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 16, 2005

Libya - Tripoli and Sabratha

Dedicated to The Leader

I've been assured that everything I write in this country gets read, so it's nice to know I have an audience.

Aside from that, Libya is actually really impressive. I mean it! The traffic will stop for you at zebra crossings, and red lights, and even policemen waving their arms intermittently are respected. The roads are smooth, long, curbed, with marked lanes and reliable lighting. There are modern facilities for tourists, all easily accessible, and I have scarcely seen a pile of rubbish anywhere.

It's has been raining here in Tripoli fairly continuously, and I mean serious drenching. Up to two feet of water on some of the main roads - but quickly sucked up by municipal trucks with huge nozzles. Luckily, the morning was spent in the Jamariya Museum (National Museum), and the afternooon in the archaeological site of Sabratha, which miraculously bore perfect weather. (It was also sublime to fly in under a full moon and stars, above blue-grey mountainous cumolonimbus (storm cloud) peaks and canyons below, with streaks of rain lighting up like sparks near the wing lights).

The Museum held several excellent mosaics, and stunning examples of North Saharan rock art. It is so dramatically different to what you may expect from Australian indigenous art - dynamic and emotive in a more realist manner, simplified and summarised rather than abstracted. There were sculptures, ceramics and other artifacts from Phoenician, Greek and Roman eras, and even entire civilisations I had never heard of - the Garamatians for example. The galleries dedicated to the Leader were unfortunately closed, and the Natural History section was a little dead and inclined towards the morbidly curious, but the folkloric sections were lively and intriguing.

The Sabratha site is a very well-preserved ancient Punic (Phoenician) - Greek - Roman - Byzantine - Islamic city, also occupied by Vandals and others over its history. Walking through it is to find yourself amidst forests of tall marble columns, ruined foundations of temples and buildings of various size and purpose, with scattered remnants of ornate mosaic floors. The Theatre is said to be the most stunnign in North Africa - and I wouldn't doubt it. It was extensively restored in the 1920s by Italian specialists and remains utterly breathtaking, with a huge three-tiered backstage facade of columns and freizes.

Tomorrow, I am off to the even larger ancient city of Leptis Magna. You shall be updated!

PS - Just so you who receive them know, I had to take the Christmas cards I wrote with me to Libya to be posted, as we were too rushed in Cairo. So they will now arrive with especially exotic stamps - Libya is tricky to get into - but most refer to Egypt. Fingers crossed for their arrival.


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