This time, Libya

By | Category: Travel destinations, Travel rumblings

the destruction as recorded by Areej Khattab

There is a story from Areej Khattab on her blog in early August that drew the attention of the world to the destruction of another slice of the world’s heritage. In Arabic, it took a few weeks for it to appear elsewhere. April Holloway picked it up on the Ancient Origins website a few days and then The Times ran this story today.

This time – unlike most other recent places I have highlighted – has not been a direct consequence of terrorism or war but as a result of property development.

Similar to the case in Peru, Holloway reports that “local farmers have laid claim to certain parts of the necropolis and recently destroyed a two kilometre section with the help of excavators in order to make way for new houses.” She says that about 200 vaults and tombs had been destroyed.

Will Crisp picked up the story in The Times* this morning and quotes a member of Libya’s Antiquities Council as saying that this is an illegal grab but they can do nothing about it as Cyrene lies in a part of Libya where there is no law to speak off and suggesting that people can do what they want. Khattab says a local archaeolgy professor contacted the Ministry of Culture but had heard nothing back.

This was done to make way for economic progress which, in itself, is an understandable objective. But why here? Some responsibility must be laid at the door of UNESCO or the Antiquities Council if Crisp is correct in what he asserts in The Times. He quotes a UNESCO spokesperson as saying that the area had not been properly mapped and therefore the assumption is that people wouldn’t know where the boudaries lie. This in no way excuses the farmers for desecration but I suppose they could not wait for tourism to return to the area.

As I have written before, tourism is what pays for much of the protection of our heritage. Cyrene, an important site stretching back well over 2,500 years, was the most important Greek city in North Africa. What remains is important; what remains to be discovered could be more so. The more important, the more likely it will appeal to international tourists ie those with the money to help stimulate the local economy and provide jobs for locals. And that seems to be what the farmers want; a functioning local economy. Will the government, UNESCO, the local security chief or academics tell them that they aren’t likely to get that by destroying one of the reasons that would encourage visitors.

* this story can only be read if you subscribe to The Times

Image © Areej Khattab

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