Berberian lion-symbol of Libya. The author of photos – Regina.
The vast and sparsely populated Libya is located in North Africa between Tunisia, Algeria, Niger, Chad, Sudan and Egypt. The territory stretches from the shores of the Gulf of Sirte in the Mediterranean Sea to the endless sand dunes of the Sahara on the border with Chad. Libya is the fourth largest country on the African continent. But the population is at its lowest. The country is home to about 6.5 million people, according to the 2010 census. Climatic and geographical conditions are not conducive to migration. Almost 90% of the territory is occupied by the barren sands of the Sahara. Only thanks to the discovery of huge oil deposits was Libya able to enter the international economic arena in the middle of the last century and transform from a third world country into a prosperous state. Since 2011, Libya has suffered from a protracted armed conflict, which has significantly shaken the political situation and reduced the standard of living of the population.
Geography and scenery
Touareg, Sahara Desert, Libya. The author of the photo is Marcus Stocklin.
Ninety percent of Libya’s territory is occupied by the majestic Sahara. Nevertheless, the country is considered one of the most picturesque in North Africa, thanks to the variety of landscapes. Unlike its neighbors in the Maghreb, the coastline of which is reliably protected by the Atlas Mountains, in Libya, no ridge does not impede the movement of the desert. And this creates unique natural corners in which the impossible – the barren Sahara and the life-filled Mediterranean Sea – are combined.
The desert meets the sea in the northern part of Libya. To the east is the Barca el-Bayda plateau, one of the inhabited parts of the country and the center of the historic region of Cyrenaica. To the west is Tripolitania, with the state capital Tripoli, to the south is the Fetsan Depression, a “postcard” area of oases and formerly major tourist destinations.
Sluntah, Cyrenaica, Libya. Photo by Walid Zughaid.
Much of the traditional region of Libya is located on the limestone plateau of Barca el-Bayda with heights up to 900 meters, sloping gently down to the Mediterranean Sea. On the uplands there are remnants of relict forests and thickets of dense shrubs. There is enough rainfall to allow farming, or rather the cultivation of a very limited number of cereals.
But private farms are also found in the vast Libyan Desert, also part of Cyrenaica. Farms are concentrated in the oases of Al-Jaghboob, Awjila, Buzaima, Jiharra, Kufra, Marada and Rasseda. Between the green corners, sand dunes stretch for many kilometers, of which there are especially many along the border with Egypt.
Tripoli, Libya. The author of the photo is Ziad Fhema.
The central region of Libya is located on the coastal plain of Jephara, the desert plateau of Hamada el-Hamra and the mountains of El-Soda. Here are the key cities of the country since antiquity – the capital Tripoli, Leptis Magna and Sabrata. The region is arid and poorly vegetated. Only a few areas are suitable for agriculture. On the southern limestone hills, with heights up to 750 meters without irrigation, figs, olives and barley are grown, the main crops of the country. In the northern part of the El-Hamra Plateau, nomadic tribes are engaged in raising livestock, thanks to the relatively comfortable temperatures and pastures.
Fezzan, Libya. Photo by Antonio Romei.
The desert area in southwestern Libya once gave the state economic independence from the United States and Britain. It was here that huge deposits of oil, gas and gold were discovered, as well as valuable fresh water in numerous underground springs. Fezzan produces up to 30% of the total volume of oil in Libya, so the region is considered strategically important and is closely monitored by the government. The main cities of the region are in the oases of Al-Fejaij, Gaberun, Gadduwa, Hagiara, Sokna, Umm al-Ahrar, Wau an Namus and Zawila. The center is the town of Sebha.
On the border with Chad, the desert with rare oases turns into a dissected mountain range Tibesti, with the highest point of the country, Mount Bikku Bitty (2267 m).
Climate, seasons and weather
Leptis Magna, Al Khums, Libya. The author of the photo is Tarek Alwan.
Due to the influence of the Mediterranean Sea, Tripolitania and Cyrenaica have a Mediterranean climate similar to southern Italy. Summers are long, hot, and dry. Winters are mild and relatively humid, especially in December and January. During the day, the north wind softens the hottest hours. On the other hand, the hot, sandy wind from the south “Gebley” raises huge amounts of dust and dries in its path. Gebley season falls in the winter months, on some days the wind speed reaches 30 m/s, and the temperature of the sand carried out of the desert is +50 ° C.
The Libyan Sahara is a classic desert with a hot climate. The rains are extremely rare and do not bring relief. The moisture instantly evaporates. The most favorable temperature, if this applies to the desert, is observed in March-April and October-November – +25 … + 30 ° C. In summer the scorching heat is +45 … +55°С. In January the desert is subjected to sharp fluctuations in temperature. During the day the thermometer shows + 25 ° C, and at night it drops to – 5 ° C.
The best time to travel to Libya is in the middle of spring and early fall. In spring, the flowers are blooming on the Mediterranean coast, and the temperature of the air and water is very pleasant. As for hiking in the desert, the best time – from mid-October to mid-December and from mid-February to end of March. Nights are comfortable, with no sudden changes in temperature, the day is rarely + 40 ° C, a lot of cloudy days, which facilitates the hike through the endless dunes.
General History of Libya.
Central Basilica, Apollonia, Cyrenaica, Libya. The author of the photo is Stephanie Merlo.
The first inhabitants on the territory of modern Libya appeared in the II millennium BC. The desolate, poor terrain was not conducive to farming. Therefore, the population was engaged in raids on Egypt and led a semi-nomadic lifestyle. Everything changed with the arrival of the Greeks. In 631 B.C., the first civilized migrants settled in Cyrenaica and started a thriving society.
For almost a thousand years Libya developed in the best traditions of ancient Greece and Rome. Wars could not be avoided. At different times the country was ruled by Greeks, Romans and even Egyptians. Nevertheless, the strategically important Maghreb country remained rich and prosperous. With the arrival of the Ottoman Empire, Libya took on modern features. Muslim Arabs conquered the state in 663. The new rulers were at first very tolerant of Christians, but the culture, traditions, and way of life were already changing under the influence of Islam.
In 1510, the Spaniards, led by General Pedro Navarro, acting on behalf of Charles V, conquered the rich Libya. But the emperor had little interest in the desert colony. So the Turks were able to return to power without much effort. The Ottoman Sultan Soliman II the Magnificent in 1577 took Tripoli without a fight, and then the whole country. Libya remained part of the Ottoman Empire until 1911.
Italy, like all great powers, wanted a colonial empire. Giovanni Giolitti, president of the Italian Council, cast his eye on Libya as a Maghreb country in deep economic crisis. The Italian army, though poorly trained, quickly captured Tripoli. The military simply bombed the city. In 1919, the new owners divided the country into three parts, taking into account the historical boundaries:
- Fezzan in the south;
- Tripolitan Republic in the north;
- The Emirate of Cyrenaica in the east.
The rule of the Italians was short-lived. At the end of World War II, British and French troops liberated Libya from fascism. At the same time the question of the country’s independence arose. But it took as long as eight years for the UN to decide on this issue. In 1951 Libya becomes a federal monarchy, with Islam as the official religion. Legislative power is transferred to King Idris I. and a bicameral parliament is organized.
Libya and Colonel Qadaffi
Muammar Qadaffi, Libya.
In 1969 the underground socialist movement gained the support of the army and a competent leader in the person of Muammar Qadaffi. On the night of August 31 to September 1, rebellious military forces stage a coup d’état, taking advantage of the absence of a king in the country. The monarchy is abolished, Crown Prince Hassan abdicates the throne and Libya becomes a Republic. In 1970, British and American military bases are urgently evacuated. Italian immigrants were persecuted.
The new name Jamahiriya was given to Libya in 1977. The literal translation from Arabic is “law of the people. All kinds of communes, committees, and centers with the prefix “people’s” were formed everywhere in the country. It was supposed that everyone could express his opinion about the state system. In fact, this was not the case. The Qadaffi regime can be described in general terms:
- Freedom of speech: All officials could be criticized, but Gaddafi was forbidden. A well-developed spy network, reinforced by revolutionary committees, encouraged a system of denunciation. Dissenters were arrested, tortured, and many went missing.
- Overseas education: students could study abroad, but they could be called back at any time for a control interview and sent back to Libya.
- Media: Journalists must endlessly glorify the regime and Colonel Gaddafi, foreign publications are censored, independent trade unions are banned.
- Religion: even Muslim leaders (ulema, imams) are under surveillance during mass religious ceremonies. Jews are persecuted en masse – arrests, dispossession, prohibition of traditional burials, forced eviction.
- Culture: Arab identity is promoted, Berber ethnic groups are persecuted (prohibition to speak their own language, to hold national ceremonies, to open cultural centers, etc.).
The Jamahiriya regime is not all negative. Qadaffi developed the health care system, built hospitals and provided free health care for everyone. The education system was literally created from scratch. And although it was mostly aimed at propaganda of the existing system, the literacy rate increased by 95%. Colonel Qadaffi was personally proud of the development of gender equality. Even the Libyan revolutionary hired only women for his personal guards.
All this was made possible by skyrocketing oil prices in the mid-1970s. Huge amounts of money went to finance the social system and urban development. But even larger sums were poured into building a professional army. Libya promoted Arab nationalism and was an implacable enemy of the U.S. and Israel. As soon as it got the chance, the Americans declared the country a terrorist state and in 1986 launched missile strikes on several major military bases. The military overreached and hit civilian cities where Qadaffi could theoretically be located. The colonel was unharmed, but his two-month-old daughter was killed in the raids. The long-running confrontation between the West and the East began.
In February 2011, an uprising broke out in Libya against Qadaffi, the country’s permanent ruler for 42 years. The first riots erupted in Benghazi. It was here that the National Transitional Council, composed of rebels, was created. In order to protect the civilian population of Libya, the UN approves the introduction of troops from Canada, the United States, France, Great Britain, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey. Six months later, the rebels, supported by their allies, succeeded in taking control of Tripoli. After a two-month search, Colonel Qadaffi was found and killed in the city of Sirte. Another coup cost Libya dearly – numerous civilian casualties, destroyed cities, and economic decline.
The first democratic elections in the country’s history, held in 2012, failed to meet expectations. Libya is still in a state of civil war. This time, armed former militia groups and radical Islamists are in conflict. No agreement has been reached so far.
Maghreb values: religion and way of life
Most of Libya’s population lives on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea and in the oases. Despite the vast area, there are very few large population centers in the country. The exceptions are the capital Tripoli (1.5 million people), Benghazi (800,000), Misrata (360,000) and the oasis of Sebha (300,000). The four cities in Libya are home to almost half of the country’s total population (the last census was conducted in 2010, just before the war).
Libya is radically different from the other Maghreb countries in terms of the homogeneity of the population. It is predominantly populated by Arabs and small ethnic groups of Berbers in the south of Tripolitania, Tuaregs in the Fezzan, and Toubou in the east. There are also small communities of Greeks, Turks and Maltese. Therefore, Libyan culture has a common Arab basis, supplemented by the national diversity of historical areas.
Almost all Libyans are Sunni Muslims. Libyan Islam is organized around the religious order of Senusia, founded in Mecca in 1837. Fiercely anti-Christian Senusia, occupied the whole country as early as 1843, controlled the movement of caravans and opposed the Italian colonizers.
Under the regime of Muammar Gaddafi from 1994 to 2011, Sharia (Islamic law) was applied in matters of law. Even after the 2011 revolution, the president of the Transitional National Council, Mustafa Abdeljalil, announced that the new legislation would be based on Sharia, and thus Islam would be the main source of law in the new Libya.
Before the discovery of oil, Libyan society was predominantly nomadic, raising cattle. After independence in 1951, the economic situation of the country was disastrous. The feudal system literally imposed harsh laws, especially in the area of taxation, which led to years of famine in the country.
The discovery of large-scale oil fields in 1958 and Muammar Gaddafi’s rise to power in 1969 was the beginning of profound social and economic change. Nomadic Libyans were forcibly relocated to new cities, forced into education and cultural development. Gaddafi made it compulsory for all children under 16 to go to school, including girls. Family planning centers, hospitals, and socio-cultural facilities were opened all over the country. Libyan society reached a whole new level of development.
Unlike most oil-producing countries, which invested dividends in economic development while maintaining social structures only to satisfy the crowds, Libya voluntarily turned to social progress “along Western lines. Nomads led sedentary lifestyles (often forcibly), living standards rose, and as a result, Libyans, once the poorest, became among the richest inhabitants of the African continent. But not all of the population has unconditionally accepted the civilized benefits. Dependence on the state provoked a massive wave of immigration. By the end of Qadaffi’s rule, almost 50 percent of the working population were foreigners. Natives either left in search of a “free” life in other African states or refused to work.
Traditions and Customs
Tassilin-Adjer, Libya. Photo by Marcus Stocklin.
Libya is an Islamic country, so rare travelers should learn some customs to avoid getting into unpleasant situations:
- Shorts and T-shirts may not be worn in the cities, especially by women. Clothing can be any color, but closed – long skirts, pants, blouses and shirts with sleeves.
- Men are strictly forbidden to approach Libyan girls. It may cause a woman to be punished. As a rule, the girl is always accompanied by her father, brother or husband. Therefore, the address will not go unnoticed.
- Shoes must be removed before entering any house or mosque. It is forbidden for women to enter a mosque without a headscarf.
- You cannot offer money for a night or dinner in a private home if you have received a personal invitation from the host. A generous token of gratitude is an insult in Libya.
- It is forbidden to eat or drink anything in public places during Ramadan. However, this will be quite difficult to do, given that all markets, grocery stores, restaurants and cafes are closed until sunset.
The war has set Libya back several decades. Development in all walks of life has temporarily stalled. Nevertheless, the population is friendly, hospitable and fanatically religious. In the near or distant future, a visit to the easternmost country of the Maghreb will bring a lot of positive experiences. It is to be hoped that the armed conflict will end soon, and will not have time to destroy the ancient historical and cultural heritage of beautiful Libya.
Horse riders in traditional dress, Libya. Photo by Sammy Naas.
Libya is an African country washed by the Mediterranean Sea
Libya, a state located in the northern part of the African continent. Libya is washed by the Mediterranean Sea in the north and is bordered by Egypt, Sudan, Nigeria, Chad, Tunisia, and Algeria. Much of the territory is located in the Sahara Desert. The area is very sparsely populated because much of the population is concentrated along the coast, where the capital Tripoli and Benghazi, which is another important city, are also located. The place where the capital Tripoli is located is known as the al-Jifara plain.
Within Libya one can also find the Nafusa Plateau, which consists of a limestone massif and the Akhdar mountain range, which is located in the northeast of the country. The rest of the territory consists of the plains of the Sahara Desert. The highest mountain in Libya, Bikku-Bitti, which is near the border with Chad and reaches a height of 2267 meters.
Libya is an African country washed by the Mediterranean Sea.
Of the animals in Libya you can find desert hares, hyenas, foxes, jackals, skunks, gazelles and wild cats. Beware of poisonous sand snakes and pythons, which often hide near oases and water-filled holes in the ground. While in Libya, larks, eagles, hawks, and vultures may fly overhead, as well as partridges and prairie hens.
In addition to the architectural and natural beauties, the cultural environment of the country is also worth mentioning. A big influence is Islam, which is the dominant religion in the country.
What is worth knowing about Libya:
During the reign of Muammar Gaddafi, Libya had the rather expansive name of the Great Libyan Arab People’s Socialist Jamahiriya;
It is said that under Muammar Gaddafi’s government, electricity was free to all residents, banks provided interest-free loans, and if any citizen wanted to farm, he received free land, a farm, equipment, and animals;
About 95% of the territory is occupied by the Sahara;
About 97% of the population practiced Islam.
Leptis Magna, one of the most visited places in all of Libya. This important architectural monument is considered the best Roman building ever built in the Mediterranean. The area of Leptis Magna was inhabited as early as the first millennium BC, when the Phoenicians settled here. They were succeeded by the Romans, followed by the Berbers and then by the Arabs. The site was inhabited until the 11th century when it was finally deserted. Archaeological discoveries were made in the 20th century and today you can admire the remains of a number of important buildings, including a spa, a basilica and an amphitheatre.
If one were to compile a list of the most important historical sites in Libya, the city of Cyrene would be next to Leptis Magna. It is one of the best preserved Greek cities located in this region. The city was founded by Greek settlers from the island of Thera in 631 BC. Cyrene was best known for its philosophers, astronomers, mathematicians and other scientists.
Today you can admire the ruins of temples, tombs and theaters. There is a beautiful 5th century Temple of Zeus built before Christ and a unique museum full of statues, sculptures and other artifacts that were once the pride of this majestic city. Skylot, the main road through the city, which is still bordered by imposing columns with engravings depicting Hermes and Hercules.
Old Town Hall
The Old Town Hall in Benghazi is one of the remnants of Italian rule. The town hall is located in Freedom Square and is now abandoned. Nevertheless, it has retained much of its elegance to this day. Unfortunately, visitors do not have access to the interior decoration of the town hall, but there is an opportunity to see the white Italian building with arched entrances and columns, from the outside. Attention should be paid to the large balcony, where famous orators and statesmen once spoke. Mussolini spoke here, German Field Marshal Rommel inspected his troops from here, and King Idris addressed his subjects.
Tripoli – what to visit in the capital of the country?
As Saraya al-Hamra, an important monument located in the old part of the city, which is also known as the Red Castle. It is a unique example of the power of the historically important state of Tripoli. The total area of the castle and its surroundings is up to 13000 square meters.
Tripoli – what to visit in the capital of the country?
Gurgi Mosque, the last mosque in the city built during the Ottoman Empire. The interior of the mosque is one of the most beautiful places in the city, the main prayer room is decorated with Italian marble columns, ceramic tiles from Tunisia and Moroccan stone statues. The mosque is the final resting place of the famous naval captain Mustapha Gourgui.
Zoo, an oasis of tranquility in bustling Tripoli just south of the city center. Here you can admire a variety of exotic animals, including elephants, lions, tigers, monkeys and various reptiles. In the zoo you can relax in peace or have a nice picnic with friends.
Libya, a beautiful country with a very rich history, the heritage of which can be admired here to this day. It has a number of unique monuments, including Roman and Greek ruins and the ruins of the Ottoman Empire. All this is complemented by tropical warm weather and Islamic culture, making Libya a very exotic and interesting country.