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Published: December 1st 2013
It's been a difficult couple of weeks in Tripoli. The International press has been sure to sensationalise the situation but even the unexaggerated version has been pretty grim. That's why we were delighted to be offered the chance to leave the city and travel to ancient Leptis Magna during our final weekend here. Roadblocks and security checks have all been removed now so the only thing stopping us from getting there quickly was the rain. And boy did it rain! We drove through some serious flooding to get there but our driver was very good. He even slowed down when he saw the floodwater!!
Our friend Claudia had arranged for a guide to meet us at a nearby villa famous for its mosaic floors. Instead he met us at Leptis Magna to tell us that it was closed because of the troubles. We got there at 9.30 and, even though the gates were supposed to open at 8am they remained firmly padlocked. We were a little concerned that maybe the guide was right but shortly before 10am a little man arrived with the keys to the ticket office and, mercifully, the gate. We were in, and we managed to persuade
the guide NOT to come with us. We all wanted to explore at our own pace.
The first thing you see (after negotiating the puddles along the entrance path) is the Septimius Severus Arch. He may sound like a character from Harry Potter but he was in fact Roman Emperor between 193 and 211AD. The archway which bears his name is impressive with some restored frescoes for decoration. It seems incredibly high when stood underneath and forms the centrepiece of a crossroads of straight Roman roads.
We decided to take the anticlockwise route beginning with the sports arena and the baths. The arena was an impressive wide area but there's not really much there. The baths were easy to imagine but it's a shame there are no mosaic floors left. Because of the rain we had the unusual sight of the baths being full of water - more of a cold room than a steam bath though. The biggest benefactors of both the excess water and our visit were the mosquitoes and we were soon rubbing repellent into any exposed flesh.
Next up for us was a long straight road leading down to the port and a
short diversion to the grand forum
complete with its wall of Medusa heads. It is a large forum but currently strewn with Roman remains which have been sorted out ready for a restoration project. At the far end was the Severus Basilica which is unfortunately closed. You can peer in through locked gates but that's really not the same.
We found our way along unclear paths to what we presumed to be the port area. There we had great views along the coast. The oil pipeline stretching out to sea is quite impressive and the chimneys of the power were juxtaposed behind the Roman columns. A Libyan Air Force G2 did a low flyby for us too. Maybe he was just bored, or perhaps he was really checking us out.
As we made our way back towards the car park the heavens opened. It didn't spoil the visit but it meant we had a little less enthusiasm for dwelling around the spectacular market place. We did take time to explore the theatre though, and the rainbow stretching across the sky rewarded our perseverance. All in all Leptis had been most impressive, but I think our experience was tempered
a little by the weather. We bought a few souvenirs at the gift shop before our driver drove us out to the amphitheatre.
Our guide had told us that the amphitheatre was closed. The road was blocked to vehicular traffic but we parked up and simply walked up the hill in the emerging sunshine. Wow! There's no other word to describe how you feel when you first see this intact circular basin. We have seen our fair share of amphitheatres in our time, but this one really takes your breath away. It seemed a little too difficult to get down to the floor but we had a bit of a climb around and you really get a feel for the intensity of the place. Having said that, the Christians who were led out to face the lions probably felt that intensity a little more than we did!
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