Libya Tour Guide: Leptis Magna

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

Leptis Magna is a magnificently preserved Roman city, situated to the east of the town of Al-Khums at the mouth of Wadi Lebda.

In its earliest days it was probably a port of call on the Phoenician trade routes across the region, and by the 6th century BC was administered from Carthage.

A small port developed at the mouth of the wadi, which grew in size when the city became part of the Roman Empire under the Emperor Trajan in 111 BC. Under the patronage of the Roman Emperor Septimus Severus (AD193-211), who was born in Leptis Magna, the city flourished and gradually spread inland and in a westerly direction along the coast. Many of the major buildings date from this period, and the population at this time was about 70,000.

The city began to experience problems when the mouth of the river silted up, causing a decline in Saharan trade. Invasions by the Asturians, the Vandals and the Arabs followed, and the city was abandoned in the 11th century. By this time, coastal sand had completely overwhelmed the site, and its burial underground served to preserve it intact for many centuries. The present site is well below ground level, and access can only be gained by descending a steep flight of steps.

Among the most spectacular of the attractions of Leptis Magna are the Triumphal Arch of Septimus Severus, the Forum, the Basilica, which carries ornate inscriptions and has a wide variety of sculpture, the semi-circular Nymphaeum and the Hadrianic Baths. Built, of course, at the time of the Emperor Hadrian, this is one of the largest bath houses built outside the city of Rome itself, and was first excavated by Dr. P Romanelli in 1920. There is an elegant, colonnaded street connecting the bath house with the harbour.

Also of interest to the visitor is the impressive amphitheatre, which has a diameter of 70 metres and commands views across the city in all directions. The stage and its entrances are still intact. The Roman Circus, at the eastern end of the site is horseshoe shaped and lies exactly parallel to the coastline. The starting gates and monumental arch have already been uncovered, and excavation of this site is still underway.

Preservation of these magnificent buildings is excellent and the visitor can enjoy a tour of a truly impressive range of classical monuments. Those wishing to explore the site need at least a full day, or possibly longer, but should be warned that fiercely hot weather conditions in summer may permit only a series of short visits, during the cooler periods of early morning and evening.

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