Whoever the Roman gentleman was who built Villa Sileen, he - and his family - knew all about gracious living. It's hard to imagine a more idyllic spot., right by the sea about 25 km from Leptis Magna. This was a very rich man's house - relatively modest in size but adorned with exquisite frescoes ( delicately painted white herons on warm red walls in one room, sweet little cherubs in another) and gorgeous mosaics of gods, animals, the circus, dwarfs and crocodiles hunting each other. There's a bathhouse complete with hot and cold pool, more frescoes - and quite sophisticated plumbing for a shower. Mosaic pavements in a multitude of geometric designs form terraces - all with lovely sea views - and more mosaics - wonderfully lively animals - are to be found all through the garden.
All this beauty lay hidden for centuries under the dry, clean sand of the dunes - a wonderful preservative. When it was finally discovered in the latter half of the last century, the Libyan Department of Antiquities took enornous care over its preservation. For many years access was extremely restricted and even today, although the villa is now open to visitors, getting there is not easy. If you plan to make a private visit, your tickets, and a guide, must be collected from the ticket office in Leptis Magna ( and the guide returned there after your visit). Then you have a 25km journey back to the villa down a completely isolated road - public transport is not an option here.
Photography is allowed now - the usual camera charge of 5LD applies.
Believe me - Villa Sileen is worth all the effort it takes to get there. The chances of you being there on your own are excellent and the peace and beauty of the place will bowl you over.Related to:
- Historical Travel
Jouneen, near Ghadames, is just a small village, the old centre now deserted as the people have left their traditional houses for more modern comforts. It's considerably more ruinous that Ghadames, though there is now quite a bit of restoration going on and, no doubt one day it will be possible to walk the old streets again. The village well is the thing to see here - a very typical oasis well with its long arm made from two split palm tree trunks. It's not in use these days - though restoration has begun. Meanwhile, modern pumps bring up the artesian water that is used to irrigate the gardens of Jouneen - not as picturesque perhaps, but certainly more efficient.Related to:
Nalut - hilltop Berber town
Nalut is well worth some time spent exploring. As well as the fascinating structure of the qasr (fortified granary) you'll find many almost intact houses in the tumble of the village that surrounds it on the hillside below. Olive presses , still with the residue of old pressings in them, that were in use until quite recent times tell of a productive process that is centuries old. One mosque is still in occasional use but there's also a wonderful ancient mosque with incredibly organic pillars and form - and marvellous views over the coastal plain below. An inscription dates the mosque to 1312, making it the oldest in Nalut.
There's a caretaker at Nalut who will open the qasr for you and point you in the direction of the mosque and the oil presses. The views are stunning and need no pointing out!
The inscription carved into the hillside across from the old town celebrates the Socialist Revolution 36 years ago that brought Ghaddafi to power and set Libya on its "Third Way".
The new town has no great attractions though you can find somewhere reasonable to eat here. All were closed for the Eid when we drove through - we ended up sharing the Eid ram being barbecued ( incinerated) by the staff of a restaurant out of town that my driver knew - it was closed for the day but we were made welcome.
The road to Ghadames forks off from Nalut.Related to:
- Historical Travel
After days in the desert, all we had seen of Libya's wildlfe was a lizard on a rock, a few birds and myriad footprints in the sand around the lakes of the Ubari Sand Sea and our campsite in the desert. Our Tuareg guide pointed out jerboa and gerbil prints, as well as fennec, desert hare, centipede, millipede, scorpion, snake, skink and lizard tracks but that was it. The advent of a "ghibli" - the sand-laden wind of a Saharan Spring - meant our last day was spent in a thick, dust haze as we drove back to Sebha. Visibility was drastically reduced, which meant we couldn't head back into the dunes as we had planned. Driving was slow but we still had some time up our sleeve. Our driver knew how to fill some of it. He took us to a small zoo.
I was a little wary - having worked in a zoo for several years, I have no problems with them in principle, but they must be well-run and the animals well-cared for and I was a bit afraid that this might not be the case. This place was fine. The animals had really good-sized enclosures that were clean, well-kept and well-provided with shade. The dry food was well-stored, fresh and abundant and there was fresh browse available as well. One of the foxes disappeared down a hole in the ground - obviously they were able to dig as they would in the wild. The sheep had rock piles to climb. All good signs.
What did we see? Rock hyrax; Rupell's sand fox; jackals; camels; gazelle; ostrich (yes, they do occur in Libya) and the critically endangered al wadan - Barbary sheep. Added to the birds - brown crows, moula-moula (white-headed wheatear), doves, birds of prey and a vagrant stork - we'd seen quite a lot of Libya's rapidly declining fauna.
The zoo is located in the Wahat Fezzan campsite, a few kilometres outside Sebha past the airport. The campsite itself is very pleasant, with various sized (and no doubt, priced) thatched huts, very clean ablution blocks, gardens, teahouse and swimming pool.Related to:
Jalu, the place of the total solar eclipse
Why to visit the area of Jalu deep in the desert at an about 6 hours ride from Benghazi ? It's a total flat area with almost nothing to see. At the 29th march in 2006 we went there and we were not alone. The heartline of the total solar eclipse was about 80 km south of Jalu and thousands of people came here to watch.
We arrived in Jalu in the late afternoon and waited in a small bar close to the fuel station for our travelagent to bring us to the campsite in the desert at a tomato farm, not far from the heartline.
The next day we had a short drive to the heartline to experience a total solar eclipse of about 4 minutes. It was an incredible and magical experience.Related to:
- Road Trip
This ruined fort, standing eerily isolated on a rocky hilltop in the middle of the desert, reperesents the last outpost of the Roman Empire. To the south of it, beyond the Sahara, were the unknown lands of sub-Saharan Africa from which emerged caravan trains bearing slaves, elephant tusks and caged animals destined to die in Roman arenas. The climb to the top is worth it for the superb views you will have of the surrounding desert.
Ras al-Ghoul, which means Mountain of Ghosts, is 10km to the north-west of Ghadames. You will need a 4WD vehicle in order to reach it.Related to:
- Historical Travel
- Castles and Palaces
Qasr Libya - Eastern Church
The Eastern Church is the one that the fifty famous mosaics were removed from. You can see the floor and the mosaic borders left behind. There is also a side chapel with a section of mosaic floor, depicting birds, rabbits and fruit, still in place. The church and mosaics date back to 529-40 AD during the reign of Emperor Justinian I. The church is about 50 m down a footpath from the museum.Related to:
- Religious Travel
Qasr Libya - Museum
The Qasr Libya Museum houses the superb collection of mosaics taken from the floor of the nearby, Byzantine, Eastern Church. These mosaics, laid between 529 and 540 AD, were discovered by Libyan dam workers in 1957.
50 mosaic panels, each measuring half a metre square, are displayed in groups of five on the walls, with informative labels in both Arabic and English. On the floor of the museum is one large mosaic, depicting Nile scenes, taken from the eastern end of the church's northern aisle.
Opening hours: 8.30am-5pm
Admission: 3 LD + 5 LD per cameraRelated to:
- Arts and Culture
- Museum Visits
- Historical Travel
Susa (Apollonia)The town...
The town of Susa is situated on the coast, about 20km from Shahat. The nearby ruins of Cyrene's harbour, Apollonia, make this an interesting site for the visitor.
Founded at the same time as Cyrene, the port was named after the city's chief god, and grew in importance during the second and third centuries AD. Today, much of the town and harbour has suffered from landslides and is now largely submerged.
The city walls are still visible, but are in a poor state of preservation, with much fallen stone. Within the walls, one can view the Theatre, Baths, Main Street, and the remains of the Byzantine Palace. Various churches are dotted about the site; notably the Extra-Mural Church, the Eastern Church dating from the 5th century AD and containing some beautiful green marble columns, the Central Church and the Western Church, which is built up against the ramparts of the city walls.
A small museum is situated in the centre of the old town, containing some Byzantine mosaics and sculpture. Because excavation of this site has been minimal, the collection is not very comprehensive.
Coastal sand dunes
17km west of Misrata are what, according to Anthony Ham in the Lonely Planet guide, are "some of the largest coastal sand dunes in the world". In 2007 they didn't look that big. I am told that much of the sand has been used for building materials and that many dunes have been levelled to make way for farmland. There is now only one really big sand dune, which its fun to climb to the top of. The others are covered with scrub, so they are not so photogenic.
With the nearby fishing harbour, it makes a pleasant excursion from Misrata, but don't come here expecting massive, golden dunes. I'm not an expert on coastal dunes, but the big dunes at Maspalomas on the south coast of Gran Canaria in the Canary Islands, for example, are much more impressive.Related to:
- Road Trip
Also known as Tormisa and Tarmeisa, this ancient and abandoned stone village is perched on a spectacular and narrow rocky outcrop overlooking the Sahel al-Jefara.
There was once a draw bridge guarding the entrance to the town over a narrow 'isthmus' in the rock. The town was effective sealed off between the hours of 18.00 and 06.00, when the drawbrudge was closed.
The town is surrounded on the remaining three sides by steep cliffs plunging deep to the plains below.
The town was abandoned as recently as the 1950s, although many of the structures date back to the 13th century.Related to:
- Historical Travel
Qasr Libya - Turkish Fort
The Turkish Fort stands on a hilltop, outside the small town of Qasr Libya, 45 km west of Al Bayda. It satnds on the site of an earlier Byzantine fort and houses the museum with the famous mosaic collection.Related to:
- Historical Travel
Visit the desert
More than 90% of Libya is a desert landscape. But i can assure you that this desert is beautiful
Four days 4x4wheel traveling in pure nature with his own rules, habits and regulations.
Setting up your own hotel room (tent), views through natural windows of rocks, looking for flora in oases - just name it, it is an experience without business stress.
Pictures are all made by my travel accompanions Lieven and FrankRelated to:
Visit the desert - enjoy the flora
Since Libya opened the frontiers for tourism, and in the very near future for mass tourism -
"off the beathen paths" will become "local customs tips"
Not only sand and beautiful sunsets, but also some remarkable oases and it's typical plants and fruits will become the recommanded highlightsRelated to:
- Road Trip
Going to Libya is off the beaten path. And that's Tripoli, the capital. Going to #2 city, Benghazi is really off the beaten path. And going to the Greek ruins at Cyrene, about 100 miles east from Benghazi is very off the beaten path. But worth it. The area, known as the Green Mountains, is really beautiful. They aren't high mountains really, just hills rising outside of Benghazi. But through a trick of geography and weather, they are green in comparison to the rest of Libya. Short trees and grass populate the area, which has made it a vacation spot for the Libyan elite for decades. When you reach Cyrene, the view from the hills down over the Mediterranean is spectacular. Like most Libyan archaeological sites, the ruins are not well marked, there are no guides (that you can trust). But at Cyrene you can imagine it all without too much help. At the entrance gate, there is a delightful store selling memorabilia, which is operated by a man who has spent his life researching Cyrene. He is fascinating to talk to. Buy his books - they are good reads. And ask him about how the story of the "English Patient" is a story of Libya (albeit filmed in Tunisia to great insult of Libyans).
If you're coming from Tripoli, you have to fly to Benghazi. The most common method is Buraq Air. About an hour flight. And then you need to get a driver to take you to Cyrene. This is easily arranged through your hotel.
When our KLM flight was cancelled on 21 Feb 2011 we were put in the Corinthia Bab Africa Hotel, and...more
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