Situated near the town of Shahat in eastern Libya are the Hellenic ruins of Cyrene. Our Libyan driver made quick time from the valley of caves with the vintage BMW purring along nicely.
Cyrene (UNESCO World Heritage Site ) was founded in 631 B.C by colonists from the Greek island of Thera.Along with the nearby port of Appolonia it was the chief among the pentapolis (five Greek cities ) in the region.Cyrene passed through different hands ;from Greeks to Persians , to Alexander, Ptolemy and finally was annexed as part of the Roman empire in 96 B.C.
The chief export was the mysterious herb sylphium thought to have contraceptive and abortive properties. Trade in sylphium made Cyrene one of the richest cities in the 7th century B.C. Sylphium was harvested to extinction and this led to the decline of Cyrene.A major earthquake in A.D 365 heralded the end of Cyrene and the city fell to ruins.
The first view of Cyrene as we drove in from Shahat was spectacular. Set among the cliffy slopes overlooking the blue green Mediterranean waters it had us scrambling for photographs. Later in the day we spent an exciting hour clambering over the ruins. Among the extensive ruins were the temple of Appolo (7th century B.C.),the agora (Greek marketplace ),the baths ,the acropolis and the amphitheatre . A spring has been channeled through the city as it flows down the hill and must have been the main water source. Many of the statues are headless as the earthquake toppled them breaking off the heads. However what saddened me was the callous neglect of such priceless heritage.The authorities need to do more to showcase what was once the”Athens of Africa”.