Shopping for souvenirs in Libya is a real pleasure - nobody pressures you in any way at all, it is so refreshing! There's a small souvenir souq near the main entrance to the medina and even there you will be left to browse in peace. Venture further into the medina and you will find a couple of shops selling rugs (flat weaves), jewellery, silver teapots and dishes, pottery - some new and some antiques - and such a courteous welcome. The two souvenir shops I saw in Ghadames were the same story, as were the shops at Leptis Magna. What a change from the hard sell of other North African countries.
What to buy: Libya's no shopper's paradise, but there are some attractive traditional things to buy - and some more tourist-focussed items for those whose taste runs to cheesy.
If you get down to Ghadames and like really ethnic items there are colourful woven straw food covers and Tuareg mirrors in bright woven woollen frames but most special of all are the magnificent embroidered slippers made there by a man and his wife - the only people stil practising this tradition. They're not cheap but they are absolutely gorgeous and I regret not buying some for myself!
What did I bring home? Something traditional - a lovely hand woven Berber blanket of naturally coloured wool with a simple indigo stripe woven through it (picnics in future will always carry a memory of the desert from now on) bought from a shop deep in the medina, and something cheesy - a leather camel ( well, I couldn't leave a cousin there on the shelf, could I? and he had such a cheeky look in his eye)
What to pay: Our rug cost 50LD, my camel cost me 10.
Heavy bargaining is not the done thing in Libya. You can ask for a "best price" but that's about it.
Ali Al-Tomi's small shop is immediately opposite the Arch of Marcus Aurelius in the medina - what a view!
His photos of Libya are just as special. Beautiful images of Roman ruins and medina doorways, desert spaces and springtime wildflowers, Tuareg and their haughty camels, street scenes and vignettes of everyday life - all Libya is here. Typical of the courtesy you'll meet everywhere in Libya, there's no pressure to buy, so do call by even if you just want to look. You'll find Mr Al-Tomi only too happy to show you his photos and have a chat and, if you do decide to make a purchase, you will have something special to take home from your travels.
The prints are all hand-finished and of a very high quality, both technically and artistically.
Keep walking down Souq al Turk, away from the Green Square end, and you'll come at last to this shop - it's on the right and is the only one of its kind so is easy enough to find. A small window display leads into a narrow shop with red-lined shelves along each wall. Definitely a cut above the souvenir souq near the entrance to the medina, here you'll find an interesting mix of old and new. All along one wall there's a display of old clay cooking pots (photo 1), ordinary domestic wares but with a patina of age and use and in a variety of shapes that is very pleasing. The higher the shelf, the older the pots.
An inner room is a kaleidescope of colour, the walls hung with Berber flat-weave rugs mostly in shades of terracotta, red and orange-gold with black and white. More rugs cover the floor and there are piles of them waiting to be opened out for you to make your choice (photo 2). Coming in a wide range of sizes, they're both attractive and easy to pack - and very reasonably priced.
What to buy: Jewellery, metalwork, mirrors and boxes are some of the other items for sale here. The owner is a charming man and you'll not be pressured into buying anything.
Libya is considerably more affluent than most North African countries, added to which many prices are controlled by government decree, so haggling over prices has long ceased to be part of the culture. You may be offered a small discount, especially if you make more than one visit to the shop and are courteous, but don't expect it as your right as a tourist.
The medina is the best place in town to get lost in a labyrinth of narrow streets and souqs (markets) and is the home of 38 mosques, the Al Saray al-Hamra (Red Castle) and the last remaining Roman monument in Tripoli, the Arch of Marcus Aurelius at the northern end of the Medina.
What to buy: Whatever you are interested in
As yet, Tripoli doesn't have a highly developed tourist industry. One of the consequences is that there are few places selling handicrafts and souvenirs for foreigners. The only significant place for this is the handicraft market around an old caravanserai, just inside the Medina. Mostly they sell rugs and kelims, some with pictures of camels or the word "Libya" written on them. It all looked slightly tacky to me, but if you need souvenirs to take home, then this is the place to shop for them.
Gold jewellery is on sale in several of the souqs in the Medina, including Souq al-Attara and Souq al-Mushir. It is sold by weight, so check the current price of gold per gram before you buy anything. There are scales in every gold shop, of course. Gold tends to be cheaper here than in Europe or North America.
If you collect stamps, Libya is the place to be. If not, it can be a nice souvenir to bring back home. In Tripoli we visited the postoffice to buy the ' total eclipse at Great Jamahiriya 29.3.2006' stamps. In the postoffice they showed you a big map with all the Libyan stamps they have for sale.
The most striking were the ones with the political themes like American aggression, the anniversary of the 1th september revolution or Gadhafi price for human rights, but also of the total solar eclips and the great man made river. There are also series of local customs, clothes, shoes, flowers, animals. Name it and they are there.
In the big hall of the postoffice some of the stamps were exhibited at the walls. If liked to have an impression of the variety of Libyan stamps, have a quick look in the hall when you are in the neighbourhood.
What to buy: Stamps
There aren't that many souvenir shops in Libya, so if you are wanting to bring home a little memento, this is one of the best places to get it.
What to buy: Carpets, jewellery, pottery, knives, cusions and other craft items.
These narrow alleyways off Green Square seel all manner of items, but I was unable to get what I was after.
I wanted an abaya - a traditonal Arabic coat worn by the women, long and black with no (or little) decration. I could get plenty of men's outfits, and plenty of dressy abayas, but not a plain everyday one.
What to buy: In the end I bought a tablecloth and napkins - made in India of cotton and featuring elephants.
What to pay: I pais less than $10 for the complete set!