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krisek Tripoli - A travel report by Krys
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Tripoli,  Libya - flag Libya -  šaråbulus
6313 readers

krisek's travel reports

North Africa’s dark horse for travellers. Libya.

  11 votes
Page: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Unfair stereotypes and obsolete political ratings keep the most stunning and absolutely gorgeous ancient Greek and Roman ruins on the planet at bay from travellers. This is more than just unfortunate.


Leptis Magna
Leptis Magna
The capital city of Libya is not very large. It is home to one million people, which is rather small for a North African nation. It was in the past a Roman city, of which there are a few remains, like the Triumphal Arch of Marcus Aurelius. I liked it very much and its location, right by the walls of the medina make it so easy to find. It stands slightly below the street level, almost in a lower garden and it contrasts harmonically with the surrounding Arabic architecture of the old medina. After the Romans, the Ottomans came and they left some legacy, one of which is the Red Castle – right at the end of the medina and close to the harbour. Part of it is ruined but secured and the rest is housing a museum.

The medina, although very old, it fails to impress that much, compared with those in Fes, Meknes or Marrakech of Morocco. I was expecting a more bustling and colourful place. Nevertheless, the Tripoli medina is unmistakably Arabic and there are small souqs and shops selling carpets, amphorae, desert roses, and obviously gold. There many cafés with plastic chairs and sweet sticky tables, serving excruciatingly sweet mint tea and other soft drinks.

Another distinguishing part of Tripoli is the Italian architecture around the 1 of September street (1 September 1969 is the date when Mr Qathafi took power). The Italians occupied (again!) the country for about five first decades of the twentieth century. Obviously, they have to leave their finger prints on Tripoli by commissioning a hospital and remodelling some of the buildings in the centre to follow a classic Italian style. It looks great!

Modern Tripoli is still growing. The new high rise buildings only start to grow. There are still concrete and ugly, but I saw plans for more modern ones of glass and steel. I saw on Qathafi billboards that skyscrapers mean development and progress to him, so one should expect tall building to rise in Tripoli fast.

Favourite spots:
Sabratha Theatre
Sabratha Theatre
Sabratha, this magnificently surviving ancient Roman city offers the most complete theatre of the antiquities in the world. When I saw it appearing from behind the hill, I thought I was dreaming. Maybe not totally, but I guess I thought I moved back in time to the year of 190. I’d never seen anything like it in my life, and I’d seen quite a bit before arriving in Libya. The Sabratha theatre was remarkable, because the city of Sabratha had no city arch meaning it was less important than the neighbouring ones, like Leptis Magna and Tripoli. However, the theatre with the 95 meters auditorium was the largest in Africa! I loved the classical behind-the-stage façade with its three tier alcoves combining 108 columns which were over 20 meters tall. This made this theatre, the theatre of theatres! Various elements of the structure were meticulously decorated representing themes form the myths. Sabratha is about 30 minutes drive west of Tripoli’s centre.

What's really great:
Leptis Magna Forum
Leptis Magna Forum
One of the most spectacularly preserved ancient Roman cities in the world, Leptis Magna took my breath away. The grand entry to the site was the Arch of Septimus Severus. It was wonderfully restored and the result was mind-boggling! It made such an impact that everything else that I had seen in the Mediterranean of this kind looked bleak. The path from the entrance to the arch, which was located on much lower ground, did not reveal anything until the very last second and then it hit you! I simply could not believe my eyes. The arch was, for a lack of a better word, perfect. Hadrian’s Baths of Leptis Magna were potentially the most magnificent place in the city and arguably the most extravagant baths in the Roman Empire. The baths contained several pools, sophisticated heating system for the steam rooms (sauna) and complex toilet. All was meticulously decorated with different variety of marble, perfectly sculpted statues and elaborate mosaics. Leptis is 30 minutes drive east of Tripoli.

Sights:
Zanzur beach
Zanzur beach
Just 20 kilometres west of Tripoli, there was a different seafront world. Zanzur, it could be spelled Janzur, was a small, very civilised village right at a great beach. The sea was full of surprisingly tropical colours of turquoise, sea green and sea blue, dark blue and navy blue. The residential complex of Zanzur offered studios for rent, which could be taken for as little as two days, a weekend for example. It was well organised, and, what extremely important and so unusual for Libya, clean. There was also a small hotel on the site. The village stretched for about two kilometres along the coast and in the middle of it, directly on the beach there was a large swimming pool. What a great place to escape from Tripoli’s horrendous traffic!

Accommodations:
Modern Tripoli
Modern Tripoli
An average hotel cost 40 dinars (LYD), which is GBP 17 or USD 34, which is really an excellent value.

I stayed at the large Bab Al Bahr (LYD 60 single, LYD 70 triple), a 1970s style hotel, some 20 minutes walk west from the centre, I mean from the old town’s castle. My room had a sea view, was tidy and professional. The reception personnel was polite and friendly. The hotel catered for larger organised groups of tourists, mainly from Italy.

There were many other hotels around in Tripoli, mainly grubbier and slightly cheaper. If one wants to splurge, there is also the Corinthia Bab Africa Hotel - arguably the best hotel in Libya placed in a new futuristic high rise tower, right next to the old city walls. The hotel’s restaurant Venezia serves excellent Italian dishes from LYD 10, and does Friday brunch for LYD 25 per person (no brunch during Ramadan).

Nightlife:
Tripoli Sea Gate
Tripoli Sea Gate
There is no alcohol in the country. So, there are no bars or nightclubs. Apart from those in the upper scale hotels.

Fortunately, Malek and Hussain, whom I met in Nalut, took me out on a Thursday night. The guys took me to what has been the best night out I had in months! We went to Hussain’s farm, about 25 km outside town to hang around with Hussain’s friends. Hussain had the equipment set up in one of the rooms in the farmhouse, and his mate Ahmed brought other parts plus an electric guitar. There was enough stuff for the entire band – a complete set of drums, two electric guitars, a microphone and even a bongo. The guys played really well. We had all the classics from Led Zeppelin, to Nirvana, Metallica, Guns ‘n’ Roses, Red Hot Chilly Peppers, the tune from the legendary The Pink Panther… Hussain was a superb host, and a great guy. He allowed the boys to rock the place. His hospitality was overwhelming. I felt like I was among friends that I have known for years!

Hangouts:
Tripoli Castle
Tripoli Castle
Hanging out and going out in Libya usually meant taking a car and drive around the town. Petrol almost did not cost anything in Libya and cruising was in style. This was the way the local youth hung out. How other demographic groups did, I was not sure. I did not spot significant meeting places. I would imagine that the area around the castle and the nearby park might be places where people would meet up and chat. But this was not terribly obvious to me.

Restaurants:
Tripoli Marcus Arch
Tripoli Marcus Arch
I wanted seafood, so after arriving at the seashore, I saw a number of fishermen

selling their catch from tables lined up along the street. Right beside them, other entrepreneurs were heating grills. You select fish from a fisherman and choose your preferred table at a restaurant nearby. The fisherman gives you a number, organises the grilling man and gives it to the restaurant, which, at the end, provides you a consolidated bill. I sat at Ship Sea Meals (Al Shat Road, behind Shatea Al Nakhil Hotel).

Restaurant called Athar, situated by the ancient and wonderful Arch of Marcus Aurelius erected in the year 164, serves delicious traditional Libyan and Mediterranean dishes (LYD20-40). Their fish dishes are wonderful – select your fish from a table while it is still half alive. When the sun started to set, the place gained on its magical ambiance. The restaurant lit up the little green garden in which the Arch stands and put a gentle light also on the ancient monument as well.

Other recommendations:
Leptis Magna Market
Leptis Magna Market
The process to obtain Libyan visa was inconvenient. Libyan law discouraged independent travel. I had been told by two local travel agents that this was the case and many other agents refused to speak with me as an independent traveller. Luckily I managed to find two travel agents, who issued an official invitation. No travel agent in Libya would assist one in getting a visa and not try to charge at least 150 euro for it and insist one should buy the entire trip from them.

Libya was a great experience. The ancient Roman, Byzantine and Greek sites and the medieval Berber towns at the Sahara oases threw me on my knees. The openness and genuine friendliness of the people impressed me immensely. Meeting Hussain and Malek and the other guys was a definite highlight of my entire trip. I was happy that I decided to go to Libya and I would strongly recommend everyone to check this country out for themselves. The cumbersomeness of getting the visa and making the way there is worth the effort!

Published on Wednesday February 13th, 2008


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Fri, Mar 14 2008 - 03:46 PM rating by alfonsovasco

i could not go to lybia last year. no visa. i am haoppy that you could get in and tell us about

Thu, Feb 14 2008 - 05:14 AM rating by ravinderkumarsi

nice to read such a beautiful report ,all your 4 reports wonderful
ravi

Wed, Feb 13 2008 - 01:23 PM rating by rangutan

You describe places and your experiences very well. I wonder if those heavy metal rockers really know what lyrics they are singing?

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