Sabratha reached its glory in the age of the Antonines (as in Marcus Aurelius), 1st-2nd century AD, a key port for feeding the ravenous Roman empire. Libya has recently been shuttered and on the periphery of world affairs, but it was then a crucial territory. Sabratha is on the western side of Tripolitania, the thin, long coastal strip of Libya that holds the bulk of Libya’s small population. A visit to Rome without the crowds.
The coastal road led into Tripoli, distinguished by road signs exclusively in Arabic, part of Gadhafi’s Pan-Arabism. Tripoli is dull and gray, desolate on the outskirts and a traffic snarl in the center. Colonial architecture is worn and even the markets have little of the variety and color of neighboring countries. Green Square was then a quiet place for families to stroll.
My approved itinerary for the day had concluded, but fortunately, unlike North Korea, the guides departed and I was free to roam. The Medina should hum with activity, but by afternoon most shops were deserted. As I met people I found many to be economic migrants from countries like Algeria and Mali, saying volumes about those economies.
The Arch of Marcus Aurelius is the tranquil heart of the Medina and by night traditional Libyan dishes are on offer at Athar Restaurant.
The following day held the promise of the grandest Roman ruins, Leptis Magna, but first it was time to get cleaned up.
For trips to Libya, Sabri Ellotai of Sabri Tours is the expert and is back in business as of September 2011, ready to welcome tourists.