A Traveler’s Gem: Cyrene

Posted on: March 18th, 2011 | No Comments

A report I pulled off the internet described Libya this way: “Mostly barren, flat to undulating plains, plateaus, depressions.” Only about 1% of Libya is arable so 90% of the population lives along the shores of the Mediterranean.  But there is a place called the Green Mountains (Jebel Akhdar) where the verdant pasture and tree-lined lanes resemble many parts of Europe.  Very often when traveling, surprises and this was one of them but it got better.   

Tucked away in a place near the town of Shahat, about half way between Tobruk and Benghazi, is the ancient town of Cyrene.  This is now a full archeological site steeped in history and, on the day I was there, free to all those who were willing to jump over the fence to get in.  I may have read about this place in college but then again maybe not so it was worth looking up.  Once called the “Athens of Africa,” Cyrene was founded in 630BC it was dedicated to the Greek god Apollo (and served by the port of Apollonia).  The Romans later took over and it’s mentioned in the Bible (twice).  After a devastating earthquake in 262, it never really recovered.    

It’s now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  In 2007, plans were underway to build the world’s largest sustainable development done in partnership with the Government of Libya (actually, Gaddafi’s son, Saif Al Islam) and the firm of renowned British architect Sir Norman Foster.  For some reason, these plans are on hold.

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