A photo-journal of our Libyan Solar Eclipse & Sahara trip, Mar.-Apr. 2006
PAGES:   Index | Tripoli | People | Roman sites | In Tent City | Eclipse |Tent City story | To the Sahara
In the Sahara | Sun, sand, water | Desert notes | Drivin' | Some civilization | Last days
 Libya links | | Eclipse links | Photo gallery |

Photos & journal by John Leeson (Toronto, Canada)
 email:  jooktoronto@gmail.com

LIBYAN ROMAN SITES: Sabratha & Leptis Magna

Click on photos for larger images:

On the two days before we left for the eclipse, we visited the two greatest Roman sites in Libya. Known to be among the most impressive anywhere in the world, they are the main tourist attractions in the country. They more than lived up to their reputation. Magnificent – even for “non-antiquarians”.


However, as it turned out, the remainder of the trip -- the eclipse, the people, and the Sahara -- were so powerful, that many of us found the memories of these sites faded somewhat not long afterward.




The ancient city of Sabratha lies about an hour west of Tripoli; it was founded in the 4th century BC, and became a major Roman colony in the 1st century AD. It was eventually abandoned around the 7th century, lost and covered in the Saharan sands, and not discovered until the early 20th century. Much of it, including the magnificent theatre – once the largest in Africa – was faithfully reconstructed after the site was rediscovered.

Sabratha: 2 views of the theatre

Leptis Magna

East of Tripoli is the antiquarian jewel of Libya, described as one of the few places in the world where you can truly picture a Roman city. It was a jewel of the Roman empire, built and funded by wealthy Romans, and the luxury of its day is clearly evident, with grand buildings, wide boulevards, large baths, magnificent theatre and forum  -- and a brothel. The Lonely Planet guide comments, “It must have been a great place to live”.


The site is huge and overpowering. Like Sabratha and other sites, everything is open. Perhaps too open – tourists are often seen walking over and climbing up priceless artifacts.



At these sites, guides are supposed to be compulsory. At Sabratha, our guide was rather weak, so most of us wandered through the site on our own. At Leptis Magna, however, our guide, Saleh Krima, was excellent. A fisherman from the area, he learned much of the archaeology and history of the area from working with Italian archaeologists working on the site.


He was informed, entertaining, with a sense of humour and an excellent communicator. After our visit, some of us thought we should take up a collection as an extra tip for him. Everyone I spoke to agreed enthusiastically -- with one exception. When I walked through our bus, I didn't look forward to approaching the couple we had nicknamed Mr. & Mrs. Sour.


They suited the name, never looked like they enjoyed anything, and rarely spoke -- even to each other. (I could understand why!) When I approached Mr. S., suggesting a contribution as little as 1 dinar (about 1 Canadian dollar), he said "I'm not inclined to." The day before, when our bus was about 15 minutes late to take us to our hotel, he had demanded angrily, "What's going on here?!"


Fortunately, almost everyone else took a pretty positive attitude to everything, problems and "surprises" together. Why travel otherwise? We were "not inclined" to spend any time around sourpusses; thank goodness we had few on our trip!.


Theatre at Leptis Magna

Saleh Krima

Sign pointing way to brothel


Villa Sileen

Nearby Leptis, is another treasure, but one much less visited.


While Leptis is grand and overwhelming, the Villa Sileen is exquisite on a smaller and more personal scale. This was the private home of a wealthy family of Leptis Magna, perched – like a modern-day millionaire’s villa – spectacularly on a Mediterranean cliff.


Inside the house, every single room is filled with gorgeous, detailed mosaics and frescoes. The artistry in its beauty and quantity must be experienced to be believed.



Mosaics at Villa Sileen

On our return to Tripoli, part one of our trip was over. Tomorrow would bring the reason for our long expedition
NEXT - On to the eclipse!

For more of my photos of these sites, click here. Also, see Sai Vallabha's site for some excellent photos of Sabratha  and Leptis Magna (Sai was part of our group).

PAGES: Index | Tripoli | People | Roman sites | In Tent CityEclipse | Tent City story |To the Sahara
In the Sahara | Sun, sand, water |  Desert notes | Drivin' | Some civilization | Last days