Monday, February 1, 2010

Jewel of the Mediterranean

I've already written in a previous post how much I've been looking forward to seeing Leptis Magna ever since I learned I was going to be assigned to Libya. This has been described by many as one of the most impressive ruins of the Roman period because of how well-preserved the entire city is.

Last week, Cay and I had the sudden urge to go out of town. Leptis Magna was easily on the top of our heads among the possible places to visit. One chilly winter morning, we woke up early for the hour-and-a-half drive from Tripoli to the site of the ancient city.

I was advised that winter was the best time to walk around the ruins of Libya as the heat of the summer here can be really punishing. We eventually learned that going during the coldest period of winter wasn't a good idea either. (Duh! I say to myself.) But the beauty of the place will make you forget the cold.

To give you a better idea of Leptis Magna, I would like to cite the writing of the ever-reliable Prof. Wikipedia about this ancient city:

"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 Septimus 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."

They say that the reason why Leptis Magna is so well-preserved is that no other city was built on the site and that the structures were built of sturdy limestone that was more resistant to earthquakes and the passage of time.

The place can really make the imagination of history buffs run wild. While there are a lot of Roman ruins to be found around the Mediterranean, they are usually a collection of buildings. Leptis Magna is an entire city that was seemingly forgotten by time. It's like the inhabitants just packed up and left. Although history is never that simple, this place is a true gift to humanity. This is why the place has been chosen to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This was a place where you can walk through history, for the small price of LYD 6, just like its sister Sabratha.

The first thing tourists will notice is the imposing Arch of Septimus Severus where carvings showing details in the life of the emperor can be appreciated.


The rocky streets of the city are great blank slates for one to build his own image of a once bustling city that dominated the African part of the Roman Empire.



Another interesting thing to notice while walking around are the different types of birds flying all over the place. You might even see some rabbits jumping around the fields. It kind of gives you the feeling that when the people left the city, nature just took over the administration of the place.

Here's a picture of the part of the Chalcidicum built to honor Augustus and Venus.


The Theatre was, by far, my favorite part of Leptis Magna. Not only was the building magnificent-looking, it also offered an amazing view of the city with the Mediterranean Sea in the background. The feeling of being in the middle of such beauty was overwhelming to the senses.




Below is a picture of what was once the city's market.


There are many remains of what were once temples found in Leptis Magna. This one is called the Temple of Serapis.


The Severan Forum offers several interesting facades with various designs.


The Severan Basilica, with its grand pillars, once served as a Christian church.



This spot was once the city's sporting grounds.


This is called the Nymphaeum, in honor of the nymphs.


There are guides that you can hire to give you an academic description of everything to be seen Leptis Magna. They come at a cost, though. As a tip for cheapskates like me, just walk within an earshot of a group that hired a guide and then act nonchalantly as you listen to what their guide is saying (in our case, we had to make sure the guide was catering to an English-speaking group).

And lastly, we have the Hadrianic Baths. This is the place where the bigshots of Leptis Magna took... well, baths. There were places were people can take cold and hot baths, places where you can bathe with many or a few. There's a swimming pool here. And you'll still see the toilets where people went to go pee or go poop.


After a few hours of walking, producing copious amounts of sweat but an even greater amount of enjoyment, we finally headed home. Good thing too as it soon got so cold that snow appeared on the road back to Tripoli. Snow in Libya. Never thought I'd see that.

So, after visiting Sabratha, the Medina of Tripoli, and Leptis Magna, what other possible adventure could Cay and I have in Libya? Well, there's the desert and oases beckoning us to make a journey. But that'll take some time. My ass is either too fat or too lazy for a trip like that now.

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