Country number: 100
Territory number: 108
When? March 2010.
Who? Group Tour
‘There is no state with a democracy except Libya on the whole planet.’
Leptis Magna, on a promontory overlooking the Mediterranean Sea – once the pride of the Roman Empire in Africa – lay hidden for over 900 years, forgotten by man, beneath Libya’s sand dunes. Founded by the Phoenicians it was key in the Carthaginian Empire but was at its prime under the rule of Septimius Severus during the Roman Empire. In the mid twentieth century it was rediscovered, excavated, designated a UNESCO world heritage site and referred to as the “best preserved” Roman city in the world.
I didn’t realise how lucky I was to go. I almost didn’t get there at all. It was only a weekend trip and I was due to travel on the Friday. I arrived at the airport to be refused boarding – I didn’t have a Libyan translation in my passport. Try getting one of those on a Friday. I managed it- at a price and turned up again at Gatwick the following day. Naturally, no-one checked my passport for the translation when I got there. I missed one set of ruins but joined the bus to Leptis. The streets were complete enough to capture the essence of ancient Rome, the amphitheatre was almost perfectly preserved and there was a world famous Medusa head carving. The Libyans were very friendly (the married guide a little too friendly- he thought I should get an individual dinner with him to make up for being late), Tripoli was quaint, with winding alleys and inviting beach kiosks and the food was good. There were huge billboards featuring Gadhafi everywhere. Though no-one was sure where he actually was – he definitely wasn’t in his palace.
So, this is another sad tale of ‘man’s inhumanity to man’. At least, according to the internet, Leptis Magna still survives, almost entirely abandoned, except for visits by the odd aid worker. Weeds and wild asparagus are growing among the cracks on the cobbled stones of the road leading to the city’s parliament.