Monday, 24 September 2007

Libya: Church Reaps Benefits of Nation's Improved Foreign Relations

Catholic Information Service for Africa (Nairobi)
21 September 2007

A new wave of religious freedom is sweeping across Libya, Christians say, after three decades of restrictions due to the mostly Muslim nation's hostility towards the West.
"People are respecting us. They accept us. We are free," Catholic Bishop Giovanni Martinelli, the Apostolic Vicar of the capital, Tripoli, recently told Ecumenical News International.
The 1969 revolution that brought Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi to power led to church buildings being confiscated and then closed down. Catholics were allowed to keep only two churches, one in Tripoli and the other in Benghazi.
"The biggest church was a cathedral, but was turned into a mosque. They took all the churches with the revolution," recalled Bishop Martinelli.
But now there are Greek Orthodox, Coptic Orthodox, and Anglican communities, said Bishop Martinelli, a Franciscan monk.
The international community imposed sanctions against Libya in the early 1990s after it was accused of involvement in the bombing of a US airliner over the Scottish town of Lockerbie in 1988. The UN Security Council lifted the sanctions in 2003 when the country accepted responsibility for the attack, and agreed to pay compensation to the families of the victims.
During the period of sanctions, the Vatican quietly continued a dialogue with Tripoli. "The sanctions were political," recounted Bishop Martinelli, who was jailed by the Libyan authorities in 1986 when the US bombed Tripoli.
Most worshippers are Africans, mainly illegal migrants, and Asians, and Martinelli now celebrates three services in different languages every Friday, whilst the Muslims go to their mosques. There are Christian services in Korean and English in the morning and in the afternoon there is a service in Filipino. On Sunday the Mass is in Arabic.
Recently, and in a spirit of ecumenism, the bishop allowed a Catholic church, which the secular authorities had closed and taken over after the revolution, to be given to the Anglican community in Libya. The church building, dating back to the 17th century, was rededicated on March 9.

An American at Leptis: Libya’s Rich history and Proud People Are its Greatest Assets

I have had the honour to visit Libya for business several times this past year. Each trip has open-ed my eyes to wonderful new things. Fortunately, I have been able to find time to explore parts of this magnificent country at the heart of the Mediterranean. Now that relations are beginning to thaw between Libya and The Unit-ed States, I hope more of my fellow countrymen are able to visit so they too can experience Libya's rich history. Oil has been an important commodity for Libya the past 40 years but its rich history and proud people are really its greatest assets. No place better exemplifies its rich history than Leptis Magna - arguably the most well preserved and most extensive Rom-an city in the world. So special is this place, that it has been designated a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).Instantly you can imagine yourself traveling back in time to a distant civilization some two thousand years ago. Lazily walking along its cobblestone streets you are amazed with the sheer number of marble pillars that reach for the heavens. Overlooking the Mediterranean, you can imagine ships coming from far away lands. Vivid colours adorn the clothes of the multitudes of people here to trade and sell. Every tribe of North Africa is represented here at Leptis. Merchants sell animals, rare riches and textiles made from the best materials. Ninety minutes by car is all it takes as you travel east of Tripoli, along Libya's magnificent northern coast. According to the scholars, it was the Phoenicians that first developed Leptis around 1100 BC. But the great city did not gain prominence until a thousand years later when Carthage came to power in the Mediterranean. Roman Emperor Tibe-ius formally incorporated Leptis into the Roman Empire around 46 B.C. But the real emergence of Leptis Magna came as Emperor Septimus Severus, a native son of Leptis was crowned Emperor of Rome in 193 A.D. Archeological buildings, theaters, bathhouses and markets were built of the finest materials Rome could supply. Limestone, marble and granite were brought from Greece, Ita-y, Egypt and Asia. Emperor Septimus spared no expense and made Leptis Magna the third most-important city in Africa, rivaling Carthage and Alexandria. In 205, he and the imperial family visited the city and received great honors. A monument commemorating this historic occasion, the Severan Arch, is the first thing you see today as you walk in the park.Existing to this day the archeological buildings, markets, bathhouses and theaters of Leptis Magna are a testament to the magnificent engineering, craftsmanship and sheer determination that made the Roman Empire great. Leptis was sacked by a Berber tribe in 523 A.D. and quickly abandoned. It was reclaimed by na-ture and remained buried under sand for more about 800 years - perfectly protected. Not until the early 1900s was Leptis re-discovered - with the first major excavation to unearth the lost city be-ginning around 1920. You can spend several hours here and even the kids won't get bored. The Libyans have done a wonderful job excavating the site and are wonderful hosts. Unlike most historic places in the United States you can touch, climb and take pictures of anything you like at Leptis. The only thing not allowed is taking relics home as souvenirs. Leptis lies right beside the sea, access to the beach is easy and a quick swim is pleasant on a hot day. If relations between Libya and the United States continue to warm Leptis Magna will become a tourist hotspot like no other in Northern Africa.

John McLemore

Acropolis at Cyrene Most Important Reminder to A Past Civilisation

In 74 BC Cyrene was created a Roman province; but, whereas under the Ptolemies the Jewish inhabitants had enjoyed equal rights, they now found themselves increasingly oppressed by the now autonomous and much larger Greek population. Tensions came to a head in the insurrection of the Jews of Cyrene under Vespasian (AD 73) and especially Trajan (AD 117). This revolt was quelled by Marcius Turbo, but not before huge numbers of people had been killed (Dio Cassius, lxviii. 32). According to Eusebius the outbreak of violence left Libya depopulated to such an extent that soon, new colonies had to be established there just to maintain the viability of continued settlement.Cyrene's agriculturally based economy thrived on the export of wheat, legumes, fruit, sheep and goat-derived products, horses, and a highly sought-after herbal plant known as silphium, which grew exclusively on the Libyan gebel. In fact silphium was Cyrene's chief local export through much of its early history. It was even pictured on most Cyrenian coins, until it was harvested to extinction. Though commercial competition from Carthage and Alexandria reduced its trade, Cyrene, with its port of Apollonia (Marsa Susa), remained an important urban centre until the earthquake of 365. Ammianus Marcellinus described it in the 4th century as a deserted city, and Synesius, a native of Cyrene, described it in the following century as a vast ruin at the mercy of the nomads.One of the more significant features of the archaeological site of Cyrene is the Temple of Apollo, which was originally constructed as early as 7th century BC. Other ancient structures include a Temple to Deme-ter and a partially unexcavated Temple to Zeus. There is a large necropolis approximately 10 km bet-ween Cyrene and its ancient port of Apollonia.Three main roads divided the ancient urban centre. The Valley Road follows the sloping valley between the two hills to the Sanctuary of Apollo with a monumental entrance, temples, altars, fountains, theatre, and later, Roman-period baths.The second road, named after the city's first king, Battus, connects the still unexcavated acropolis zone with the city gymnasium and Roman-period forum. The third road crosses the main axis of the city east of the forum. At its intersection with the Valley Road were more temples, a basilica, and a series of important Roman-period urban villas. In the northeast corner of the walled city is the impressive Doric temple dedicated to Zeus and the city's still unexcavated circus or hippodrome. An extensive series of necropolis with well-articulated rock-cut tombs line the roads and wadis leading out of the city, especially to the north, south, and west.To the southwest of the city in the Wadi bel Gadir lies the extra-mural Sanctuary to Demeter and Persephone, a recently discovered Greek temple and theatre complex, and the still unexplored south-eastern suburbs and necropolis of Cyrene that run along the main road leading from Cyrene to Balagrae (modern el-Beida).The city, enclosed by a protective circuit of stone defensive walls, has two massive hills that as distinct as they were similar. The southwest hill (on which lie the acropolis, the agora, and forum) is totally free of modern building. The northeast hill is largely covered with the old Arab village of Shahat, the public buildings and the residential quarters. There are also stands of reforested evergreens, and cultivated plough lands, and remains largely unexplored.A great temple to Zeus was built on one of the hills as well as an impressive amphitheatre. On the other hill, the public buildings and the residential quarters were sited. It was also on the hill that the market place was to be found.However, it was the imposing Acropolis, not unlike the one to be found in Athens itself, which dominated and united together the two hills of Cyrene.


Born Out of the Great Deserts of North Africa

The territory of Libya reaches its furthest point south, deep into the interior of Africa, on the frontier with northern Sudan and extends its northernmost point by the Mediterranean Sea. There are at least 2,000 kilometres of coastline and it is not surprising that in the past Libya was generally known as the “Gateway to Africa” and the link between Europe and Africa.It can be safely said that Libya has been born out of the great deserts that stretch, immense and arid and virtually a denuded wasteland, across North Africa.It is a land that is founded on ancient metamorphic and granite formations, overlaid during the passage of countless centuries in terms of geologic time, by varied layers of wind-eroded and marine sedimentary soils.The country has no real mountain ranges, but several ranges of relatively high hills, or “jebel” as they are generally known, and it would be safe to describe Libya as a country of broad planes and plateaux.There are also no natural, perennially flowing rivers, but there are numerous water courses that are commonly known as the “wadis”.These “wadis” both in Libya and in the rest of the Arab world, are dry for the larger part of the year. But one the rains start to fall they become swift-flowing torrents which, if not properly contained can perhaps do more damage that good.Modern technology has permitted most of the “wadis” in Libya to be dominated and exploited for the proper use of agriculture.One such water course, at Ras Hilal, has now the envious distinction of permitting the flow of water almost all the year round.If Libya has no mountain ranges in the commonly known sense, the areas of the “jebel” are amongst the most picturesque in the entire continent of Africa.The main highlands of Libya are to be found in the eastern regions. Here the “Jebel Akhdar” which is also referred to as the Green Mountain dominates the landscape.The Green Mountain overlooks the southern Mediterranean and it was in that region that the Greeks had built some of their more prominent city-states on the territory of Libya, including Bernice, which was later to change its name to that of the present Benghazi.Other ranges of “jebel” are to be found deep in the interior of the country, and the more rekinowne4d of these are the “Jebel Tasili” and the “Jebel Tomo”.The “Jebel Sud” and the “Jebel Farrug” are to be found in the centre of the country and they are also referred to as the interior heights of Libya.Far south, deep into the continent across the trackless ex-panse of wilderness and straddling, the frontiers with Chad rise the Central Saharan mountains, or the “Jebel Tib-esti”. The peaks of the Tibesti at times rise as high as approximately 3692 metres above the level of the seas as compared, for example, to the “Jebel Akh-dar” which rises to a maximum height of 923 metres.Today, these “jebel” or high hill ranges have been developed and are looked upon as some of the more attractive landscapes of the country.The “Jebel Akhdar” which is within reach of the main eastern city of Benghazi, is today very much sought after as a tourist and leisure resort.Here the inviting mountain landscape compliments the shores of the nearby Mediterra-nean to create a landscape that is amongst the most attractive in the entire basin of the Mediterranean.In the West there are several other regions, which described as “jebel” add a picturesque touch and create a unique atmosphere particularly in the region of Nalut, close to the area where Libya borders with Tunisia.Indeed, time appears to have stood still in several regions of the country where its natural heritage is still unspoilt and the environment not threatened.


Libya’s Three Main Regions: Tripolitania, Cyrenaica and The Fezzan

Libya is perhaps one of the few countries in the world where the natural heritage has remained unspoilt, and where the environment has not yet been threatened by the technology of the modern day.This can perhaps be attributed to the fact that the country, although vast in geographical area is relatively low in population density. In fact, Libya has one of the lowest rates in terms of the number of people to the square kilometre. More so, the overall topography of the country shows that Libya is also virtually unprotected from the effects imposed, largely in meteorological terms, by its most prominent geographical features.These are, the Sahara Desert and the Mediterranean Sea, which combine to create climatic contrasts that are exemplified by the green mountain pleasantness o such areas as the “Jebel Akhdar”, and the scorched barrenness of the desert hinterland.Therefore, it is not surprising that over the centuries only the coastal areas were cultivated. The earlier civilizations had neither the technology, nor the knowledge to bring water from the desert or to carry water into the interior to enlarge the coastal belt.Statistics related to the period before the First of September 1969 Revolution indicate that the eastern and the western coastal areas comprised only about two per cent of the entire territory, and this relatively small area was the only one that was actively cultivated.These figures represent a very poor performance for a period related to the time of the Italian occupation, and the immediate post war years, when technology was advanced enough to permit greater efforts.Indeed, other statistics released during those years indicate that there was complete indifference towards the welfare of the people, and this is demonstrated by the fact that, for instance, only one per cent of the land was forested, and only four per cent of the territory was used for grazing purposes.Today, the situation is vastly different. The immense progress that the country has made in agriculture is manifest in the fact that the land is producing enough for home consumption, and in the case of several products, particularly fruit, a surplus is being cultivated and exported.Libya is made up of three different and principal regions, each of which, in earlier times, maintained a separate identity. Until the Revolution there was a political and perhaps even a physical division between these three regions, namely, Tripolitania, Cyrenaica and the Fezzan.Generally speaking, Cyrenaica represents the eastern half of the country and Tripolitania the western half, with both regions running along the Mediterranean littoral, as opposed to the Fezzan, which lies in the hinterland of Libya.Because of their strategic location and important geographic position, both Tripolitania and Cyrenaica were, for many hundreds of years, of economic and military importance to many of the ancient civilizations.It was along the northern fringes of these two regions that the Phoenicians had settle, and later the Greeks and the Romans. Therefore they played an important role in the story of the development of the region of the Mediterranean.The pre-desert of Sirte bound Tripolitania in the east. In the west it borders the Tunisian and Algerian deserts, and in the south of the Sahara.Physically, the region of Tripolitania rises gradually from the northern littoral in a series of shallow steps that being with the line of hills that border the interior of the coastal plain, the Jafara.In turn, the Jafara gives way to the unspectacular semi desert which is to be found upland, and which consists mainly of stony sand and scrub.It is an area characteristic of the entire North African continent and the same landscape continues southwards, with regular monotony for several hundred kilometres.Several documentaries that have been filmed in the area give the impression that the overall effect is one of gentle sloping from the south to the north, which is from the hinterland towards the Mediterranean.Cyrenaica is considered to be an equally important region of the country, although until a few years ago, that is before the Al Fateh revolution, it was looked upon as second in terms of importance.The territory of Cyrenaica lies in the east and it borders Egypt, as it extends from the Bay of Sirte to the Bay of Sollu. It includes he hilly costal regions and the tablelands that gradually descend towards the south. The main geographical difference between Cyrenaica and Tripolitania is perhaps the fact that the eastern region rises more sharply from the coastal belt. In fact, Cyrenaica gives rise to two narrow shelves, each of them but a few kilometres in width, which reach the plateau some six hundred and fifteen metres above the level of the sea.This rise provides the characteristic panorama of Cyrenaica, particularly so, of the eastern coastline, which consists of sweeping beaches commanded by a backdrop of undulating hills.A picture effect is added by the fact that the fringes of this range of hills reach almost to the edge of the sea.It is here, in the northern uplands that the “Jebel Akhdar” rises. This range is itself the result of the heaving and cracking of the surface of the earth that must have taken place countless of years ago.The “Jebel” provides a postcard effect, in the sense that it sheers off into the Gulf of Sirte, and slopes in a gentler fashion onto the desert of the east.