. "Yet it's barely been discovered."




The violence that wracked Libya after the 2011 revolt that toppled dictator Moamer Kadhafi stirred fears for the ancient ruins, prompting United Nations cultural agency UNESCO to place them and four other Libyan sites on a list of global heritage in danger. But so far, the areas have been mostly spared from the fighting, which has largely paused since an October 2020 ceasefire.


Jewel of Roman Empire lies neglected in Libya chaos
Detail carved onto the arch of Septimius Severus in the ancient Roman city
of Leptis Magna [Credit: Mahmud Turkia/AFP]

"There haven't been any direct attacks or threats against Leptis Magna, despite the conflict," said Azeddine al-Fakih, head of the site's antiquities department. Yet it faces other threats: a lack of resources and government support.


"In 2020, we were finally able to launch projects that should have been finished 50 years ago," he said, listing toilet facilities, offices and a perimeter fence. "But archaeological digs have stopped, and maintenance operations are rushed and superficial."


Jewel of Roman Empire lies neglected in Libya chaos
Carved detail in the ancient Roman city of Leptis Magna
[Credit: Mahmud Turkia/AFP]

Fakih admitted that after 10 years of conflict and state collapse, Libya's current unity government "has bigger problems to deal with".


There was almost no tourism in Libya under Kadhafi, whose rule from 1969-2011 depended heavily on the country's vast oil wealth. Tense foreign relations and sanctions also discouraged foreign visitors.


Jewel of Roman Empire lies neglected in Libya chaos
The upper part of the Theatre with portions of the colonnade, in the ancient
Roman city of Leptis Magna [Credit: Mahmud Turkia/AFP]

Kadhafi began issuing tourist visas for the first time in 2003 and even created a ministry of tourism as the regime began mending ties with the West.




But all that stopped in 2011, when a NATO-backed revolt overthrew and killed Kadhafi, plunging the country into years of chaos. Now, a year-long lull in violence has sparked hopes the country can move on.


Jewel of Roman Empire lies neglected in Libya chaos
Arches bearing carved Gorgon heads surrounding the Severin forum, in the ancient
Roman city of Leptis Magna [Credit: Mahmud Turkia/AFP]

Omar Hdidan, a civil engineer who volunteers to promote and maintain Leptis Magna, believes in its potential for tourism. "It has always been neglected by the state," the 49-year-old said.


"There are no digs, no new discoveries, no campaign to encourage tourism. But Leptis Magna is more valuable than 10 oil wells."


Jewel of Roman Empire lies neglected in Libya chaos
Carved Gorgon head on arches surrounding the Severin forum, in the ancient
Roman city of Leptis Magna [Credit: Mahmud Turkia/AFP]

Fakih agreed. Leptis Magna "could be a source of income if it was managed properly", he said.


"It could create thousands of jobs, welcome millions of tourists and bring in billions of dollars. There will come a day when the oil runs out, but Leptis Magna will remain."


Author: Hamza Mekouar | Source: AFP [September 27, 2021]



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1 comment :

  1. Our group visited Leptis Magna in the 1990s and it was the highlight of the tour for me. As the others went for lunch I spent a good hour wandering around the ruins with my hand book looking at the wonderful carvings and the architecture of the various structures. I hope some day attention will be paid to the site and bring it up to international standard

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