Monday, December 19, 2005

Your Archaeological Blogger Returns from Libya

Have not "posted" for a while because I've been traveling.

I've recently returned from an interesting archaeological tour of Libya and Tunisia. Sponsored by the Archaeological Institute of America, we were on board the Corinthian II with 90 other tripsters which is a bit too many folks but Travel Dynamics, who handled all the arrangements, did it well.

Despite a rough start (15 foot waves and a huge storm in the Aegean ) as we crossed from Athens to Derna, Libya, the trip was safe, constantly challenging as the sites are not easy to tramp around and yet the ruins are fabulous if you are keen on Greek and Roman remains -- and mosaics! The tour was sponsored by several organizations, including the AIA. The lecturers on board were excellent, including Nancy Wilkie, formerly president of the AIA, Eve D'Ambra, art historian from Vassar, David L. Mack, a career diplomat and his wife Rosamond Mack, an expert in Islamic and Arabic textiles.

First stop was Cyrene, settled by the Greeks and once a rich agricultural hub. Its Temple of Zeus was originally larger than the Parthenon, restored by Roman emperor Augustus, destroyed by the Jewish revolt in AD 115, restored again by Hadrian and reduced to rubble (as were several other sites) by an AD 365 earthquake. Now being restored by Italian archaeologists. Cyrene’s lower city includes a sensational theater and impressive Roman baths.

On to Khoms and Leptis Magna, an enormous Roman site that has ruins as far as the eye can see but only ¼ have been excavated and restored. Here another stunning amphitheater overlooks the sea and beyond it are the ruins of a hippodrome. Villa Selene is a lovely Roman house with extraordinary mosaics, recently excavated and preserved by the sand that covered it. Evidently there are more and more still buried beneath the sands. Tripoli is a modern city, quite clean after the trash-filled landscape of the rest of the country.

The trip ended in Tunis at the incredible Bardos Museum, filled with vibrant mosaics, a full day to Bulla Regia that has unusual two-story Roman villas and mosaics in situ, and finally, to wonderful Dougga, built of golden stone giving, to quote Lonely Planet, “A beguiling glimpse of how Romans lived their lives flitting between the baths, the theater and temples.”

If you are interested in visiting Libya, make sure you are with an experienced travel group as I understand the Libyans have been known to turn away groups. Our people assured us that if everyone had their visa for Libya ready to go and let the leader handle the bureaucracy, that it will work. Travel Dynamics has been there four times and often the customs/agents take too much time and make a problem for the schedule but generally, if the group is patient it all works out.