UNESCO/WHS
Cultural Sites of Libya



A little-known - or poorly-known - heritage, preserved partly by the absence of tourism and offering an array of treasures, has observed the rise and fall of brilliant and sophisticated civilizations on this vast territory. Dating from prehistory to Islamic civilization, the five sites added to the World Heritage List between 1982 and 1986 provide a clear illustration that Libya has a heritage whose incalculable value belongs to all humanity.

Three sites, Cyrene, Leptis Magna and Sabratha, bear witness to the life that flourished in Libya during the Punic, Greek, Roman and Byzantine eras. These sites - and particularly Leptis and Cyrene - are attracting attention from many foreign archaeologists, including teams from France, Italy and the United Kingdom.

Unfortunately, the prehistoric site of Tadrart Acacus, a continuation of Tassili n'Ajjer in Algeria, is deteriorating because of tourists or specialist photographers who wet the cave paintings to make the drawings stand out better, or because of vandalism. Although difficult to get to, this site is not guarded and has no protective mechanisms to keep visitors to keep away.

Similarly, the ancient city of Ghadames, known - like Shibam in Yemen - as the 'pearl of the desert', is gradually falling into ruin because its fragile clay houses are not being maintained. The covered streets are becoming unusable and only a few inhabitants are struggling to pass on to future generations this architectural heritage with its unique style of construction and internal decoration.

All these sites deserve special attention, both from researchers (Théodore Monod, a well-known French biologist, went to the Libyan desert in 1991) and from conservation experts. CRATerre, a department of the Grenoble (France) School of Architecture, specializing in clay architecture, could suggest effective ways of saving the Ghadames houses. UNESCO's Division of Water Sciences could devise a project with local experts to protect Leptis Magna against flooding when the Lebda wadi bursts its banks. The technological sponsorship unit of the EDF (the French electricity company) could take an interest in the problem of Sabratha's deteriorating stones.

The sites are listed below in chronological order, as they entered into the history of the country:

TADRART ACACUS

The mountainous region of Tadrart Acacus is situated near the country's southwest border, east of the city of Ghat. The site also includes the Murzuch desert which bears traces of the different phases of the palaeolithic era, during which hunters lived surrounded by flora and fauna similar to those that today thrive in tropical regions. Tools have been unearthed across an area covering thousands of kilometres. In the Tadrart Acacus mountains, cave paintings and carvings of various styles are scattered throughout almost all the valleys, representing the various cultural groups that lived there during those long periods of prehistory. This cave art, discovered in the Libyan desert of Fezzan, bears witness to marked climatic changes resulting from the gradual encroachment of the desert. Various European experts have studied these paintings and carvings, but it was Professor Fabrizio Mori who succeeded in clearly distinguishing the different periods represented:

Although the carvings have so far withstood the ravages of time and human intervention, the paintings are disappearing.

CYRENE

This site, located in the Gebel Akhdar region, was founded in the seventh century B.C. in an area where Carthaginian influence was predominant. From the fifth to fourth centuries B.C., this Greek trading post, situated inland, knew its most prosperous period and was able gain the goodwill of Alexander the Great, without falling under his sword. Then in 321 B.C. the satrap of Egypt, Ptolemy, easily gained control of the region. In 96 B.C., one of his descendants relinquished the city to the Romans until the start of its decline, after the tidal wave of 365 A.D.. However, between the third and seventh centuries A.D. the building of churches in Cyrenaica, by then a Christian region, the city of Cyrene and especially its port, Apollonia, testified to the prosperity of the area. This wealth was produced by stock raising, agricultural production and considerable maritime trade.

Cyrene, a city steeped in history and legends for a thousand years, is one of the most complex archaeological sites in the Mediterranean region. Like the other Greek cities of Libya it provides an outstanding example of prosperity in the Mediterranean and African worlds, whose attributes it managed harmoniously to combine.

Monument after monument, the relics found by archaeologists illustrate an extremely clear aesthetic ambition and the religious fervour that inspired the people, focused on their protector, Apollo.

The site of Cyrene, which has not yet been fully explored, contains some remarkable relics from the Greco-Roman period. Among the most important are: