Friday, February 17, 2012

The future of Libyan heritage and tourism

The New York Times (Mike Elkin)

More than 2,600 years after the Greeks founded the city of Cyrene in the mountains of northeastern Libya, the ancient gymnasium’s high stone walls still shield athletes from the winter winds as they train among the ruins.

Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi disavowed pre-1969 history as colonialist and un-Libyan. Now that he is gone, heritage-conscious Libyans have drafted a plan to preserve the ruins at Cyrene and promote them as a tourist attraction in a rural area where unemployment is high.

Abdallah al-Mortdy, a 52-year-old architect, grew up just a few kilometers from Cyrene, but did not study the ruins, now a Unesco World Heritage site, until he left Libya at age 19 to study architecture in Florence. In the years since returning home, however, he says he cannot let two or three days go by without taking a stroll through the remains of the vast colony blanketing the hills and valleys of the Green Mountains. Spanning 7 square kilometers, or 3 square miles, the excavated and restored ruins include a temple to Zeus, a sanctuary to Apollo, a Greek agora and a Roman forum, Byzantine baths, and more than 1,000 rock-cut tombs dotting the countryside.

In the 1940s, Italian archaeologists raised many of the walls and columns that had collapsed since an earthquake in the year 365, but about 75 percent of the city lies undisturbed, with bits and pieces poking out of the ground.

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