Libya's ancient heritage sites suffer from neglect

There's been investment in oil, but none at all in tourism

Published on 28 March 2011

Author(s): The Daily Star/Mohammed Abbas

Type:  News

“This is our history and there are goats all over it,” Fakhri said

A toga-clad statue that would be a prize museum piece elsewhere lies half buried among cow dung at the ancient Greek city of Cyrene in eastern Libya, where the country’s wealth in antiquities has suffered decades of neglect.

Goats and cows graze among the towering Greek and Roman columns of the ruined city, a UNESCO world heritage site perched on a mountain side with stunning views over verdant plains and the Mediterranean Sea beyond.

Founded in the 4th century B.C. by Greek colonists and later ruled by imperial Rome, Cyrene’s souvenir kiosks, restaurants and protective barriers usually found at such sites are absent. The dilapidated village of Shahaat, which does surround it, does not appear to be geared to the tourist trade.

“It’s been the same here since the revolution in 1969,” said Shahaat tourism policeman Hamdy Hamed. “There’s been investment in oil, but none at all in tourism.”

The people of east Libya complain that there has been little investment in their part of the country since Moammar Gadhafi came to power in a military coup 41 years ago.

The region is now largely held by anti-Gadhafi rebels after mass protests and bloody fighting in the past month, much of it around the key oil exporting towns of Ras Lanouf and Brega.

The Mediterranean, azure at the shore then deep blue, laps at a near-pristine coastline but there are barely any resort hotels or restaurants.

Near Cyrene, one of the most important cities of the Hellenic world, are the lush hills and cool climes of Jebel al-Akhdar, but no facilities that would allow anyone to enjoy them.

“Most of the artifacts are still buried. Tourism has been neglected,” said Shahaat resident Hamdy Bzeiwi, who is unemployed and has seen little of the income that would usually come from living close to a site such as Cyrene.

At the ruins, bags of rubbish litter the second-century Arch of Marcus Aurelius. An amphitheater likely to have been used for performances of Greek tragedies is now apparently being used as a sheep pen judging by the hoof prints and droppings.

A school of Greek philosophy is said to have been born at Cyrene, but the only ruminating there now is done by cows. “It’s a real shame,” said Fitah al-Fakhri, who said he was visiting Cyrene after fleeing the battle-torn town of Ajdabiya.

Beside Fakhri, his family and a friend accompanying them, there were no other human visitors to the deserted ruins. “This is our history and there are goats all over it,” Fakhri said. “We have no government, so how can you expect a place like this to be protected?”

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