Friday, November 20, 2009

Night at the Museum

My boss asked me if I wanted to accept the invitation of the Bureau of Libyan Archeology to attend the opening ceremony of the Museum of Libya. That's an easy decision for me to make. Going to places like museums are more preferable for me than attending social receptions. Sure, I still have to do the required hobnobbing, but at least I get to see historical stuff. Yeah, I'm nerdy that way.

The former Palace of King Idris

The opening ceremony was held in the front of the palace. But before that, Cay and I were able to walk around the place. The palace isn't as big and as grand as Topkapi Palace or Dolmabahce Palace in Istanbul, which housed the Ottoman Sultans, and which I was able to visit last year. However, if you told me I could have a crib like this, you certainly won't hear me complaining.

The place has a quiet and genteel quality, which is made more obvious by its location, the middle of a busy district.

We were personally introduced to the architect of the museum, who gushed with excitement about how he was looking forward to showing us his creation, a state-of-the-art interactive museum that will showcase the history of Libya.

I initially downplayed his statement as a result of hype-making, like Bob Arum talking about a Top Rank Promotion fight. Imagine my surprise, and delight, to see for myself that the place was everything he said it would be, and more.


Once the ribbon-cutting was done, the guests were then ushered inside for a tour of the museum. Before guests enter the main lobby, they will be treated immediately to the sight of statues dating back to the Roman Empire, which were taken from Leptis Magna.

Once inside, you will notice immediately the giant, sleek-looking screen that showed videos from four different angles. It was like something from Madison Square Garden placed in a museum.

Yes, that's a hologram projected on thin air. Just like Princess Leia's message asking for help in "Star Wars: A New Hope." Only there's no hot chick that lip-locks with his bro.

I claim no expertise on the history of Libya, so I'll rely on the teachings of Prof. Wikipedia to carry the meaning of my snapshots of stuff and whatnot. There's no way Wikipedia can be wrong, right? (Now let me just vandalize the wiki entry of that showbiz personality I hate. "Richard G. has only one testicle.")

Prehistory Room

From the web: Archaeological evidence indicates that from at least the eighth millennium B.C. Libya's coastal plain shared in a Neolithic culture, skilled in the domestication of cattle and cultivation of crops, that was common to the whole Mediterranean littoral. To the south, in what is now the Sahara Desert, nomadic hunters and herders roamed a far, well-watered savanna that abounded in game and provided pastures for their stock. Their culture flourished until the region began to desiccate after 2000 B.C. Scattering before the encroaching desert and invading horsemen, the savanna people migrated into the Sudan or were absorbed by the Berbers.

Cyrene Room

From the web: Cyrene was an ancient Greek colony in present-day Shahhat, Libya, the oldest and most important of the five Greek cities in the region. It gave eastern Libya the classical name Cyrenaica that it has retained to modern times. Cyrene lies in a lush valley in the Jebel Akhdar uplands. The city was named after a spring, Kyre, which the Greeks consecrated to Apollo. It was also the seat of the Cyrenaics, a famous school of philosophy in the 3rd century BC, founded by Aristippus, a disciple of Socrates.

Each room had a large touchscreen that would let you search for text, maps, and images about the room's theme.


From the web: Sabratha's port was established, perhaps about 500 BC, as a Phoenician trading-post that served as a coastal outlet for the products of the African hinterland. Sabratha became part of the short-lived Numidian Kingdom of Massinissa before being Romanized and rebuilt in the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD. The Emperor Septimus Severus was born nearby in Leptis Magna, and Sabratha reached its monumental peak during the rule of the Severans. The city was badly damaged by earthquakes during the 4th century, particularly the quake of AD 365. It was rebuilt on a more modest scale by Byzantine governors. Within a hundred years of the Arab conquest of the maghreb, trade had shifted to other ports and Sabratha dwindled to a village.

Each room also has a marker where guests can step on to trigger an audio-visual presentation. It even has (something like) Google maps.

Leptis Magna

From the web: The city appears to have been founded by Phoenician colonists sometime around 1100 BC, although it did not achieve prominence until Carthage became a major power in the Mediterranean Sea in the 4th century BC. It nominally remained part of Carthage's dominions until the end of the Third Punic War in 146 BC and then became part of the Roman Republic, although from about 200 BC onward, it was for all intents and purposes an independent city. Leptis Magna remained as such until the reign of the Roman emperor Tiberius, when the city and the surrounding area were formally incorporated into the empire as part of the province of Africa. It soon became one of the leading cities of Roman Africa and a major trading post. Leptis achieved its greatest prominence beginning in 193, when a native son, Lucius Septimius Severus, became emperor. He favored his hometown above all other provincial cities, and the buildings and wealth he lavished on it made Leptis Magna the third-most important city in Africa, rivaling Carthage and Alexandria.

Hard to capture on camera, but here's a high tech floor that projects visuals images that interact with the walker. (Would that be called a "stepscreen"?) If the image was that of a desert, any place a person steps into becomes lush with vegetation. If the image was that of water, where you would step on becomes dry land.

There are other rooms that feature the various facets of Libya's history, art, culture, and society. I wasn't able to take pictures from all the rooms, though, as we had to keep up with the main pack.

Contemporary Art Room

The Glorious Revolution Room

Of course, there has to be a room dedicated to the Libyan Leader and the Great Revolution of September that deposed King Idris and created the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya. You didn't think they'd forget that now, did you?

Carpets Room


This, I figure, would be the view of the former king whenever he addressed the crowd.

The tour ended and the guests proceeded to the courtyard where we had dinner and were entertained by musicians who performed traditional Libyan music.

Admittedly, I was very much impressed by the Museum of Libya. The technology was impressively cutting edge. After dinner, which by chance allowed Cay and I to meet a group of Italian archeologists (Indiana Jones + Mario Bros.?), I was able to talk once again with the museum's architect and I congratulated him on his magnificent work. He said he was given a relatively short time to finish the project but was thankful that the Libyan authorities gave him all the support he needed. He also said the museum won't be open to the public anytime soon, though.

Hopefully, it will be able to accept guests in the near future so that they can see this modern reconstruction of a place of tradition, which tells the history of an ancient nation in a manner that fits well in this digital age.

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