Leptis Magna, Libya - Haunting Heritage
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29-06-2020    96 times
Leptis Magna Libya Heritage

Located two miles east of Al Khums in Libya and 81 miles east of Tripoli the spectacular site of Leptis Magna contains some of the most complete and well-preserved ruins of the Roman Empire. Roman Empire also known as Lectis Magna or Lepcis Magna, it was originally a Phoenician colony, later part of the Carthaginian Empire, the kingdom of Massinissa and finally a prominent city of the Roman Empire.

Originally founded in the second half of the 7th century BC by the Phoenicians of Tyre or Sidon, it appeared to have been powerful enough to fend off the attempt of Dorieus to conquer and make it a Spartan colony in 515 BC. Probably at the end of 6th century BC, Leptis became a part of the Carthaginian Empire, when its natural harbour at the mouth of the Wadi Labdah River helped to promote the growth of the city as a major Mediterranean and trans-Saharan trade centre. During that time, it was also an important centre of agricultural and commercial life. However, during the concluding part of the Second Punic War between Rome and Carthage, it became the Numidian Kingdom of Masinissa in 202 BC, but broke away in 111 BC to become an ally of Rome and eventually one of the most important cities of the Roman Empire. The city grew rapidly under the Roman administration, even an amphitheatre was constructed during the reign of Nero. Leptis achieved its greatest prominence beginning in 193 AD, during the reign of Emperor Septimius Severus, when a magnificent new forum was created. Moreover, construction of one of the finest basilicas in the Empire, equipped with three aisles, two apses and highly decorative sculptured scenes depicting the Severan family deities of Dionysos and Hercules, also began. However, the basilica with its height of 100 feet (30 m) was completed during the reign of Caracalla.

leptis magna libya
leptis magna libya
The Septimius Severus Arch

During the crisis of the 3rd century, when the Roman Empire nearly collapsed under the combined pressure of civil war, barbarian invasions and the flow of migrations into the Roman territory, the importance of Leptis Magna also fell from the grace into a steady decline. Finally, by the middle of the 4th century, even before it was completely devastated by the tsunami of 365, large parts of the city had been abandoned. After that, Leptis Magna and the rest of the cities of Tripolitania fell under the control of the Vandals in 439, when their king Gaiseric captured Carthage from the Romans and demolished the walls of the city of Leptis Magna.

The Roman Theatre, Leptis Magna
The Roman Theatre, Leptis Magna

Ten years later, Emperor Justinian I of the Byzantine Empire, recaptured Leptis Magna in the name of the Roman Empire and in or around 534, it was re-incorporated into the empire. By the 6th century, the city was fully Christianized, but the city continued to decline and by the time of the Arab conquest around 647 the city was mostly abandoned. Leptis Magna gradually disappeared under Arab domination and by the 10th century the city was forgotten and fully covered by sand.

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From the amphitheatre and the forum, the city of Lapis Magna was extended westward along the coast and inland to the south. Apart from a circus or a racecourse, around 1500 feet (46 m) long, the 2nd century buildings include the baths, constructed during the reign of Emperor Hadrian. The city centre was linked to the harbour with a 1350 feet (410 m) long colonnaded street, which terminated in a circular piazza, dominated by an intricately designed ornamental fountain house, known as a nymphaeum. The two main roads of the city intersected under a massive four-way arch, on which the grandeur of Emperor Septimius Severus and his family was carved in a frieze. The large Augustan theatre had a colonnaded stage and the market was unusual with its two semi-circular market halls. Other notable structures of the Roman period include the Chalcidium, a colonnaded building of uncertain function and a temple dedicated to the Augustan family and Rome. Apart from that, there was a 19 km (12 miles) long aqueduct and the Hunting Baths with colourfully painted scenes of hunting exploits.

One of the semi-circular market halls
One of the semi-circular market halls

The archaeological site of Leptis Magna contains some of the most impressive ruins of the Roman period and although buried under the ocean of sand until the early 20th century, it still holds the traces of the early Punic structures. In the early 1930s Italian archeological research excavated the buried remains of nearly all the city, when a necropolis, built between the 4th and 3rd century BC was found under the Roman theatre.

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Excavations conducted within the city in the 1990s, revealed a Roman house with an intact water system, which included a well and underground cisterns. In June 2005, the archaeologists from the University of Hamburg uncovered a 30 feet length of five colourful Mosaic created during the 1st or 2nd century, which decorated the walls of a deep pool of cold water in a bath house Public bathing within a Roman villa. Many of the works of art, uncovered during the various courses of excavations, are displayed at the Leptis Magna Museum, as well as at the Al-Saraya Al-Hamra (castle) museum of archaeology and history in Tripoli.

A part of the archaeological site of Leptis Magna
A part of the archaeological site of Leptis Magna

From the early 20th century the Libyan Antiquities Service and groups of Italian archaeologists carefully working to preserve and study the site of Leptis Magana and it was labeled a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1982.

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Dibyendu Banerjee
Ex student of Scottish Church College. Served a Nationalised Bank for nearly 35 years. Authored novels in Bengali. Translated into Bengali novels/short stories of Leo Tolstoy, Eric Maria Remarque, D.H.Lawrence, Harold Robbins, Guy de Maupassant, Somerset Maugham and others. Also compiled collections of short stories from Africa and Third World. Interested in literature, history, music, sports and international films.
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