As of last week, Libya's World Heritage Sites seemed to have survived unscathed the fighting between pro and anti-government forces. Given the lingering uncertainty about where things are heading, it's anybody's guess whether that good luck will prevail. (On Friday, Egypt's top archaeologist, Zahi Hawass, warned that his country's antiquity sites were being looted by criminals amid the country's political upheaval.)
The country has been a rich cross-cultural legacy. In the accompanying photo, an image of ancient Cyrene. Founded by the Greeks in the 4th Century BC, Cyrene became a World Heritage Site in 1982. And for good reason: One of the main capitals of the Hellenistic era, it retained its greatness throughout the Roman era until it suffered a devastating earthquake 365 AD.
Another view of the antiquities at Cyrene.
Credit: Global Heritage Fund
Archeologists consider Leptis Magna, another Libyan World Heritage Site to be one of the more important Roman sites still extant. To be sure, it's one of the most well-preserved. The city was founded in the 10th Century BC by the Phoenicians and came under Roman authority around the year 23 BC. After Rome's downfall, it was first captured by the Vandals and then destroyed by Berber marauders in the early 6th century. At that point, the city was permanently abandoned. It lay under the desert's shroud until excavations began in the 1920s.
Credit: Lybia Online
Much of Leptis Magna has yet to be excavated, a situation that may help preserve it if Libya undergoes prolonged unrest.
Sabratha, about 40 miles west of Tripoli, became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982. A Phoenician trading-post in its early days, it reached its pinnacle of success during Roman rule in the 2nd and 3rd centuries.
Another view of the theater at Sabratha, Libya. The ancient theater built by the Romans had a capacity of 5,000 seats.
A Roman garrison town founded in the first century during the reign of Septimius Severus, Ghadames was converted to Christianity by Byzantine monks. It remained a Christian outpost until the arrival of the Arabs in the 7th century. Although it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1986, the depopulation of the city has raised concerns about the integrity of the remaining antiquities.
The rock-art sites of Tadrart Acacus became a World Heritage site in 1985. The area is home to thousands of cave painting, dating as far back as 12,000 B.C. It's also noted for carvings made by the sundry groups that which inhabited the area during long stretches of prehistory.