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25 Mar 2006 - Leptis Magna
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Arch of Septimus Severus Communal lavatories in Hadrianic Baths Theatre 
Off to Lebda for our first day into the country, to visit the Punic (Phonenian) and Roman city of Leptus Magna, 130km east of Tripoli. Arrived after a two hour drive along the fairly agricultural strip of land that borders the Mediterranean for much of Libya's northern coast, passing olive groves, oranges, some cereals and market gardens. It's pretty dry by UK standards but fertile by Libyan ones. The only downside was the rubbish strewn along the road and in the nearby fields - plastic bags too numerous to count, all the way up to rusting, abandoned cars and trucks.

Leptus Magna is truly impressive, covering hundreds of acres of ruins. The city was occupied for hundreds of years until destroyed by a big earthquake in AD365. After being abandoned, it was gradually covered in around 10ft (3m) of sand until discovered about 100 years ago.

Too many features to mention in this short account, but the impressive arch of Septimus Severus near the entrance sets the scene. The Hadrianic Baths, the New and Old Forum, the Basilica and the Theatre are all recognisable in the main town, while just off the the east is an equally well preserved Aphitheatre and a rather more degraded chariot racing track, the Hippodrome.

A big museum houses many of the mosaics, statues and delicate pieces that can no longer be trusted to be left outside.

To the west is Byzantine villa, one of over a hundred allegedly built along the coast but only a handful have been excavated so far. The main feature here is the quentity and quality of the mosaic floors, all perfectly preserved under the sand, but now only a thin strip of carpet protects them from the tourists' feet.

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