Magazine article History Today


Magazine article History Today


Article excerpt

A ten-day tour of the monuments of Greek and Roman Empires April 9th-18th 2001

Roman North Africa was politically and economically vital to the Empire, commanding as it did the other side of Mare Nostrum, the Mediterranean. The two provinces in Libya formed the backbone of this polity and the outstanding archaeological remains are testimony to their importance. The desert and the cultivated, these are lands of great contrast, and the sites are a delight to visit, free from the press of tourists that throng the sites of Europe. Tripolitania's three cities of Sabrata, Oea and Leptis Magna were originally Punic (Phoenician) emporia, vital ports which handled the trans-Saharan trade. They were annexed to Rome during the reign of Augustus and became inordinately wealthy, especially known for the production of olive oil. In Trajan's day Tripolitania became a Roman colony, and reached its zenith in the second century AD. Leptis Magna is an especially remarkable site. The emperor Septimius Severus, who hailed from the city, adorned it with splendid buildings, including a forum, a basilica and a colonnaded street leading from the new harbour. Later isolation has meant that Leptis and the other three desert ports have remained in remarkably good condition, superb examples of Roman colonial cities.

In total contrast, Cyrenaica is a green and fertile promontory jutting into the Mediterranean -- Libya Superior, as it was later called. The green hills behind the coast were first settled from Greece and the settlements have Hellenistic overtones. Cyrenaica became part of Ptolemy's Egypt and later was annexed to Rome. The cities of the Pentapolis -- Apollonia, Cyrene, Ptolemais (Tulmaythah), Taucheira (Tukrah) and Berenice -- still show their Greek origins, and Doric temples are an obvious feature.

Our visit highlights the importance of these classical gems -- monumental architecture jostling with street plans and harbour installations.

Our tour leader is Tim Tatton-Brown, an expert in Hellenistic and Roman sites of the Mediterranean, with a degree in Roman Archaeology from the Institute of Archaeology (now part of University College, London). Tim has worked on many archaeological sites in Turkey and Libya, and for two years has been running the excavations in Benghazi.


Day 1. Morning check in at Heathrow for the midday Alitalia flight via Rome to Tripoli. Check in at the Grand Hotel. Evening meal and introductory talk by Tim Tatton-Brown.

Day 2. Visit to the harbour of Tripoli with its castle, Arch of Marcus Aurelius and the medina. Afternoon visit to the excellent new Museum of Tripoli where a wealth of archeological treasures from Libya are displayed. Overnight at the Grand Hotel.

Day 3. Drive east to Labdah (two hours) to visit the remains of Leptis Magna, the greatest of the three Roman trading cities of Tripolitania. Leptis is one of the most spectacular ruined cities of the Classical world. …

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