AIA Tours: land

Splendors of Libya (land tour)

Tour Dates: Wednesday, March 16, 2011 to Wednesday, March 30, 2011 (15 Days)

This trip offers two departures: March 16, 2011, and October 19, 2011

Travel with Dr. Susan Kane, Director of the Cyrenaica Archaeological Project at Cyrene, Libya.

Pricing: $5,995 Double Occupancy.

Single Supplement: $1,195

Visit Libya’s spectacular UNESCO World Heritage Sites

  • Spend a full day at Cyrene, one of the greatest ancient Greek city-states. Its vast ruins include the Temple of Zeus, which is larger than the Parthenon of Athens.
  • Admire the magnificent coastal site of Leptis Magna, one of the largest and best-preserved Roman cities in the world.
  • Marvel at the Roman city of Sabratha, where the aquamarine sea surrounds the remains of partially excavated temples, houses and extensive baths.
  • Explore the legendary caravan city of Ghadames (Roman Cydamus).

Historical & Cultural Treasures

  • Discover Tripoli’s Arch of Marcus Aurelius, the Ahmad Pasha al Qaramanli Mosque, and lively souks with a myriad of wares.
  • Visit the traditional Berber village of Nalut, scenically situated alongside the Jabal Nafusa mountain range, where the Berber settlement dates back to the 11th century.
  • Admire the early Christian site of Râs Hilal, situated on one of the most spectacular spots on the Mediterranean coast.
  • Make a stop at Qasr Libia, where there are two ancient basilicas with an absolutely superb collection of mosaics—the finest, earliest, Christian discovery in Cyrenaica.

Map for this itinerary

Sabratha Theater

Leptis Magna's Agora

Tripoli Museum

Cyrene's Sanctuary of Apollo


Days 1 & 2: U.S. / Tripoli, Libya

Depart the United States on British Airways, arriving in London on Day 2 and connecting on to Tripoli, where we are met at the airport and transferred to our newly-opened hotel. This arid region, which the Romans called Tripolitania (“land of three cities”), was comprised of the cities of Leptis Magna, Sabratha, and Oea (now lost under modern Tripoli). For the Greeks and Phoenicians, Tripoli made an ideal trading post, having an excellent natural harbor and the additional advantage of an oasis nearby. In the mid-18th century the fortifications of Tripoli reached their greatest extent and new mosques, including the Qaramanli Mosque, and fine residences went up within the walls. Tripoli was of considerable importance to the Ottomans in the 19th century as a last chance for re-asserting Ottoman rule after the loss of Tunis, Algiers, and Cairo. Today Tripoli is a modern town where a triumphal arch to Marcus Aurelius bears witness to a grand past. The revolution of 1969 combined with an influx of Libyans from elsewhere in the country has led to enormous growth, and today Tripoli has all the features of a modern city. Enjoy dinner this evening at a lovely local restaurant. Overnight at El Khan Hotel for four nights. (D)

Day 3: Tripoli

Enjoy a late morning introductory lecture at the hotel. After lunch, explore Tripoli’s 20th century architectural heritage, including the imposing Post Office and the splendid orange domes of the former Palazzo del Governatore. The palace is now home to the National Library. End the day at the tombs of Janzur, where in one of eighteen underground tombs found in 1958 is housed a museum with interesting frescoes. Enjoy dinner this evening at a local restaurant. (B,L,D)

Day 4: Tripoli

Begin a second full day of exploring Tripoli at the citadel, known in Arabic as Al-Saraya Al-Hamra, which occupies a pre-Roman site and still dominates the skyline of Tripoli. The castle is made up of many distinct sections, formerly public and private quarters of the ruling family. The castle has been extensively rebuilt on a number of occasions, and a large part of the castle now houses Tripoli’s Jamahiriya (National) Museum, which has an impressive collection ranging from an entire Roman mausoleum from Ghirza to a 2nd century mosaic from the Roman villa at Dar Buk Ammera. By far the most spectacular part of the museum is that devoted to Greek and Roman antiquity, though its collections span the prehistoric through modern eras, including an ethnographic section. After lunch overlooking the Mediterranean, enjoy a walking tour of the old city, where individual houses still display their great cloistered courtyards and ornate tile, wood, and plaster work. Admire the Arch of Marcus Aurelius, practically all that survives of the splendor of Roman Oea. Stop at the former French and British Consulates, which are representative of the fine homes of 18th and 19th century Tripoli. There are also several grand serais, where merchants lodged their goods and animals around large courtyards. The old city itself was made up of a series of separate quarters, two major parts of which were Jewish. At the Dar Ahmad Nayib al Ansari—the restored Jewish School—important archives of the history of Tripoli are stored. Visit the Qaramanli House—a restored city residence with traditional furnishings, and the Ahmad Pasha al Qaramanli Mosque, the largest in Tripoli. The final stop of the day will be at the Naga Mosque, Tripoli’s oldest. Enjoy dinner this evening at a local restaurant. (B,L,D)

Day 5: Tripoli / Sabratha / Tripoli

Spend the day exploring Sabratha, a Roman city an hour west of Tripoli, where the aquamarine sea surrounds the remains of temples, houses, and extensive baths that have been partially excavated. Established at the beginning of the first millennium B.C., it was one of the three cities of Tripolitania. It flourished throughout the 3rd century A.D., but was damaged by a severe earthquake in the 4th century. Wander through the Ocean Baths, where the remains of the under-floor heating system are clearly visible. Then explore the massive theater that was rebuilt by an Italian team of archaeologists. It could seat 5,000 people and was richly covered in marble, with engravings of comedy masks, the Three Graces, and other symbolic figures adorning the front of the stage. Return to Tripoli for dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)

Day 6: Tripoli / Leptis Magna

After breakfast this morning we check-out of our hotel and drive to the magnificent coastal site of Leptis Magna, one of the largest and best-preserved Roman cities in the world. Leptis Magna was the dominant city in the region, just as important as Carthage at the height of its influence under the Severan emperors in the early 3rd century A.D. Thanks to its burial under the shifting sands of its coastal location, the site is in an excellent state of preservation. The city reached its zenith under the Roman Emperor Septimius Severus, who was born nearby and returned with a lavish building scheme in A.D. 202, after becoming Emperor of Rome. Severus brought in the finest craftsmen and materials: red granite from Egypt, green marble from Greece, and gray and white marble from Turkey and Italy. The entire site is a superb example of ancient town planning, boasting a large and bustling port (now silted up), one of the largest and best preserved baths in the Roman world outside Rome itself, and an amphitheater that could seat 15,000. We shall spend the morning visiting the outlying entertainment complex at Leptis, comprising a huge circus for chariot races and the superbly preserved and restored amphitheater, as well as the excellent site museum. After lunch, visit Villa Silin, a seaside Byzantine villa that houses Libya’s second-greatest example of decorative art. Discovered in 1974, the villa is currently undergoing final restoration, but even now the beauty of its mosaics is stunning. Dinner and overnight at our newly-opened hotel. Overnight at the Severus Hotel for two nights. (B,L,D)

Day 7: Leptis Magna

Spend the morning at the main site of Leptis Magna, taking in the major monuments at its core (the fora, baths, colonnaded street, nymphaeum, market, theater, and four-way arch). We will walk along miles of paved streets past houses and temples to the marketplace, where a stone table with large holes was used to measure olive oil for customers. Following lunch this afternoon, we visit the newly-opened Mosaic Museum and then return to explore more of the vast site of Leptis Magna. (B,L,D)

Day 8: Leptis Magna / Nalut / Ghadames

Rise early this morning to drive south to the legendary caravan city of Ghadames (Roman Cydamus), originally settled in prehistoric times near a perennial spring. The drive is alongside the Jabal Nafusa, and this western mountain range by the Tunisian border is the home of the Berber culture. The relative isolation of the Berber communities has meant not only a survival of their language and close kinship ties but also quite distinct urban forms and housing styles. Examples of their troglodyte architecture and granaries can be seen during the drive. Stop at Nalut, where the Berber settlement dates back to the 11th century. Enjoy lunch at a hotel that offers wonderful views of the old village of Nalut. Continue south past Sinuwan, an oasis located next to a sebkha (salt flat). This was an important source of this most valuable substance, with caravans transporting the salt to Tripoli. As a result of its plentiful freshwater wells, Sinuwan was also a key point on the caravan route from Ghadames to the Mediterranean. Arrive in Ghadames, once the southernmost limit of Roman control in Libya, in the late afternoon. Squeezed up against Algeria’s Great Sand Sea, and now a UNESCO World Heritage site, Ghadames is a maze of interlocking courtyards, roof terraces, partially-covered streets, and two-story, brilliantly whitewashed homes, lit only by occasional overhead skylights and open squares. At one time, this deep Saharan town was an important stop for caravans and pilgrims, and this trans-Saharan trade was the main economic activity of the oases. The inhabitants of Ghadames preserved their independence by paying allegiances to the rulers of one or another of the powerful but remote coastal cities. While in Ghadames, we stay at a new hotel where we also enjoy dinner this evening. Overnight at the Dar Ghadames for two nights. (B,L,D)

Day 9: Ghadames

Explore Ghadames this morning, where the local architecture has created perfect living conditions for an isolated settlement in a harsh natural environment. Roughly circular in shape, the almost deserted old city is composed of a cluster of houses—those on the outside, with their reinforced external walls, protect the city. Gardens in Ghadames are located about ten feet below street level, closer to the water table. We have arranged a meeting with Tahir Ahmad Ibrahim, who is in charge of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in Ghadames and working with local master masons and their apprentices to rebuild what has crumbled. After lunch at a local home within the old city, return to our hotel with time to rest. Depart the hotel in the late afternoon and travel by 4-wheel drive vehicles to the ‘star dunes’ of the Grand Erg Oriental, a 75,000 square mile sand sea in the Central Saharan Desert. The star configurations are created by winds that blow from all directions, thereby preventing the dunes from taking shape in any dominant orientation. The average star dune is .5 to 1 mile in circumference and 500 to 800 feet tall, and the beauty of the sun setting against them, enveloped by complete silence, is breathtaking. We have arranged a special Tuareg music and dance performance right at the dunes. (B,L,D)

Day 10: Ghadames / Tripoli / Benghazi

Depart Ghadames this morning on a scheduled flight to Tripoli and connect to a scheduled flight to Benghazi, where we transfer upon arrival to the Hotel Tibesti. Benghazi is the principal city of an area known as Cyrenaica, Libya’s easternmost province. This is the Hellenized region of ancient Libya, and its Greek cities of the Pentapolis—Cyrene, Barce, Teucheira, Apollonia, and Hesperides—once made it one of the wealthiest regions in the ancient Mediterranean. In the afternoon explore Benghazi, Libya’s second largest city, including its oldest mosque, the Jami’ al Kabir, which was founded by Abd al Sami al Qadi around 1400. During the Second World War, Benghazi changed hands many times, and another of today’s stops is at the British and French Second World War cemeteries. Dinner is at our hotel this evening. Overnight at the Hotel Tibesti. (B,L,D)

Day 11: Benghazi / Teucheira / Ptolemais / Barce / Apollonia

This morning’s excursion is to Teucheira, the least-excavated site of Cyrenaica. Teucheira was founded in the late 6th century B.C., and the amount of Greek ceramics discovered at the site tells us that it was very important commercially. Begin exploring the site at the museum. Walk through the sunken necropolis, and admire what remains of the once-great wall that surrounded the city. Continue on to the site of Ptolemais, where we commence our visit at the remarkable site museum. Spend the balance of the morning walking through the large site, where the school and magnificent theater date back to Greek times. During this period the Palace of the Columns was constructed, a superb building that is assumed to have been the main residence of the regional governor for centuries. Drive to Apollonia along a well-built road, across the fertile lands of the eastern Cyrenaican plateau and into the uplands of the Jabal Akhdar, stopping en route at the crenellated buildings of Qasr Libia. Here, in the late 1950’s, two ancient basilicas with an absolutely superb collection of mosaics were discovered. These beautiful mosaics (whose panels have been moved to a display hall) include images of birds, beasts, fish, and a number of symbolic figures and buildings. In the middle of the mosaic is a panel with a short text declaring that the mosaic was completed in the 3rd year of Bishop Makarios’s office (A.D. 539). Arriving at Apollonia, check-in to the Almanara Hotel, located just steps from the archaeological site, and enjoy dinner at the hotel. Overnight at the Almanara Hotel for three nights. (B,L,D)

Day 12: Apollonia / Râs Hilal / Atrun / Apollonia 

Take a short walk from our hotel to the magnificent site of Apollonia, the port of Cyrene. Explore the site, including the Byzantine port installations, the Eastern Basilica, and the beautiful amphitheater. Conclude the morning with a visit to the museum of Apollonia, housed in a lovely 1930’s building. After lunch, drive east to the early Christian site of Râs Hilal, situated on one of the most spectacular spots on the coast. The three-nave church, with the altar to the west, still has some of the marble marquetry flooring in place, and must have been very special in its day with its splendid views of sea, coast, and mountain. The final stop for the day will be at the little-visited site of Atrun to visit a superb Byzantine basilica whose original white marble floor is still intact, and clear remains of mosaic paving can be seen. Return to Apollonia for dinner this evening. (B,L,D) 

Day 13: Apollonia / Cyrene / Apollonia

Enjoy a full-day excursion to Cyrene, a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the great ancient sites of the eastern Mediterranean. Cyrene was the leading city of the Libyan Pentapolis (“Region of the Five Cities”). Settled by Greek colonists toward the end of the 7th century B.C., it remained an active Greco-Roman city of distinctively Hellenic character until the time of the Arab invasions (A.D. 643). In 331 B.C., Cyrenaica submitted to Alexander the Great, and it was under his successors, the Ptolemies of Egypt, in Hellenistic times (the 3rd and 2nd centuries B.C.) that Cyrene reached its zenith. Eventually the city and its hinterlands were bequeathed to Rome. When several earthquakes racked Cyrene, its population dwindled and, although there was some resurgence when the Arabs invaded in the 7th-century, the city was forgotten until its rediscovery in the late 18th century by European travelers. Cyrene was first excavated by Richard Norton in 1910-1911 for the Archaeological Institute of America. Subsequently in the 20th century, Italian, British, American, and French archaeologists have continued to explore areas of the city and its surrounding territory. You will begin exploring Cyrene at the Temple of Zeus, the largest Doric temple in the Greek world, larger than the Parthenon in Athens. In the Jewish Revolt of A.D. 115, its columns were toppled over—they were left where they fell until a team of Italian archaeologists re-erected them in the late 20th century as part of their reconstruction of the temple. As you walk through the agora, gymnasium, and sanctuary of Apollo you will see several theaters, an amphitheater, public buildings, and many temples. Of the numerous temples, perhaps the most important is the Temple of Apollo, dramatically poised on the edge of the mountain. A series of necropoli with well-articulated rock-cut tombs line the roads and wadis leading out of the city. Dinner is at our hotel this evening. (B,L,D)

Day 14: Apollonia / Tripoli

Fly to Tripoli this morning and enjoy a final day in Libya, exploring the capital at your leisure. Enjoy a farewell dinner this evening. Overnight at El Khan Hotel. (B,L,D) Day 15: Tripoli / U.S. Enjoy a concluding lecture and discussion this morning. After lunch, transfer to the airport for flights home via London. (B,L)

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