Key UNESCO partners joined with the Organization to approve a new action plan to address emergency and short term interventions for the safeguarding of Libya’s cultural heritage following a three-day international expert meeting in the Tunisian capital this week.
Organized with the support of the U.S. Embassy in Libya and in close cooperation with the Department of Antiquities of Libya and several Libyan institutions, UNESCO and ICCROM, the meeting was meant to develop a shared understanding of the country’s cultural preservation. Participants agreed on medium and long term shared actions, with the participation of national and international stakeholders, and civil society actors. Areas of concern included cultural heritage preservation including archaeological sites, museums and urban heritage.
More than 80 participants attended the meeting, “Safeguarding Libyan Cultural Heritage,” among them representatives from the Ministry of Culture of Libya, various local offices of the Department of Antiquities, the Historic Cities Authority, the National Archives in Tripoli, the Directorate of Customs, Tourist and Antiquities Police, criminal investigative police, universities, the Intangible Heritage Centre in Saba, and the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides of Libya.
Other participants included UNESCO’s institutional partners INTERPOL, the World Customs Organization, UNITAR/UNOSAT, ICOMOS, ICOM, ALECSO, the World Bank, the Smithsonian Institution, the Prince Claus Foundation, among others.
The meeting also provided an opportunity to explore the wide potential of culture in supporting humanitarian response, reconciliation, social cohesion and dialogue. The crucial role of civil society, and in particular youth, was emphasized in achieving these goals.
At the closing of the meeting, Martin Kobler, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General for Libya highlighted the central role of culture and identity in the context of Libya, and the necessity to protect cultural heritage from illicit trafficking and intentional destruction. “Culture is a soft power,” he said, adding, “it shall be brought high up in the agenda of the ongoing reconciliation process.”
Libya Landmarks and Monuments
There are five UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Libya, including the spectacular Leptis Magna Historic Site, ancient Cyrene, the Jebel Acacus Mountains and the old town of Ghadames. Sabratha is yet another of the country’s remarkable UNESCO archaeological sites dating back to Roman times.
Leptis Magna Historic Site
Situated to the east of Tripoli and coming with views of the Mediterranean Sea, Leptis Magna is one of Libya’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites and really is a must-see. This historic site was once Africa’s principal Roman City and is today well preserved, featuring ancient limestone temples, as well as a theatre, marketplaces, Hadrianic bathhouses, a ‘natatio’ (swimming pool), a hillside amphitheatre and a basilica, all dating from the time of the Roman Empire in the 2nd century AD.
The Site includes the Nymphaeum (Temple of Nymphs), the Severan Forum, the Great Colonnaded Street, the Temple of Jupiter Dolichenus and the Triumphal Severan Arch, built to commemorate the Roman emperor Septimus Severus, who was born here in 193 AD. Close to the amphitheatre, the Circus (Hippodrome) was once filled with some 25,000 cheering spectators watching chariot racing and other traditional Roman entertainment.
Overlooking the Mediterranean at Sabratha are a number of ancient buildings, including the Antonine Temple, the Capitoleum, the Temple of Serapis, the Basilica of Justinian and a Roman theatre. The Sabratha Roman Museum is best visited towards the end of your time here, so that you will understand what is on display all the better. From the museum, the pathway leading towards the seafront is actually the old Roman thoroughfare known as the Cardo. Nearby is the Mausoleum of Bes, the Byzantine Gate and the Southern Forum Temple, honouring an unknown deity.
This ancient Greek city dates back to the 7th century BC. Founded by Greeks newly arrived from what is now the holiday island of Santorini, the city was particularly renowned for its cultivation of science and philosophy. Following the Roman invasion, Cyrene was left in ruins. Remains of Greek temples, the Agoro (home of the Capitoleum, the Naval Monument and the Temple of the Octagonal Bases) and the Sanctuary of Apollo can still be seen today, largely untouched since their demise. Also worth looking out for in Cyrene are the mosaics at the House of Hesychius, the Temple of Artemis and the Temple of Zeus.
Known in Arabic as the Akhdar Mountains, this area is renowned for its beautiful scenery, which includes rolling hills, rocky outcrops, waterfalls and gorges. In the past, the mountains have been home to Greek and Italian farmers, with evidence of such occupation often clearly visible in the local architecture.
Jebel Acacus Mountains / Tadrart Acacus
Home to the native Tuareg people, this remote desert region can be accessed via the oasis settlement of Ghat. Of particular interest is the prehistoric rock art that can be found in the Wadi Tashwinet area of the mountains. These paintings and carvings first came to light during the mid-19th century. However, it wasn’t until the mid-1950s that more detailed studies were carried out. After admiring the ancient art work, outdoor enthusiasts can trek in the various ‘wadis’ (dry channels) that wind their way through the rocky landscape.
Some 11 lakes can be found amidst the sandy ‘sea’ around Ubari. High salt levels make the Ubari Lakes especially appealing to swimmers, although in recent years the lowering of the water table has made some of the lakes noticeably shallower. The most popular are the lakes at Mavo and Gebraoun.
Zallaf Sand Dunes
The Zallaf Sand Dunes offer an opportunity for visitors to relax. These attractive dunes surround beautiful saline mineral lakes that are perfect for bathing. In total there are more than 20 individual lakes, often being close to mature palm trees, providing a tropical flavour. The dunes are the home of the indigenous Tuareg people.