Monday, April 03, 2006

Apollonia and Cyrene

Up at dawn on the 2nd April for the long coast drive to Apollonia.

Libya is an enormous country - twice the size of Egypt and roughly 1/3 the size of the entire EU. It's 95% desert, though, and has a tiny population of just 6 million. The contrast with the metropolis of Cairo and other big cities of Egypt could not be more stark - the towns we've visted so far (I write this after 3 days here) have been small and sparsely populated, yet manage a modern, forward looking feel.

On the way to Apollonia the coast road provided some stunning views across the Gulf of Bomba. This north-eastern corner of Libya, called Cyrenicia, is as green and azure as any Mediterranean coastline that I've seen. In ancient times this was a Greek colony and fertile enough to save the mainland from famine in 390BC, when crops failed in Greece.

Cyrenicia is directly due south from Greece and the ancients built five cities here, which collectively became known as the Pentapolis. Cyrene was the greatest of these and was considered one of the most important cities in the Greek world of the 4th Century BC. Apollonia is 20km east of Cyrene and served as the port.

The ruins of Apollonia are mainly Byzantine. They ruled here after Alexander, the Ptolemies of Egypt and the Romans had taken their respective turns). The churches, bath houses, port, theatre and houses are most evocative and stretched out along a kilometre of stunning coastline. Roughly one half of the town is underwater after a massive earthquake in the 7th century finally condemned Apollonia (and nearby Cyrene) to the history books. Perhaps, one day, there'll be SCUBA tourism of those offshore ruins. At the moment you are not even allowed to snorkel off the coast here.

Cyrene's ruins are a mix of Greek and Roman. After a few centuries of decline after the Greeks, the Roman emperor Hadrian rebuilt and repaired the city in the 2nd century AD and today's ruins show this melange of Greek and Roman styles. The site is both enormous and well preserved - a winning combination that easily allows me to rank Cyrene & Apollonia alongside the other great ancient sites I've seen at Ephesus, Palmyra and Ba'albeck.

One of the many Byzantine churches at Apollonia. The white marble shines brilliantly against the azure blue of the Med.

The church in the expansive merchant's house, Apollonia. The house also has personal and slave quarters - it's quite the mediterranean villa.

The theatre of Apollonia

The forum at Cyrene, a Roman addition to the originally Greek city and a magnificent first impression for visitors.

Statues of Herakles and Hermes surround the sports ground in Cyrene. The gods represent strength and speed.

Statues of Demeter (goddess of the hearth and home) and her daughter Persephone (queen of the underworld) in their temple, Cyrene

The temple of Apollo, Cyrene

The enormous temple of Zeus at Cyrene - bigger than the Athenian Parthenon.

To view more photos from Apollonia and Cyrene, use the links below:
The Greek city of Apollonia, which served as port for the Pentapolis.
The mosaics of Qasr Libya, all found in the same church.
The ancient city of Cyrene, capital of the Greek Pentapolis.


At 11:20 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

what beauty this is aye! sooo nice..professional pictures taken

At 9:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fabulous fabulous fabulous!!

At 2:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What an interesting place, I was searching about Simon of Cyrene. This information you have provided is greatly appreciated...


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