Sam Bowker: The Grand Tour Diary (2005 - 2006)

This is the archived journal of a 2005-2006 'Grand Tour' around the Eastern Mediterranean and along East Africa, written by Sam Bowker, whilst in search of his PhD topic.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Libya - Cyrene

Dedicated to Mubaraf

Cyrene, east of Benghazi on the other side of Libya's Mediterranean coastline, is possibly the most intact ancient Greek city on earth. At least, it ought to be when it's excavated.

So far, it's like a Libyan version of Termessos in Turkey. Situated high on cliffs overlooking the sea, with temples, a theatre, and an extraordinary number of Greek statues remaining in-situ. Some were only recently unearthed by rain, looking like fossilised war crimes with impeccable togas.

(Speaking of togas, they remain traditional attire here for older men. It's one of very few places where the ancient Greek heritage has remained current, a living fossil of human fashion. They are very impressive garments, bestowing a grand air of dignity upon the wearer.)

The extensive remnants of mosiac flooring remains exposed to the elements from the foundations of an anicent mansion, and ongoing excavations reveal entire new suburbs and temples each year. Their on-site museum consists of two warehouses. One is a public space displaying the most complete and interesting specimens of marble statuary, around 1700 pieces in total. The other contains the smaller finds, and items of more specialised interest. It includes, according to the well-credited expert who was guiding us (thanks, Saffir Oustralya!), literally "sacks of coins", shelves and wrapped parcels to the ceiling, and an extraordinary gold ring with a long series of documented curse-related mishaps...

The nearby site of Apollonia reveals less spectacular remains, but I was given a Ptolemaic coin there found by the archaeologist (who said it was 2500 years old, but he had too many kilos of them to be needed for study). Aside from being seriously thrilled, it meant my eyes were glued to the ground for the rest of the time there.

The way back took us through an awesome deep wadi (canyon) lined with immense caves, undoubtedly of significance to prehistoric archaeology. In fact, Neanderthal remains have been found there, and many caves are still being explored.

I have written a great deal today, and there's more I need to do with my spare time. It has been a pleasure recounting Libya, but from here on, I will be up in Agami for Christmas with Mum, Dad, and a bunch of Embassy staff.

Happy Holidays!


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