Saturday, February 02, 2013

The boring history of Libya...

One thing that has always amazed me is that the majority of Libyans know very little about the history of their country... and Libya is full of history! Historical sites can be found throughout the cities and countryside. I hear all kinds of excuses as to why the people here know nothing and it's usually blamed on the former regime and the poor education system. But in my (somewhat humble) opinion the reason Libyans don't know much about their country's history is because they simply couldn't care less.... total indifference.... apathy. And that just makes me feel sad... :(

Last week, out of curiosity, I posted this picture on my Facebook wall and asked the Libyans on my friend's list if they knew what it was, where it was, who it was used by, why and when .... 

There were only three Libyans that responded to my query - none knew the correct answer, but they tried. The rest of the comments came from non-Libyans, many who had lived here in the past - they didn't have the right answer either, but it didn't matter because I posted the picture to quiz the Libyans on my list.... yes, I know, I can be a pain sometimes.  The reason that I know about this historical site is because I visited it on a tour given by the Archaeological Society. 

Before the revolution there was an Archaeological Society in Libya that organized day trips and guided tours to various historical sites around the country. They charged a nominal yearly fee to become a member and for each trip that you wanted to go on you paid around 40 dinars to cover the expenses of the bus, tour guide, drinking water and a small snack (you brought your own bag lunch). There were only a few Libyans who were members. When I'd ask any of my Libyan friends, family and students if they were interested in joining, they all declined for various reasons, but mostly because they thought it would be boring and a waste of money.... sigh... apathy...

Anyway, enough of my complaints... here's the answer to my photo quiz:

The picture was taken in an area of Tarhouna, about 6 kilometres from the town centre, called Ain Sharshara (Ain Scersciara). The site is located next to a small waterfall (the Arabic word for waterfall is sharshara) and a small spring that's mostly dried up now. The surrounding area is planted with pine trees that offer a perfect spot to have a picnic. Way back when, a settlement was built on this site by the Romans, probably in the first century A.D. along a road that led to Leptis Magna (about 44 Roman miles away). The area was called Cercar by the Romans who developed the surrounding countryside into fortified farms, orchards and olive groves. The main export at that time was olive oil which was shipped in large pottery containers called amphorae. 

The Romans made full use of the site and built a factory there to make amphorae. They had everything they needed: the earth in the area was clay, the spring and waterfall provided water and the trees in the area could be used to fuel the fire in the great ovens (kilns)... yes.. the picture shows a pottery kiln! 

Actually, what you can see is the bottom part of the kiln. It measures approximately 6 metres across. The part with the holes is the floor of the kiln where the amphorae were stacked, and below it is the area where the fire was built up. The area below is constructed with supporting arches that radiate from a central pillar and was originally about four and a half metres deep. Only the bottom part of the kiln is visible so we don't know whether the upper part was a permanent structure or if it was broken down and rebuilt at the time of each firing. It is one of the largest known kilns of its type and there are only 4 known in the world (2 in Italy and 1 in Turkey). There are remnants of two other kilns nearby. It has a fence and wall built around it to offer some protection, but you can climb right up on the kiln to have a closer look and even go down below (if you're skinny enough to fit through the stoke hole).  

Reproduced from ‘Libyan Studies, Select Papers of the late R.G. Goodchild’ (ed. Joyce Reynolds) 1976.


Maybe it is boring... and who really cares what the heck the Romans did.... but I think learning about early civilizations is interesting. It certainly beats the heck out of sitting around watching TV all day, or wasting time drinking cappuccino in a cafe... or wiling away the day on Facebook... but that's just my opinion, isn't it?


  1. Very interesting post, Teri. I've lived in Saudi Arabia now for 5 yrs. The first 4 yrs I waited around hoping/asking/begging my husband to show me the sights here, take me to some interesting places, or at least help me to enjoy things here in his home country. He has no interest whatsoever in doing any of these things. This past year I adopted a new strategy - I've made new friends, and I have made plans to do interesting things without my husband. Now he complains that I am always going out! I don't understand the lack of interest in his own country - I think I know more things to do here than he does!

  2. Yes, I agree with you that we "Libyan" should only blame ourselves for the ignorance about our history and country.
    thanks for sharing the info and picture.

  3. Hi, Teri. Really interesting post. I live not far from Uthina, which was a Roman town for retired soldiers--sort of a Roman Florida! We visit once a year to see how much they've excavated. I'll have to post about it this year. I have Roman rocks in my garden, too. There must have been a Roman house in the field behind us. Just a few of the things that make living in Tunisia interesting, despite the latest events.
    Good luck with the English Language Center. I'm sure it's keeping you extremely busy.
    best, nadia

  4. Looking forward to reading your post Nadia. Scattered all over our farm are bits of broken pottery and I have found some prehistoric hand tools. Whenever I'm out for a hike I keep a lookout for things and find myself scanning the ground instead of looking up! :)

  5. I ABSOLUTELY love your blog! I was first introduced to it during the revolution by following @Joanne on twitter. (She kept my sanity). In the last year I have read every posting that you made in the last 3 years! I am a Canadian married to a Libyan for almost 25 years and we finally dared to make the first ever visit with our 3 children in 2010 to meet my husband's family (and what I would now consider 'my" family). I loved Libya and the family I had never met! Thank you for being so honest in your blogs! I look forward each week to seeing what you have written for the week!!!

  6. My uncle lives in Tripoli and knows a lot about the history of Libya, especially the Romans. He was like my own personal tour guide when I was there. I thought most Libyans knew what he knows! I guess not.

  7. Fezzan Libya Media Group (FLMG) consists of a group of reporters and activists reporting on daily news and events in the South of Libya (Fezzan). We are the main source of accurate and reliable news, information, and political analysis from the South of Libya. We represent Libya’s proud history, and we are a platform for libya history news, women and minorities in Fezzan to voice their opinions freely without fear.


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