Monday, 21 May 2007

The Antiquities of Libya: A Country Rich in History

Libya is still in the Process of Re-Branding itself as a tourism destination. The country certainly has great potential, boasting an extensive, undeveloped, unspoilt Mediterranean coastline, year-round sunshine, an abundance of Greek and Roman architecture and spectacular Saharan scenery, all within close proximity to Europe’s major generating markets.
Libya is also rich in history that s more legendary than it is familiar. In fact, since the Paleolithic era, Libya provided a setting for cultures to thrive at a time when the climate of the Sahara was still humid and hunter-gatherers were able to migrate across these vast expanses of land. The technological advances of the Neolithic era not only made it possible to produce tools and to make the transition to farming, but also enabled the artistic development of images that were first carved into and later painted onto rocks. The indigenous coastal populations developed from the 7th and 5th centuries BC in contact with the Greeks in the East and the Phoenicians in the west. This led to the devolvement of some of the most active urban settlements in the Mediterranean, which were not only centres of important artistic production but also imported artefacts from the other artistic lands. This vitality characterized Cyrene and Leptis Magna, but also centres such as Ptolemais or Tauchira in the East and Oea - which later became Tripoli - and Sabratha in the west. Within country the Garamata people who were still independent established the foundation for an original cultural existence during the first century AD. The invasion of the Arabs did not put an end to this existence and Tripoli, in particular, remained one of the major trading centres in the Mediterranean area throughout the medieval period.It is thanks to the Libyan Leader Muammar Al-Qathafi and the revolution, as well as active work of the Libyan Department of Ancient History and the cooperation of foreign archaeological centres, that the importance of this heritage has been recognised and that efforts have been made to re-establish its true value. The Al-Qathafi international foundation for Charity under the leadership of the Seif El-Islam Al-Qathafi has decided to put a selection of the most important work of Libyan heritage on public display. They want to give European visitors the opportunity to get a better insight into the variety and the richness of Libya’s historical past. Libya has always been a centre of creativity and a bridge between the Orient and the Occident; between the Mediterranean and sub-Saharan Africa. Visitors to Libya could well see what the Greek philosopher Aristotle meant, some 23 centuries ago, when he said ‘Libya always has some thing new to offer!’Tripoli, ancient Oea, was founded by Punic settlers from Carthage (near present day Tunis) at the beginning of the 5th century BC, but little archaeological evidence remains because the site has been continuously inhabited since ancient times. The most important traces of Oea’s past are from the 2nd century AD-the arch of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius, built in AD 166 in imported Greek marble. From the time of Emperor Commodus, the sun and heir of Marcus Aurelius, there are the remains of the temple in honour of the Genius of the colony (a colony was a town whose citizens were all automatically Roman citizens). In the neighbourhood of Oea, at Gargaresh, many Roman period tombs were found. Christian cemeteries in Ain Zara and N’Gila show that a Christian population was still in existence there until the 10th century AD.Tripoli (‘the three towns’) after concentrating here the population of Sabratha and Leptis Magna together with the population of Oea.

Friday, 18 May 2007

Libyan Food Culture - Couscous, Fish and Fruit in Abundance

Libyan cuisine culture is a mixture of Arabic and Mediterranean, with a strong Italian influence. Italy's legacy from the days when Libya was an Italian colony can be seen in the popularity of pasta on its menus, particularly macaroni.

A famous local dish is couscous, which is a boiled cereal (traditionally millet, now fairly often wheat) used as a base for meat and potatoes. The meat is usually lamb, but chicken is served occasionally. Sharba is a highly-spiced Libyan soup. Bazin, a local speciality is a hard paste, made from barley, salt and water.

Fish is in abundance in Libya, and fresh fish is available every day and night. Therefore it is no surprise that fish diches are also very popular with Libyans and foreigners alike. An evening’s visit to one of the great number of restaurants at the so-called Il-Hofra, is an experience no visitor to Libya should miss.Each and every restaurant at Il-Hof-ra displays a great variety of fish on large trays in front of the restaurant. The customer picks out the fish he fancies, checks the price and then sits at a table inside the restaurant to be served the mouth-watering savoury fish dishes grilled on charcoal normally at the entrance to the restaurant. Libyans also seem to have a sweet tooth. Everybody seems to like desert, not just after meals. Libyans have all sorts of traditional desert dishes, one of the most popular being the Asida, usually eaten on Eid day. It consists of dough eaten with melted butter and honey. Fruit, mostly oranges, but not only, is also in abu-ndance in Libya and foreigners are usually impressed by its large size, juiciness and deliciousness. Libyans prefer to eat at home, except on Fridays, when they enjoy family beachside picnics, or go to restaurants. Many of the eating places have sections specially reserved for family parties.For the most part, foreigners use restaurants and cafes during the other days of the week. Menus have become more sophisticated and foreigners eating out can find a great variety of mainly Libyan and Middle Eastern cuisine. International cuisine is also available in the newly opened restaurants and large hotels. I accordance with the laws of Islam all alcoholic drink is banned in Libya. Bottled mineral wat-er is however widely consumed, as are various soft drinks and international brands of non-alcoholic beer.Fruit juices, particularly orange, can be bought in season from street stalls. Then there’s Libyan tea, which is a thick beverage served in a small glass, often accompanied by mint or peanuts. Coffee is also very popular and high-quality brands from Europe and South America are easily accessible. A cup of tea or coffee is normally followed by a glass of water, again, influenced by years of Italian occupation of Libya in the last century.

Tuesday, 15 May 2007

Libya: a few useful facts

Surprisingly, Libya’s capital has a Shari’a Haiti (Hait St.). The reason for this is that it was thanks to the Haitian delegate’s vote that the UN decided to give Libya its independence in 1951. Most cities also have a Shari’a al Fatih, a 1st of September St., this being the day in 1969 that a group of young army officers overthrew the Sanusi Kingdom of Libya.

And finally, the Libyan year is neither Islamic (starting with the Prophet Mohamed’s migration or hijra from Mecca to Medina) nor, of course Christian. The Libyan calendar starts from in 570, year of the Prophet’s birth.

Monday, 14 May 2007

Leptis or Lepcis Magna?

There are two spelling of the city's name. Leptis is the version to be found in the ancient texts, and the one preferred by historians in the past Lepcis, however, is the name most widely found on inscriptions in the city. This is a more or less exact transcription of the city's original Punic name, based on the consonants L-Q-Y. The epithet Magna appears to have been added in the first century AD, to distinguish the town from the obviously smaller Leptis Minus on the coast of the Sahel region in modern Tunisia. The inhabitants of Leptis were of mixed Berber and Punic stock. Though heavily Romanized by the third century AD, they clearly continued to use the more local name Lepcis.