libya travel… finally made it!
i’ve been wanting to go to libya for ages, but the stop/start nature of life, war and peace over there have made it difficult.
hopefully the recent ceasefire is a sign of better times ahead for this welcoming country and its people.
roman libya and leptis magna
since 2018, you now fly into the former air force base of mitiga rather than tripoli international airport which was heavily damaged during the civil wars between 2011 and 2020.
we were not allowed to bring in full slr cameras, so it is pics from my old camera phone this time…
the highlight of the trip and the jewel in libya’s travel crown are the roman ruins of leptis magna.
the triumphal arch of septimius severus greets you on arrival and the former ruins spread out for as far as you can see. i’ve been waiting years to visit this and it didn’t disappoint.
the one issue is that all museums across the country are closed for safety reasons so i couldn’t see the amazing mosaics that have been preserved there. and as you know, i’m a bit of a sucker for a good mosaic.
but what made up for it is that unlike most roman sites across europe, leptis has virtually no tourists to speak of.
no modern settlement was built on the site so you truly get a feeling of the size and scale of how an ancient roman city looked.
all parts of it are somewhat intact – the forum, theatres, baths, port, temples, markets and the largest chariot circus outside of rome.
i especially love these exquisitely carved marble medusa heads in the severan forum.
it was first settled by the phoenicians in the 7th century bc and then gradually fell under roman influence to become one of the most important trading posts in northern africa.
leptis magna was also used as a filming location of the 1957 sophia loren and john wayne film “legend of the lost” shot by the legendary cinematographer jack cardiff. in classic hollywood style, john wayne was dressed as a cowboy playing a french legionnaire in timbuktu.
adding to the experience is its stunning location on the mediterranean coast…
it’s quite a view from on top of the theatre.
tripoli has always been one of those cities that is constantly in the news, so it was good to finally experience it first-hand.
it had such a great vibe to it and it was good to see it starting to thrive again after a decade of war.
tripoli not only makes a great base for day trips to both leptis magna and sabratha, but also a wonderful place to spend a few days.
the martyrs’ square, or green square as it was known in gaddafi’s time played a major role in the recent revolution.
it is now the beating heart of city – after the friday prayers it was buzzing with activity.
the nearby medina also had a great atmosphere to explore.
the small but interesting al-naqah mosque is definitely worth a stop. it is one of the oldest mosques in libya and features columns that were reused from roman times.
it is a great example of how layers of history have been built up over time of the various civilizations that have called this area home.
unfortunately, throughout the country you can still see the many scars from years of civil war.
there was a large battle in tripoli 2 months before we were there so there was still a tense feeling in the air.
bullet holes and bomb craters can be seen everywhere and are a constant reminder of how delicate the ceasefire is.
ghadames old town
next up is the unesco world heritage old town of ghadames which feels like a mythical caravan town in the desert that has been greeting travellers for centuries.
it was definitely worth the 10 hour drive across the desert.
it is a unique place as it is now abandoned, but the houses are still owned and maintained by former inhabitants.
nobody actually lives there anymore as they have all moved to the modern comforts of the new town.
the only two places we came across open to guests was a lovely tea shop and a restaurant.
the streets were like a labyrinth and even our guides managed to get us lost on the way back.
ghadames and the surrounding dunes
ghadames sits on the edge of the sahara and is known as the pearl of the desert.
from this viewpoint you can see algeria and tunisia.
the new town is a like a sleepy village. below is the last traditional shoemaker on a street that was once full of them… a dying art, it takes weeks to hand make these custom boots.
our driver thought it was funny to speed along the algerian border fence.
the algerian guards were not impressed.
tripoli to ghadames
there are some interesting stops between tripoli and ghadames to break up the long drive.
sharing tea with local tourist police is always a good idea.
the town of qasr al-haj and it’s berber granary was a nice surprise stop.
it was built to store grain harvests in the 12th century and is still in remarkable shape today.
the metal plate is from a recent attempt to break the guinness book of world records for the largest bowl of couscous.
sadly they just missed out on the record.
another great stop along the way is the ancient berber stone village of tarmeisa.
it has some truly stunning views of the sahel al-jefara
the troglodyte dwellings of the jebel najusa remind me of similar ones in tunisia – especially the star wars lars homestead in matmata
the one pictured below has been in the same family for hundreds of years and has been perfectly preserved (they now welcome guests at their restaurant).
sabratha roman ruins
and finally, not to be outdone by its more famous cousin, sabratha is another incredible roman site along the coast. it was abandoned in the 7th century and only rediscovered by in the early 20th century.
as usual, we were the only tourists and had the place to ourselves.
the trip was organised by lupine travel who have a lot of experience leading trips there, which is important because tourists in libya are not generally allowed right now.
random interesting pics
finally i’ll leave you with some random pics i didn’t know where else to put…
if my calculations are correct…
that works out to 3 cents per litre. insane.
this (still living) palm tree was growing across the path, so they just built the wall over it.
and my favourite shot of the trip…