The fascination of Libya is the contrast between its incredibly ancient beginnings as a settlement in prehistoric times to its present-day efforts to overcome the Gaddafi years – perhaps one of the most devastating periods in the last 2,500 years of history. Most of the remaining ancient attractions date back to the Ottoman period or magnificent Greek and Roman remains, and the Sahara desert, once a green and fertile land, is now one of the most forbiddingly spectacular regions on earth.
Tripoli Old Town
Tripoli’s walled Old Town and its surroundings are worth hours of exploration for their heritage buildings, Roman arch and stunning old mosques dating as early as the 8th century AD. There are elegant former consulates and winding, narrow streets lined with tiny stores and eateries. The historic palaces of former rulers are being restored and open to tourists, while the Tripoli Bazaar is famous for its crafts including fine jewelry and traditional artifacts.
Address: Tripoli, Libya
One of the most spectacular sights in Libya is Tripoli’s massive Red Fort, set on an island adjacent to the shore. Built in the 16th century on the site of a Roman military encampment, it was the seat of power for Ottoman conquerors. The magnificent fortress also holds one of Libya’s finest museums, although renovations are presently taking place, so some of the galleries are closed.
Address: Tripoli, Libya
Website: http://www.temehu.com/tripoli.red fort
Set just off Tripoli’s Green Square, known as Martyrs’ Square, and based in the Red Fort, the imposing Jamahiraya Museum was put together with the assistance of UNESCO and contains one of the Mediterranean’s finest classical art collections. It gives a superb overview of the history of Libya from the Neolithic era to present day, set in 47 beautifully-designed galleries.
Address: Martyrs’ Square. Tripoli, Libya
The UNESCO World Heritage site of Leptis Magna was one of the Roman Empire’s loveliest cities. Set 80 miles from Tripoli, it was built in the second century AD on the site of the Phoenician port of Roman Emperor-to-be Septimius Severus, an expert in urban planning. Its forum, Severan Arch and basilica are its crown glories, surrounded by temples, quays, warehouses, fortifications and all the trimmings of a major trading center. Roman baths, a finely-preserved amphitheater and mansions can all be explored.
Address: Khoms, Libya
Located in a lush valley amongst the Jebal Akhdar uplands, Cyrene was a Greek city populated by arrivals from the island of Thira (Santorini), and became the most important Greek stronghold in the region. Founded in the 7th century BC, it was involved in the Peloponnesian Wars in the 5th century on the side of the Spartan armies. After the fall of Classical Greece, the Romans took over until an earthquake destroyed most of the area, causing its population to flee. Nowadays, the ancient site with the temple of Apollo, sanctuary of Demeter and other Greek and Roman ruins is a major attraction and a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Address: near Shahhat, Libya
Originally the port of the great city of Cyrene, Apollonia became its successor as a trading center after the earthquake which destroyed the city in the 4th century AD. An ancient Roman amphitheater perches at the edge of the ocean and several ruined temples to unknown deities are all that’s been excavated to this day. The remoteness and mystery make a good side-trip after a visit to Cyrene.
Address: near Susa village, Libya
Set on the Mediterranean coastline of Libya about 40 miles from Tripoli, Sabratha was the third of the "three cities" of ancient Tripolis. Established as a trading port 2,500 years ago by the Phoenicians, the settlement was an important Roman town by the third century AD. Spectacular architecture includes a magnificent amphitheater, three glorious temples, an ancient Christian basilica from the time of the Emperor Justinian, Roman baths and stunning mosaic flooring. Some of the excavated treasures are found in a nearby museum, with the rest in Tripoli’s National Museum. Sabratha is another of Libya’s UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Address: Zawiya district, northwest Libya
Located in the mountainous area of Nafousa some 60 miles from Tripoli, Gharyan is known for its still-inhabited Berber cave dwellings. Dug vertically through solid rock, the charming homes are cool in the searing summers and warm in the sub-desert winters. Rooms open onto wood-planked patios and cave walls are whitewashed and hung with traditional tapestries. The city itself is famous for its olives, olive oil, colorful woven carpets, and pottery kilns.
Address: Nafousa district, Libya