Sunday, September 11, 2011

Libya's sites seem OK

Libyan archaeologists are beginning to inspect the country's priceless historical sites, hoping part of their cultural heritage and economic future has not been ruined by war."It is the first time I go there since the war, Kadhafi's troops were inside and I want to know what happened," said Fadel Ali Mohammed, Libya's freshly appointed minister for antiquities. Setting out from the Tripoli hotel that has become his temporary home, the 62-year-old -- a doctor in archaeology and Greek philology -- begins the drive west to Sabratha, one of Libya's most treasured archaeological sites. Despite multiple checkpoints armed by young volunteer militiamen, it only takes 90 minutes to get there. But it is an anxious 90 minutes for the man who is now in charge of protecting Libya's past. Slowly Old Sabratha comes into focus. First a few Corinthian columns, then the top half of its show-stopping 1,800-year-old Roman theatre, strikingly cast against the waves of the southern Mediterranean.Despite battles raging in the area just weeks ago, it appears only one light-arms skirmish took place between Moamer Kadhafi's troops and the fighters who would come to overthrow him. Mohammed, who in the 1970s spent a year in Kadhafi's jails before fleeing to Greece, scans the west side of the 5,000-capacity theatre and comes across three bullet holes he says can be easily restored. The damage assessment from world-beating sites at Leptis Magna and Cyrene to the east are equally positive. With at least three of Libya's five UNESCO sites preserved, locals hope tourists will now flock to Libya like they do to neighbouring Egypt and Tunisia. "It was very difficult for tourists to come under the Kadhafi regime," said Hadi Mafuz, a Sabratha tourism official. [The Archaeological Institute of America group that I traveled with some 6 years ago was one of the few American groups allowed in Libya] I

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