Libya Tour Guide: Benghazi

Libya Tour Guide: Benghazi Last updated on Thursday 22nd April 2010

Libya's second largest city is an important commercial and administrative centre and serves as Eastern Libya's main port.

It supports some small industry, mostly food processing and packaging. The modern city has little visual charm, as most of its older monuments have been destroyed, some during World War II and many others in the course of contemporary development.

A 1992 estimate records the population of Benghazi as about 500,000.

The old town contains many small shops selling a wide variety of goods. The old market, or funduq, sells fresh vegetables and local produce and has all the flavour and atmosphere typical of any market in the Middle East.

There are some Roman remains still to be found in the seafront area, but these are of limited interest.

History of Benghazi

Benghazi was probably founded in about 515BC by Greeks who had travelled from Cyrene and settled here on the coastal plain. Although information is unclear as to specific dates, we do know that the early settlement was known as Euesperides, and its situation was considerably further inland than modern Benghazi.

By 249BC the old harbour had silted up and a new site needed to be found for the town, closer to the sea. It was renamed Berenice after the Cyrenaican wife of Egypt's Ptolemy III, and subsequently became part of the Roman Empire.

The Arab invasion of AD643 showed no interest in the town of Berenice and little is known of it until the 15th century, when it once more began to be used as a trading post by travelling merchants. Ibn Ghazi (Ben Ghazi), a holy man who lived there during the latter part of the 16th century, gave his name to the town in 1579.

By the 17th century, the invading Turks had established themselves in Ibn Ghazi, where they built a fort, and used the town as a centre for tax-collecting. This made it an extremely unpopular place for merchants and travellers, and trade declined rapidly. The town fell into obscurity for many years and prosperity was not regained until the second Ottoman occupation, which began in 1839.

A naval siege, carried out by the Italians in 1911, resulted in Benghazi's surrender and Italian dominance of the city. It became an Italian stronghold and high walls were built encircling its central area. During the next 20 years, the Italians struggled for control of the surrounding areas, and began to rebuild the city in 1931.

Benghazi was the scene of heavy bombing raids during the Second World War and changed hands five times during this period. It was liberated by General Montgomery in 1942, but was so badly damaged that little of the city remained standing.

Rebuilding began slowly after Libyan independence, but was hampered by lack of government funds. With the discovery of oil in the area around Sirt in 1959, however, the city once again grew in importance and prosperity. As oil revenues increased, the city's development continued throughout the sixties and seventies, and its harbour was rebuilt in the early 1980s, to enable it to handle larger cargo vessels. New roads were also built at around this time.

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