Saturday, April 15, 2006

Leptis Magna, home of The Grim African

Up before dawn to dash to Leptis Magna (mainly so that we would be in Tripoli on Sunday instead of Monday, when the museums are shut). Leptis Magna is reputed to be the most impressive Roman site in Africa. From what I've seen so far, I think it just about edges it (on a technicality): Ephesus is still the best for me (but this is in Asian Turkey) and I personally preferred Cyrene (but that's Greek and Roman, not just Roman).

But don't get me wrong - Leptis is amazing. The site sprawls around with low-level ruins (of houses and minor structures) interspersed by truly monumental edifices, such as the bath houses, theatre, amphitheatre and arch of Septimus Severus (a local boy who became Emperor of Rome then did up his home town, he was also known as 'The Grim African').

The only thing lacking is the feeling of being in a living, breathing, city that Ephesus manages, somehow, to conjure up - as you walk down the main street in Ephesus, towards the library, and squint a little you can imagine yourself surrounded by toga-wearing ancients instead of t-shirt clad tourists; it really is magical.

The joys of Leptis are slightly more cerebral. Standing here, under the arch of Septimus Severus you can stop and think about the enormous breadth of that ancient empire. From Hadrian's wall in the north to Leptis Magna, Africa's leading city, in the south; from Iberia in the West to - Syria? further? - in the East. Two thousand years ago... have we really come that far since?


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