UNESCO World Heritage Sites at risk in Libya

Important Roma settlements in Libya

Published on 21 March 2011

Author(s): M&C/March 3

Type:  News

Of the more than 9,000 monuments, historical cities and landscapes under UNESCO protection, five are to be found in Libya

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) lists natural and cultural heritage sites around the world considered to be irreplaceable and therefore deserving of protection for their outstanding value to humanity.  Of the more than 9,000 monuments, historical cities and landscapes under UNESCO protection, five are to be found in Libya.

The ruins of Leptis Magna, a prominent city of the Roman Empire, have been designated a World Heritage Site since 1982. Located in Al Khums, 130 kilometres east of Tripoli, the harbour city became part of the Rome Republic following the Third Punic War with Carthage in 146 BC, quickly developing into the empire's third largest metropole. Leptis Magna's golden age came between 120 and 220 AD when numerous splendid buildings were constructed, including a magnificent new forum.

The city was destroyed during the Arab conquest of 642 and its ruins disappeared under the desert sands for nearly 1,300 years until 1920 when archeologists uncovered what are considered some of the most impressive ruins of the Roman period outside Italy. Today, the highlights include the Severan Basilica, an amphitheatre for 16,000 spectators, thermal baths, temples and villas.

The ruins of Sabratha have also been under UNESCO protection since 1982. Sabratha began as a Phoenician trading post at the end of a caravan route serving as an outlet for the products of the African hinterland, before becoming part of the short-lived Numidian Kingdom of Massinissa.

It subsequently became an in important Roman settlement and was rebuilt in the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD. Situated approximately 70km west of Tripoli, the site is home to the well-preserved ruins of a theatre that once had a capacity of 5,000 seats, a forum encircled by columns as well as several temples and early Christian churches.

Situated in north-eastern Libya, the archeological site of Cyrene was once one of the principal cities in the Hellenic world. Founded by the Greeks in 631 BC and a UNESCO site since 1985, Cyrene preserves a necropolis complex which is numbered among the most extensive of the ancient world, as well as several temples.

Established as a Roman province in 74 BC and bequeathed it its people in 96 BC, Cyrene played an important role in the Mediterranean region, as evidenced by the numerous impressive buildings erected during this time. An early Christian basilica and valuable mosaics are also part of the site.

The rock art sites of Tadrart Acacus in the desert region bordering Algeria contain thousands of cave paintings in very different styles, dating as far back as 12,000 BC. The paintings not only reflect marked changes in the fauna and flora in this region of the Sahara, but also the different ways of life of the populations that succeeded one another. The images represent hunting or daily life scenes, ritual dances and savannah animals such as elephants and rhinoceros. The site has been under UNESCO protection since 1985.

Known as 'the pearl of the desert', the old town of Ghadames was first listed as a World Heritage Site in 1986. Standing in an oasis within the triangle between Libya, Tunisia and Algeria, the fortified city is one of the oldest in the region and a crossing point for important caravan routes.

Today the city is an impressive example of traditional pre-Saharan whitewashed architecture with its overhanging covered alleys that create what is almost an underground network of passageways and, at the top, open-air terraces reserved for women.

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