Libya Tour Guide: Tolmeita (Ptolemais)
Libya Tour Guide: Tolmeita (Ptolemais) Last updated on Thursday 22nd April 2010
The ancient Graeco-Roman port of Ptolemais was named after Ptolemy II Philadelphus, the Egyptian ruler in the 3rd century BC.
It was originally the harbour for the inland city of Barce (now known as Al-Marj) and grew in importance during the Roman occupation. Together with Apollonia, it became one of the most important cities in Cyrenaica, reaching its zenith in the 3rd century AD. Raids by Berber tribes and the invasion of the Vandals contributed to its decline, however, and by the time of the Arab invasion the city had fallen into decay.
It lay undiscovered for many centuries, until a group of Italian archaeologists began excavations in 1935. The site is still not fully excavated, but extensive ruins have been uncovered, and these contain several impressive monuments.
The elaborately decorated Hellenistic Palace is one of the major buildings on the site. It dates back to the first century BC with later, second century AD additions. The house, which obviously once belonged to a noble inhabitant of the city, is two-storeyed with large rooms containing mosaic floors and marble paneling.
The Roman Forum was rebuilt in the first century BC on the site of its Greek equivalent, the Agora. It has a large vaulted roof, which was added by the Romans, and beneath it lie 14 large reservoirs which were fed by an aqueduct. Parts of this aqueduct can still be seen by the Roman bridge which spans the wadi.
The Street of Monuments, running SW/NE along the northern side of the site, was one of the city's main thoroughfares, and is lined with fountains, porticoes, inscriptions and statues. The Basilica is fully excavated, as are the Headquarters of the Dux, a fortress which once housed the Roman garrison.
The amphitheatre, which lies to the north of the Basilica, dates from the first century BC and was once the scene of gladiator combat. It is now in a poor state of preservation.
A small but interesting museum is located on the site. This contains Roman mosaics and sculptures, many of which are very well preserved.