Apart from its WW2 connections, and - aside from the cemeteries - very little is made of them - Tobruk really has nothing to offer the visitor. The town is growing very fast and much of it resembles a building site. The hotels range from the mediocre to the downright awful and this is not the place to go looking for a fine dining experience - the only guidebook recommended restaurant in town was closed for renovation whilst we were there.
Rommel's HQ and wartime bunker is in lock down, as is the museum in a disused church in the centre of town, and the caretaker seems to have left town with the key. There is talk of the bunker being restored and a new wartime museum built but nothing's happening yet. There are a few rusting relics scattered around the bunker enclosure but the wreck of the Lady Be Good, a US bomber that crashed in a sand storm in 1943 and was found in 1958, has been moved to the nearby airbase. The bodies of her crew that were found were all repatriated.
An evening stroll through town and down to the as-yet-unfinished plaza overlooking the harbour affords a little entertainment both to visitors and locals - we struck up a conversation with two pretty teenagers who were all dressed up with nowhere to go. Otherwise, make sure you've brought a good book, find a cafe table and sit down with a cup of tea to write those postcards you've been carrying around for a week - the post office is on the main square in the centre of town and Libya produces some wonderful stamps - or head out to find one of the local internet cafes and catch up with the folks back home.
The direct route back to Benghazi (flights in and out of Tobruk are currently off the schedule) is just as uninspiring - a long straight stretch of desert highway that eventually morphs into green fields of new wheat and flower-strewn pastures as you draw near to Benghazi.
Largest of all the Greek sites of Libya, Cyrene rivals Roman Leptis Magna on the other side of the country in its splendours. Magnificent temples, a huge colonnaded agora, theatres, exquisite marble mosaic floors still in situ in elegant private houses, public spaces adorned by graceful sculptures, fountains, ritual baths, ceremonial altars ... all these and more spill down a steep hillside crowned with pine forests above a wide and fertile plain. The modern town of Shahat lies above and behind the site so nothing intrudes to spoil the views of the Mediterranean far below, and with such a vast site and so relatively few visitors to share it with, it's very easy to imagine yourself back into the past as you explore.
The site was chosen by the first Greek settlers for its rich soils and abundant water supply, assets they shared in reportedly amicable co-operation with the local tribe who appear to have quickly adapted their Iron Age lives to the ways of the far more sophisticated newcomers from the north. From its foundation in 631BC, the city was to grow and flourish over the next 700 years, first under a line of local kings and then - to even greater glories - as a republic from 461BC until, in 331 BC, it fell under the rule of Alexandria-based Ptolemaic rulers. By the time the Romans arrived the city had long rivalled cities in mainland Greece in both its wealth and importance - its Temple of Zeus even larger than the Parthenon in Athens.
700 years of glory were followed by 500 years of rather more mixed fortunes. Sacked by Jewish rebels in 115AD, rebuilt only to suffer two great earthquakes in the 3rd and 4th centuries, an outpost of the ever-shrinking Byzantine Empire in the centuries that followed, the once-great city's death-knell was sounded by the arrival of the invading armies of Islam in the 7th century, after which it faded from sight - its name remembered only by Classical scholars and philosophers.
Rediscovered by the French consul to the Ottoman rulers of Libya in the early 18th century, the 19th century's love affair with archaeology saw a trickle of intrepid visitors make their way to the Green Mountain and then, in 1913, serious excavation began after the discovery of a famously beautiful sculpture that became known as theVenus of Cyrene. She was whisked off to Rome and the next 90 years saw archaeologists come and go from her city in the all-too-short peaceful spells between native rebellions, WW2 and the long years of the embargo. Changing times and attitudes have seen the Venus returned to Libya; oil revenues and increased international co-operation should see both more excavations and a suitable home for the goddess built on the slopes of her mountain home.Related to:
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Apollonia, sited on a lovely stretch of coastline to the north-west of Cyrene, was the mountain city's port, but the wealth of its archaeological remains make it very clear that this was no mere workaday satellite for the larger city. Founded in the 7th century BC, its importance and status lasted right through into the 6th century AD, by which time pagan Greek and Roman beliefs had given way to Byzantine Christianity and some of the best preserved ruins we see today are in fact Christian basilicas that date from this later period, four of which can easily be identified, including the private chapel in the Byzantine governor's palace.
Time and tide have obliterated nearly all the evidence of the busy port other than the foundations of some of the warehouses that stood here. A chain of small rocky islets created a barrier that formed a channel leading into the harbour - one of very few safe landing places on this rocky coastline - until they were broken apart by the great earthquake of 365AD. Nothing remains of the lighthouse that stood at the harbour mouth but under the water there are ruins and a sunken ship that have yielded interesting finds and promise much for future marine archaeology.
Roman baths, a Greek gymnasium, Byzantine houses, olive oil and fish tanks and two large cisterns all add to the evidence of a rich and comfortable existence for the people who lived here, and - if you need more - at the eastern end of the site the Roman theatre is stunning in its dramatic location, quite hidden from view as you walk towards it until, as you reach the crest, it falls away steeply right to the very shore, the waves all but lapping onto the area of the stage.
Back by the entrance, outside the west gate in city walls, the Greek necropolis forms a backdrop to a pretty garden outside the entrance to the Menara Hotel. The Roman necropolis lies beyond the theatre.
Housed in the museum back on the main square of Susa, the sleepy little modern town that now surrounds Apollonia, the museum is definitely worth a visit. Typically, the rooms are badly lit and the artifacts have a dusty and neglected appearance but there is much that is interesting, from a grand carved marble sarcophagus to a fascinating collection of Roman aids to beauty - combs, kohl applicators and tiny cosmetic pots, Byzantine mosaics and Greek statuary, wooden tools and a 1st century BC marble grave marker naming three members of Jewish family who dies aged 8, 45 and a remarkable 87. The fairly basic signs are in Arabic and English.Related to:
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- Museum Visits
"The graves of dead soldiers ....
....are the greatest messengers of peace."
These words of Albert Schweitzer are to be found on the wall of the massive fortress that overlooks Tobruk Harbour and houses the graves of 6026 German soldiers who died here during WW2. Although each of the dead lies in his own coffin, there are no lines of headstones here, no last words chosen by grieving families, no flowers blooming in the desert. Rather they lie beneath the stones of the central courtyard, their names engraved on black slate panels in countless lines of close-packed white letters. No eternal flame burns in the bowl supported on the shoulders of angels, nothing softens the hard austerity of this place but you can't come to Tobruk and not come here because, no matter what else has brought you to this furthest point of Cyrenaica, in death all are equal.
There are 4 war cemeteries in Tobruk. The Knightsbridge (Acroma) cemetery lies well outside the city, about 20km to the west, on the coastal plain below the battlefield. Although most of the graves are British, New Zealanders, South Africans, Australians, Poles, French, Indians, Greeks and Yugoslavs all lie here. Again and again among the headstones depicting the emblems of regiments and armies, there are stones marked only with a simple cross and the words 'A soldier of the 1939-1945 War - Known unto God". Altogether 3651 men are buried here.
On the other side of the city, on the road leading to Egypt, a second Commonwealth cemetery is the final resting place of a further 2453 Allied soldiers. Both cemeteries have a number of memorials around the walls as well as large central monuments. As is always the case with Commonwealth War Cemeteries maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, they are beautifully maintained and, even here in the desert, flowers bloom between the graves and trees and gardens line the paths.
The French Cemetery sits behind a sand-coloured wall, 8km out of town to the south. These men did not die at Tobruk, they're the fallen from the Battle of Bir Hakim fought by the Free French in May/June 1942. In the same way as the Commonwealth cemeteries are a roll call of different nationalites, there are not only French but also Indo-Chinese, North African and Saharan African names here. There are some 300 graves altogether.
Tobruk - Rommel and the Rats
Standing on the cliffs overlooking the deserted bay pictured here and up into the equally peaceful wadi running down to the sea, it's hard to imagine this area was the theatre for of some of the fiercest fighting in WW2 and the scene of a bitter siege that lasted 240 days. Having advanced relentlessly across North Africa, Rommel's Afrika Korps seemed invincible as they swept into the eastern seaport of Tobruk and they fully expected the Allied troops trapped there to crumble before their onslaught and constant air raids. Instead of surrendering, the Allies - Australian, British, Polish, Czech, Indian, Canadian, South African and New Zealanders, dug themselves into a line of trenches and tunnels encircling the town and, for the next eight months waged a war that brought the enemy to a state of complete exhaustion and the first major Axis defeat of the war.
A rag-tag fleet of British and Australian ships, jokingly referred to as the Tobruk Ferry Service and the Scrap Iron Flotilla, ran the gauntlet of German guns to land supplies and reinforcements and to evacuate the wounded.
German propaganda saw the men tagged as rats hiding in holes, caught in a trap and desperate but the men took the name as a badge of honour and thus the legend of the Rats of Tobruk was born.
Little remains to tell of those extraordinary times. No signs point to the trenches that remain outside the town and you need to watch your step as you walk over the headlands so that you don't stumble into one of the sunken tunnel entrances or gun emplacements. A roughly laid concrete block wall surrounds the cave that served as an Australian field hospital - the ancient fig tree that shaded and protected its opening was just coming in to leaf when we were there. In the centre of Tobruk, Rommel's bunker is locked and no-one knows when the man with the key will be back in town. The ironically-named Knightsbridge battlefield, 40km away in the desert, is a desolate place littered with a few last scraps of blackened field armor and rusted barbed wire. Back at home, the last of the Rats are old men now but their deeds are not forgotten
And then there are the cemeteries ....Related to:
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The road to Tobruk
From Susa, the road to Tobruk, the easternmost city in Libya, follows the coast quite closely and affords lovely views of the sea and the mountains as it rises and falls and curves around the headlands for the first 100km or so until you reach the small town of Derna. This is popular vacation territory for Libyans and there are a couple of rather institutional-looking holiday villages on the beach side of the road.
Having visited the churches at R'as al-Hillal and l'Atrun the previous day, our first stop along the road was to see the huge cave at Hawa al Ftea, just a few kilometres beyond Susa. The walk up to the cave through a meadow of knee-high Spring flowers alive with the buzz of bees was a delight. The mouth of the cave towers high above the large pit excavated by archaeologists that revealed the earliest signs of human habitation in this part of Africa. There's nothing else to see here - all the finds have long since been removed to the museum in Tripoli - but the size and scale of the cave and pit is impressive and it's a chance to stretch your legs.
Next stop along the way is Derna, time for another stop, a walk around the market by the corniche, bright with fresh produce set out on stalls covered with brightly coloured cloths and manned by friendly locals - just about all of whom seemed to want to pose for photos. A cup of tea in one of the cafes in the main square and we moved on.
Our next stop was a real surprise - a detour into a narrow wadi brought us to a delicate waterfall tumbling over the rocky face of the jebel. This is the Shallal Derna. It may not be the biggest or most impressive waterfall you'll ever see but, in the context of a country that is some 90% desert, it's worth a short detour. Judging by the stone walls and levees built further up the wadi, there must be times when the water flow well and truly exceeds the lacy spill we saw.
Returning to the main road, the landscape rapidly becomes more and more desolate as you head east, leaving the green slopes and fields of the Jebel Akhdar behind and enter the fringes of the desert that stretches from here to the banks of the Nile.Related to:
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Two Byzantine churches
Although Cyrenaica is known as the Pentapolis, meaning five cities, the riches of Cyrenaica together with its temperate climate made it an attractive place for settlement and there were in fact several other towns and cities scattered through the region. Some, like Barce and Berenice have completely disappeared. Qasr Libya only gave up its secret treasure in the mid-20th century. Scattered mausolea, scant remains of a monastery and other isolated ruins can be found by intrepid and determined visitors to the region but are well off the beaten track. Much more accessible are a pair of late Byzantine churches set down by the sea a few kilometres east of Susa/Apollonia, Ras al-Hillal (30km from Susa) and L'Atrun (another 9 km further on along the road to Derna).
Ras al-Hillal was a secondary port for Cyrene though nothing remains of the town today other than the ruined church sitting quite high on a small curving point and the barest remnants of the drowned harbour far below. The views from here of the mountains coming down to the wide sweep of the bay are worth the detour in themselves. What a pleasure it must have been to worship here, surrounded by such beauty. The floor plan of the three naved basilica with a baptismal font in one chapel can still be seen clearly, and in Spring pink and white anenomes dance in the wind among the faded mosaics of the pavement that remains in situ.
After the tumbled stones and broken mosaics of Ra's al-Hillal, the sparkling white marble and remarkable state of preservation of the church at L'Atrun is extraordinary. Again, the views from the church are wonderful and, standing in the nave of the church between the columns and screens carved with the Cross, it's very easy to feel the centuries fall away. In all my travels through the places of the early years of Christianity, this little church has to be the most evocative I have ever visited - it is absolutely amazing.
Lying 37 kms east of Tocra, the considerably larger ruins of Ptolemais (modern Tolmeita), were our first real indication of how rich and important the cities that constituted the Pentapolis were. Founded sometime in the 7th century BC, but only coming into real prominence in the 4th C BC, Ptolemais was the port for Barce, and although all traces of that city have entirely disappeared, there is enough evidence from the scale of Ptolemais and the many beautiful artifacts housed in its museum to tell us Barce must have been splendid indeed.
Ptolemais continued to thrive under the Romans and through the years of Byzantine rule. Following a major earthquake in 365AD that saw the other cities of the Pentapolis largely destroyed, Ptolemais survived to become the region's main centre for another hundred years or so only to fall into decline in the 7th century AD with the arrival of the Arab invaders.
It's a big site, well over 2 square kilometres, but only about 10% of the site has been excavated so, after a walk of about half a kilometre up a slight hill from the entrance, a visit then entails quite a lot of walking over open ground and down tree-shaded avenues as you make your way around. Although the layout of the city now is essentially Roman, with (unusually) 2 cardos running north and south crossed by the east-west decamanus (the main streets of all Roman cities), the excavations include a beautiful Greek Odeon (a small theatre used for performances of dance and music - the name lives on in its use for cinemas), Greek temples in the vicinity of the agora and a Byzantine church as well as two really lovely Roman villas.
Most impressive of all, however, are the underground cisterns below the raised terrace of Roman Forum that replaced the Greek agora. Lit by small light holes set into the pavement of the Forum, they are a parallel series of cavernous connecting chambers, constructed first by the Greeks and enarged by the Romans, to hold the city's water supply brough down from the mountains some 25km away by an aqueduct.
Archaeological work ceased at Ptolemais many years ago and there are no plans currently in place to do any more.Related to:
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Cyrene - Practicalities of a visit
Given that most people who come to Cyrene do so as part of an organised tour, for the most part the agenda of a visit will be in the hands of the tour leader. If however, you are fortunate enough to either be travelling completely independently, or to be putting together a tour tailor-made to your own requirements, here are a few things you might like to consider.
1. Cyrene is a really extensive site and if you have more than a passing interest in Classical archaeology, you'll probably find that the usual day, or even half day, visit that most tours offer isn't enough for you to really appreciate the site. If you decide you are going to spread your visit over two days your options are a pretty basic hotel in Shahat (closest), more choice in Al Bayda (17km) - the reports I've heard from people who've stayed in a couple of them have been less than complimentary, and Susa (20 km) where the Al Menara lives up to its name (Menara = lighthouse or beacon) as a shining light in hotels in the area. Another advantage of staying in Susa is that Apollonia - Cyrene's port city - is right on the doorstep so you can easily use Susa as your base for visiting both cities and a couple of interesting places further east along the coast.
2. Cyrene is on a mountainside, and like mountains everywhere, the weather can change in an instant, especially in Spring and Autumn, the best seasons for visiting Libya. Don't be lulled into the mistake we made - a beautiful sunny morning in Susa saw us setting out with just the lightest of jackets. Two hours later, up on the mountain, we were shivering in wind, rain and - finally - sleet!
3. Once you enter the site there are no facilities. Bring water with you - even on a cool day - and if you intend to spend the whole day at the site, something to eat. There are a couple of shops and simple cafes at the exit from the lowest level - the Sanctuary of Apollo. The loos were disgusting - if you can, hold on until you get to a restaurant or back to your hotel. If you can't - well, good luck!
4. The main entrance - and most logical starting point for a visit - is the southeastern gate, 2km down the road from Shahat. It's a bit of a hike up to the Temple of Zeus from there but, if you visit there first, from then on it's downhill all the way, something you'll appreciate as the day progresses. Be sure to wear sturdy, well-fitting shoes. There's a lot of rough ground to cover and a turned ankle could really ruin your visit.
5. You will read in the guidebooks that it is compulsory to hire a local guide. This may have been the case once but it is not anymore - there has been a general loosening up of some of the more draconian requirements of tourists recently throughout Libya. However, to appreciate the site properly, a well-informed local guide (and most of them are pretty good) is not a bad idea.
6. The small museum is closed on Mondays and only open in the morning anyhow - another reason for coming back a second day perhaps. Small it may be but it has some stunning pieces including the splendid statue of my favourite Roman emperor, Marcus Aurelius, as a young man, and a delicately veiled Persephone.
7. For those who collect them, Cyrene is one of 5 UNESCO World Heritage sites in Libya.Related to:
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Cyrene - Apollo and the princess
Lovely mortal maidens were never safe when Greek gods were around so when Apollo spied Cyrene - a princess who loved to hunt - behaving in a most unprincessly way as it happened - she was wrestling a lion at the time - he promptly swept her up and carried her off across the sea well out of the reach of her no-doubt protective father and brothers. The place he chose for their love nest was a beautiful green mountain in Libya, where a spring bubbled out of the hillside that faced towards Greece and a wide and fertile plain stretched out towards the sea far below.
When the first Greek colonists found the spring they identified the place with the legend, named their new city for the princess and built a sanctuary to the god beside the water so as to ensure they and their city stayed in his good books. As the city grew in size and wealth, the area around the sanctuary came to be its main religious ceremonial centre, crammed with splendid temples, altars and fountains. Apollo not only has his sanctuary here but a temple, an altar and a grotto were all dedicated to his name. Cyrene, a mortal, has only a fountain - a nymphaeum - guarded by lions. Other gods soon joined the pair of lovers on the terrace - Artemis (Apollo's sister - another huntress), Hades (the god of the Underworld) and Isis/Ceres (the Goddess of Fertility) all have temples on the terrace.
Later structures include the Roman-era Trajan Baths and Strateghion ( Treasury - a storehouse for military booty) and Byzantine Baths.
The steep path down to the Sanctuary is known as the Sacred Way. The cliffside caves along the way are where you'll find the Greek baths, an intriguing series of individual stalls cut into the rock face- very different from the sophisticated series of rooms and pools that make up a typical Roman bath.
Cyrene -Around the Agora
Hub and heart of any Classical Grecian city, the Agora was both market place and main city square, the place where public announcements were made and the place to gather and be seen, and - in a culture where powerful and capricious gods held great sway - there were also temples and altars where both public rites and private devotions could take place . In Cyrene, these important buildings and monuments eventually displaced the market and the Agora became both a clear statement of civic pride and wealth and a focus of religion to rival the sanctuaries of Zeus and Apollo elsewhere in the city. Most of the monuments found there today date back to Grecian times though some have added Roman features.
Two massive altars sit in the centre of the Agora, still with some of their original marble facing intact. Nearby, an elaborate monument is thought to celebrate a naval victory - a likely enough attribution given the dolphins and typical female figure of Victory that feature on it. It's probable that the tomb of Cyrene's founding king, Battos, is one of the other central buildings.
The circular temple at one end of the plaza is a sanctuary dedicated to Demeter and her daughter Kore - godesses of the harvest and fertility. Cyrene's wealth was founded on a hugely valuable plant, silphium, that grew here, so such gods were to be shown great honour. Silphium had medicinal properties so, not surprisingly, another of the agora temples is dedicated to Aesculapius, the god of healing.
Public buildings, more temples, banqueting halls, the city's archives, another gymnasium are some of the other identified buidlings. It must have all been very splendid indeed.
A walk over to the northern edge of the terrace opens out to a magnificent view of the Sacred Way, the Sanctuary of Apollo and, far below the coastal plain and the sea beyond.Related to:
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Cyrene - Private houses and public spaces
Cyrene's hillside location meant the city was built as a series of terraces. The two main areas of excavation occupy an upper and a lower terrace connected by a steep path cut into the hillside. Both levels are crammed with impressive ruins - the upper ones largely of a civic and secular nature - though there were always temples too, the lower area more, though not solely, the religious and ceremonial heart of the city.
Civic life in Classical times centred around the city's main square - to the Greeks it was known as the Agora, the Romans called it the Forum. Cyrene has both, a marvellous Agora and a huge colonnaded Forum. Built originally as a gymnasium by the Greeks in the 2nd C BC and known as the Ptolemaion, the Forum housed a civil court and a temple in the space where athletes had competed for sporting glory and the open spaces were used for public meetings. The gymnasium's columns and handsome porticoes still stand but little remains of the Roman additions.
A long covered passage, the Stoa, extended from the south-west corner of the Ptolemaion. It was lined with massive columns carved with images of the heroes Hercules and Hermes - you can still make out the shape of their bodies though time has completey eroded their faces.
Drama, dance and music were an important aspect of Classical life, and there are two small theatres near the gymnasium, both in fine condition.
As well as the foundations of a row of shops and some temples there are several houses in this area and, before moving on to the Agora, there are two you definitely should see. Both have wonderful mosaic pavements in situ. Those in the House of Jason Magnus (High Priest of the Temple of Apollo during the 2nd century) include splendid geometric panels in various coloured marble and - under cover - a fine classical Four Seasons. Two centuries later Christianity had come to Cyrene, and mosaic angels feature on the floor of the House of Hesychius together with a prayer.Related to:
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Cyrene - King of the Gods
Befitting his position as the most important of all the Greek gods, Cyrene's Temple of Zeus is both the largest and, thanks to the diligent efforts of Italian archaeologists who have worked on the site for decades, now the most complete of all the excavated structures in the city. It stands well away from most of the other excavations, high on a flattened area above the rest of the city, surrounded by pine trees, the very model of a Greek temple built in the classical proportions of 8 columns on the short sides and 17 on the long. Standing on its own and so beautifully proportioned, you don't quite realize just how big it is - it's actually bigger than the much more famous Parthenon of Athens and the Temple of Zeus at Olympus.
The temple, first raised in the 4th Century BC, was dedicated to Zeus under the Greeks, then Jupiter when the city came under Roman rule. Rebuilt by the Emperor Hadrian in 120AD after the destructive Jewish revolt of 115AD, it was to fall again in the great earthquake of 365AD. By this time, Christianity had replaced the old gods and there was to be no rebuilding of the sanctuary the city's Christian inhabitants regarded as a "den of demons".
The current restoration begain in the 1950s and continues. Most of the sandstone Doric columns have been restored and/or replaced along with the large sections of the entablature and the inner cella . The bases of the statues, including the massive statue of Zeus that dominated the temple can still be seen.
It's a wonderful site, both imposing and very peaceful. The huge banks of of black clouds that rolled in whilst we were there added great drama to the scene, draining the columns of all their colour and throwing them into stark relief against the lowering sky. Skies like that would surely have struck fear into the hearts of those who sought to appease the gods.Related to:
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Farflung maybe ....
...but, by the evidence from artifacts in the site museum at Ptolemais, for the Greeks and Romans who settle here, life in Libya, across the other side of the Mediterranean, was anything but provincial. Sophisticated mosaics include a fine and complete Four Seasons pavement, depictions of Medusa and Orpheus, a very effective lion attacking a bear and remarkably lifelike and detailed fragments of cockerels and fish. Roman sculptures of Diana and stately matrons dating from the city's later years are joined by much earlier Greek sculptures from long-vanished Barce and even a lone Punic figure. The sinuous lines of the dancing nymphs on a marble fountain are as graceful today as when they were carved some two thousand years ago. Elaborately carved sarcophagi tell us there was wealth here enough to expend on the dead as well as the living.
Most fascinating (for me at least) are two grave stones depicting gladiators in their fighting armor. The laurel branches carved above their names tell us they both triumphed on at least eight occasions in the arena - champions indeed!
The lighting in the museum is appalling, casting a green tinge over everything - Picasa to the rescue!
The guidebook may tell you the museum is open from 0700-1700 - don't bank on it! The attendant may decide to take himself off home early - we managed to catch him just as he was about to lock up. If you're not with a tour party and the museum is open when you arrive, visit there before you head off up the hill - it may not be open when you get back.
Lost to time
What do we make of Slonta? Neglected and exposed for years, a jumble of carvings whose origins and meanings are a mystery, badly eroded and just as badly "restored", the tiny site (just a few square metres) may not seem worth the detour and yet here is perhaps the only indicator of the native culture of these mountains dating back at least to Greek times and maybe much earlier. Generally regarded as being a centre of worship for a pre-Greek local cult, the images found here are quite unique, uninfluenced in any way by any outside culture - Greek, Phoenician or any one else who might have passed this way.
We had already seen replicas of some of Slonta's carvings in the Archaeological museum in Tripoli and were interested enough to make the 25km detour south of Al Bayda to see the originals in situ and intrigued we were by what we found - not that we left any the wiser about what we had seen. It appears the sanctuary (if that's what it is) was once a cave. Was it one of the earthquakes that destroyed so much else of archaeological interest that caused its roof to collapse? Whatever it was, centuries of exposure to wind and rain have left the strange, almost cartoon-like, carvings of strange beasts, monstrous snakes and little people sadly eroded. The figures do have a child-like appeal however - and the presence of what are quite clearly carved pigs amongst them adds to the bizarre quality .... plump porkers really don't convey the usual gravitas of ancient rituals and sacrifice!
Despite the pigs and for all the naive quality of the carvings, there's nothing comical about them. They leave an impression of grief and fear that must have been very potent to the people who made them.
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