Leptis Magna, Libya

Leptis Magna, around 130km east of Tripoli, Libya, is one of the most extensive and best preserved Roman sites around the Mediterranean. It’s been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


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The city was founded by the Phoenicians around 1100 BC, later became part of the Roman Empire, was later over-run by the Vandals, the Berbers and the Byzantines before being abandoned and finally disappearing under the Libyan sands in the 7th Century AD.  Apparently at peak the City had a population of around 100,000.

You can learn more about Leptis Magna at Wikipedia.

My visit to Leptis Magna took place on Saturday 28 November 2009, a lovely warm and sunny day.  There weren’t too many visitors – it was a bit out of season and Libya is not the easiest destination for tourists. Unfortunately the museum was closed for the Eid Al-Adha (Feast of the Sacrifice) holiday.

I rented a guide (there didn’t seem to be many) and probably overpaid, although I did negotiate his fee down. We spent around three hours wandering round the site – the guide was quite knowledgeable and interesting. Here are some of the things we saw…..

The Site is entered at the Severan Arch, which I failed to photograph – so I’ve grabbed an image from elsewhere.

The Arch of Septimus Severus
The Arch of Septimus Severus

The main road runs north east to the harbour.  The height of the embankments at the side of the road give an impression of how deeply the city was buried by sand.  There are large areas still unexcavated.

The Main Road - Cardo
The Main Road – Cardo

The market place and surrounding district was full of small shops – probably not too unlike a souk in the Arab countries today.

The Market Place
The Market Place

The guide told me that the theatre could seat 6,000 – a huge number.  When looking at an auditorium for this number of people recently we were told that a speaker system was a must!  I noticed, however, that the depth of the stage was much less than in a modern theatre.

The Theatre
The Theatre

The baths were quite well preserved….

The Cold Pool
The Cold Pool

… and had some toilets adjacent …..

The Gents' Toilet
The Gents’ Toilet

…. where ‘doing your business’ seems to have been a social occasion!  In fact, they may well have done business here!

There’s a Nympheum, or nymphs’ grotto, north of the baths on the way to the port which is reached down a very long colonnaded street with the Severan Forum to the west.

The Nymphaeum
The Nymphaeum

Septimus Severus was a son of Leptis Magna and showed great favour to the city when he became emporer in the late 2nd Century AD.  One of his gifts was a new forum around 300m long by 200m wide.

The Severan Forum
The Severan Forum
The Severan Forum from the South
The Severan Forum from the South

The quality of the joints in the stonework is quite astounding. The walls in Leptis Magna are typically built with limestone or sandstone, but in prominent/important locations they were clad in marble.  You can easily see walls clad in marble by the sockets left in the sandstone and limestone in order to attach the facing marble.

Stonework on the south external elevation of the Severan Forum
Stonework on the south external elevation of the Severan Forum

I was very impressed by the keying of the stone over door lintels.

Lintel stonework
Lintel stonework

Part of the colonnade surrounding the Forum has been reassembled at ground level – the reliefs are of the head of Medusa.

Colonnade capitals
Colonnade capitals

To the north of the Severan Forum is a basilica, which was later converted to a Christian church.

The Basilica
The Basilica
Reliefs in the Basilica
Reliefs in the Basilica

The harbour silted up, but parts of the harbour walls are visible.

The West Harbour Wall
The West Harbour Wall

The remanants of the lighthouses at the harbour entrance are visible.

The East Lighthouse
The East Lighthouse

The Old Forum was the original heart of the city.

The Old Forum
The Old Forum

Did you ever wonder what people did before computer games? If you did, here’s the answer…

Gaming Board in the Old Forum
Gaming Board in the Old Forum

… and finally a trace of the Phoenicians on an inscription in the Old Forum.

Inscription in Roman and Phoneician
Inscription in Latin and Phoneician

[End of Post]

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3 Responses to Leptis Magna, Libya

  1. Lindsay says:

    Amazing – so jealous!

  2. Jonathan says:

    Thanks for sharing this. The quality of the remains are incredible. Looking forward to seeing them – hopefully in the sunshine !