Libya's Roman sites unscathed by unrest so far

Sun Feb 27, 2011 1:03am EST
 
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By Marie-Louise Gumuchian

RABAT (Reuters) - Libyans appear determined to safeguard their rich cultural heritage during the popular unrest against leader Muammar Gaddafi, protecting it from the looting seen in neighboring Egypt's revolution just weeks ago.

Conquered by most of the civilizations that held sway over the Mediterranean, Libya's rich cultural heritage includes Leptis Magna, a prominent coastal city of the Roman empire, whose ruins are some 130 km (80 miles) east of Tripoli.

The birthplace of emperor Septimius Severus, its amphitheatre, marbled baths, colonnaded streets and a basilica are considered the jewel in the crown of its Roman legacy.

While communication with Libya difficult sketchy amid the uprising against Gaddafi's four decade rule, two archaeologists who frequently work in the country said cultural artifacts appeared to have been spared the ravages suffered during Egypt's recent revolt.

"So far there are no records whatsoever of any areas from the cultural heritage of Libya being affected by the troubles," said Hafed Walda, a Libyan who advises the country's department of antiquities and once led an excavation at Leptis Magna.

"We're always worried about this in terms of chaos. It's going in the right direction so far but I'm not sure it will carry on like this. I don't know," he said from his London base.

In January, looters broke into the Egyptian Museum, home to the world's greatest collection of Pharaonic treasures, smashing several statues and damaging two mummies, while police battled anti-government protesters in the streets.

An Egyptian crossing into Tunisia told Reuters on Saturday that Sabratha -- an ancient Roman town with an amphitheatre and reconstructed theater where Benito Mussolini watched performances during Italian colonial rule -- was in the hands of civilians, but the information could not be corroborated.   Continued...

 
<p>A view of a ruin of the ancient city of Leptis Magna in Al Khums, some 130km (81 miles) east of Tripoli. REUTERS/Louafi Larbi</p>