Torn from History
With thanks to: The Telegraph
By Ruth Sherlock, Leptis Magna, videos by Sam Tarling/ forThe Telegraph/16 Mar 2015
“As Libya’s war keeps foreign visitors away, the Roman Empire’s magnificent capital in Africa lies forgotten, with weeds growing among the cracks of the cobbled stones
For over 900 years Leptis Magna – once the pride of the Roman Empire in Africa – lay hidden, forgotten by man, beneath Libya’s sand dunes.
Now, excavated and magnificent on a promontory overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, Leptis Magna stands, once again, alone and almost entirely abandoned.
As political instability besets Libya, the theatre, parliament and wide, straight, cobbled roads of the “best preserved” Roman city in the world are devoid of tourists.
“We haven’t had any tourists since the fall of dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011,” said Osama Krema, a Libyan tour guide working at the site. “Occasionally aid workers staying in the country come to visit. They factor in only half an hour initially.
“But then when they enter the site they cannot believe what they are seeing. They cancel their work meetings and stay the rest of the day. Nobody knows the wonder of this place.”
On a recent visit by the Telegraph, weeds and wild asparagus were growing among the cracks on the cobbled stones of the road leading to the city’s parliament.
Local families wandered the site, the children scrambling on the fallen columns near the perfectly preserved sculpture of the goddess Medusa.
A guide shows a map of Leptis Magna in its heyday, around 200AD (Sam Tarling photo)
Founded by the Phoenicians as early as the 7th century BC, it was empty until almost a millennium later when, under the rule of Septimius Severus during the Roman Empire, Leptis enjoyed its golden age.
“Septimius Severus came from this region. Rome appointed him ruler of this city because he had good relationships with all the tribes of the region, and therefore could secure trade routes for the Roman Empire across Africa,” said Mr Krema.
The head of Medusa on a stone arch in the ruins of the forum (Sam Tarling/The Telegraph)
Founded on a part of the Libyan coastline that formed a natural harbour, Leptis Magna grew to become the capital for the Roman Empire in Africa.
One of the main exports to Rome, Mr Krema said, were live lions.
By the third century AD it is thought to have had a population of 80,000 people.
Today the amphitheatre remains almost perfectly preserved.
The circular seating looks down on to a stage. The actors played their parts against a backdrop of grand marble columns and, behind them, a view of the ice blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea.
The acoustics in the theatre remain as they were centuries before: at certain points in the theatre, a gentle whisper will be heard clearly, loudly by every member of the 3,000-person audience.
Thereafter, however, the fortunes of the magnificent city began to fade.
Leptis became the focus of attacks by the Byzantines who, after pillaging the city, transformed it into their stronghold. Then came a second wave of Arab invasion. By the 11th century Leptis’s residents had fled or been killed, their city destroyed.
The city became covered in sand, lying hidden for hundreds of years until it was discovered by Italian archaeologists in the early 1920s.”
And now, the barbarians are at these gates, and those of Cyrene and other north African glories. Palmyra is under the lash. Isis vandals are only a few miles from ancient stones which are the platelets of past civilisations; holding the key to binding future cultures together in peace. Civilisation which is still continued in the hearts of simple, faithful inhabitants of war-torn lands. Under almost impossible conditions, unpretentious heroes persevere, stoutly accomplishing deeds of patriotic devotion.
Libya has just honoured one of those irrepressibly gallant sons for rescuing precious artefacts from thieves looting the pillaged sites.( Penstorm)