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.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Libya - Leptis Magna

Also Dedicated to The Leader

Today was another day set aside solely to explore the vast ruins of Leptis Magna, the single most spectacular and well-preserved Roman city in North Africa. And we virtually had the whole place to ourselves! Thank you, convoluted visa system!

In many ways Leptis is much like Sabratha from yesterday. The three ancient cities (the third being Oea, virtually under modern Tripoli) formed the colony of Tripolitani, and Leptis was once the most prominent of these. One Roman Emperor, Septimus "The Grim African" Severus, hailed from Leptis and sought to develop it into a metropolis to rival Rome. His triumphal arch, adorned with triangular capitals unique to North Africa, forms a superb and powerful entrance to the city.

From there we explored kilometres of ancient cobbled roads lined with huge masonry blocks under various states of restoration. The immense Baths of Hadrian, built from limestone, marbles (including a strange green variety and Egyptian red basalt), once featured a broad ceiling decorated with brilliant blue mosaics, but these have since collapsed. There were puddles all over the place from yesterday's rain (it was excellent weather today), creating fascinating reflections of columnsm, arches, and sky.

Thousands of flocks of starlings filled the sky frequently, taking several minutes to pass overhead. The shadows they created were distractingly strobe-like. Apparently they cross the Mediterreanean in their annual migration. It was mesmerising to watch them shift like duststorms in the bowl-like airspace of the ancient Ampitheatre, where Dad lead me down to see the areas were caged beasts were released upon gladitors, slaves, criminals and Christians. The echoes from this haunting space were bizarre too - precisely one repeat, with no further sounds.

We spent the evening wandering Tripoli's Medina or old city souqs. It was dark, and most of the shops were closed, leaving long twisting alleys of shut green doors against white walls illuminated by dodgy electrics. We encountered several former caravanserai, and a stunning mosque/tomb with distinctive Libyan hand-painted tiles. It was a thrivingly local area, with no tourists whatsoever and few signs of any tourist industry. Dinner was at the most basic Libyan chicken takeaway shop you can imagine - charming and bustling with locals, plus the Arabic version of MTV. It's actually a suprisingly erogenous channel, and unusually, they give full credit listings at the end of each video clip as the songs fade out.

Tomorrow, I am travelling 600km south-west into the Sahara desert, to the 4500 year old city of Ghardarmes.

And it looks like your Christmas cards are coming with me...


  • At Saturday, December 17, 2005 9:23:00 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Hello Sam,

    Our Christmas cards and thoughts are travelling with you!

    DJ shall be racing in Wagga over this weekend. (You are both visiting great spots in this world).

    I shall be home on the open spaces at Corowa for the next couple of weeks.

    Happy new year to you and your family and friends.


  • At Saturday, December 17, 2005 6:13:00 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    There is a nice web slide show at which is worth looking at!
    Thanks again for the experience.

  • At Sunday, December 18, 2005 8:17:00 pm, Blogger khadijateri said…

    Happy to see you are enjoying yourself in Libya! - shops these days are closed from 4pm to 8pm due to the peoples meetings. Regular shop hours will resume in January (we hope!).

  • At Monday, December 26, 2005 8:45:00 am, Blogger La Vie Fashion said…

    Hello Sam

    I really like your Blog, it is really usefull, since I'm the marketing Manager of a travel agency in Libya, I guess we can help each other with informations.
    do u have any photos from libya.


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