Private viewTRAVEL/TOURSprivate viewA chance to visit two ofLibya's ancient ruined cities brighthorizonsCultural adventures for 2010thisissueSome of the best-preserved cities of the ancient world lie along Libya'sMediterranean coastline - and visitors are few in number, enabling whatfeels like truly privileged access. Sue Dobsonintroduces two of them,Cyrene and Leptis Magna, and outlines some of their highlights
www.nadfas.org.ukNADFAS REVIEW / SPRING 2010 47Opposite:LeptisMagna was builton a vast scale Below left:Detailed carvingshave beenbeautifullypreservedTRAVEL/TOURSCrossroad of ancient empires,home to a wealth of Greek andRoman cities, Libya is where theSahara and the Mediterranean meet.Driving along the coast road out ofBenghazi, it's hard to imagine thatdesert makes up most of this vastcountry, three times the size of France.Carved through white limestone cliffsand dizzyingly deep gorges, the roadreaches into the Jebel al-Akhdar, theGreen Mountains, where barley, wheat,olives, apples and grapes thrive in therich red soil. Sheep and goats grazehillsides; wild flowers bloom inprofusion. In small towns, minaretsspike above jumbles of low, flat-roofedhouses sprouting satellite dishes. Cyrene, founded by the Greeks fromThira (Santorini) in the seventh centuryBC, lies about a two-hour drive fromBenghazi. It was a flourishing city,famed as a centre of intellectual,medical and artistic excellence, and itsruins lie scattered across a wide area ofsweeping hillside and over plainsseparated by a valley.Tall columns define streets andsquares. The Greek gymnasium, sceneof races and sporting events, becamethe Roman forum - 22 pillars wide, 32pillars long - where mass gatheringswere held. In Cyrene you find Romanmosaic floors exposed to the elements,yet still amazingly intact.Images of Hercules and Hermeswatch over the main road leading to theagora, a public square with temples, acircular sanctuary and the splendidNaval Monument dating from the thirdcentury BC. The monumental gatewayedging the Sanctuary of Apollo - acollection of temples, baths and publicbuildings - dates from the same period.The Temple of Apollo, however, hasfoundations and marble slabs over the22m-long altar dating from the sixthcentury BC. A majestic lion with anenigmatic smile stares stonily ahead,immune to tales of animal sacrifices anddancing maidens. Tiny bulbs flower from crevices,greenery spills out from crumbling walls,the air is scented with wild thyme - butof silphium, a parsley-like plant for whichCyrene was famous, there is no sign. Itwas a valuable cure-all herb muchvalued in Roman times and was longago harvested to extinction, The magnificent Temple of Zeus, itsmassive columns soaring skywards,stands dramatically at the coast. Builtby the Greeks in the fifth century BC, itwas larger than the Parthenon inAthens. The Romans rededicated it toJupiter. Like the rest of Cyrene, it wasdestroyed during the Jewish Revolt of115AD. Rebuilt by the Emperor Hadrian,it collapsed under the earthquake of365AD, and for decades Italianarchaeologists have been painstakinglybringing it back to life.However if Cyrene is impressive,Leptis Magna, just 3km from the port ofAl-Khums, leaves every visitorbreathless. Founded by Phoeniciantraders in the 10th century BC, underRoman rule Leptis became rich throughthe export of gold, ivory, gems, slavesand wild animals from its port. Thesurrounding agricultural area providedgrain, oil and olives to the Empire.Among the greatest of world heritagesites, the architecture here isspectacular. The tyrannical Romanemperor Septimus Severus was born atLeptis Magna and lavished vast sums ofmoney on his home town. The marble-panelled triumphal arch, built tocommemorate his visit in 203AD, is your introduction to this vast city sitewhere everything was built on amonumental scale. Hadrian's marble and granite publicbaths rivalled those in Rome, as did twolarge forums. The great judicial basilica,its pillars extravagantly sculpted tohonour the gods, still has an altar inplace. There are splendid temples andshrines, great colonnaded streets, atheatre with excellent acoustics, theremains of shops alongside the marketplace - even the Roman toilets areworthy of attention. Down at theharbour, the remarkable amphitheatrethat seated 16,000 spectators hasviews to the sandy beach where theoutline of the long circus, scene ofchariot races, can still be discerned.By the seventh century AD, invasions,wars and earthquakes had left the oncemagnificent city abandoned to theencroaching desert. When 20th-centuryarchaeologists began excavating, theyfound the concealing sand had done anexcellent job of preserving its ruins.Awesome in its scale, the wonder ofLeptis Magna is that it retains a realsense of being a living, working city.There's a thrilling freshness about theintricate decorations carved into thestone, and the sophistication of thebuildings and the quality of thecraftsmanship are inspirational.There's something else that's specialabout both Cyrene and Leptis Magna -the lack of crowds. Indeed, you maywell find your party to be the onlyvisitors. It feels a great privilege.Libyans are an incredibly friendly andhospitable people, but the localbureaucracy is legendary and individualtravel in the country is not encouraged,so it is much simpler to make thejourney in a group. Visiting Libya'sspectacular sights on a cruise ship isthe easiest way of all. We are not endorsing any product in this section. Advertsare published for members' convenience. Normal termsand conditions apply (see page 3). Any travel ad carryingthe Tour NADFAS logo means a commission payment ismade to NADFAS on the product or trip advertised.Those that continue to support us through advertisingonly will not use the Tour NADFAS name and logo.TAKE A VOYAGE OF DISCOVERY.New Tour NADFAS affiliate Voyages ofDiscovery's In Search of AncientCivilisationscruise will include stops inLibya for access to Cyrene and LeptisMagna. Voyages of Discovery describesits cruises, aboard 4-star Discovery, as"simplicity itself - see more, do more".And, thanks to its renowned guestspeakers, the group also promises"insights not everyone gets to see". Forfurther information on the In Search ofAncientCivilisationscruise, seepage 50.