There’s a host of top monuments in Libya to visit and among the very best are Leptis Magna, Cyrene and Sabratha. Other popular sites tend to include the Arch of Marcus Aurelius and Ghadames. We’ve put together an expert guide to cultural landmarks and monuments in Libya, with our top places to visit as well as a full list of historic monuments in Libya, which shouldn’t be ignored if you have the time.
Monuments of Libya
1. Leptis Magna
In Tripoli, a major city of Libya, Leptis Magna is an incredibly well preserved archaeological site. Leptis Magna later became part of the Carthaginian Empire although originally founded by the Phoenicians as the port of Lpgy in the first millennium BC and was then incorporated into the Roman Empire in 46 BC. Most of the remaining structures are indeed Roman and originate from the reign of Septimius Severus and these all are now found at the site of Leptis Magna. This famous monument in Libya is a very beautiful and relatively well-preserved ancient city, close to the sea. It was endangered by fanatics of ISIS during the civil war, and the local population vowed to protect it. Check the official advice of your country’s foreign office before considering travelling to Libya and it is highly recommended.
Address: Al-Khoms lebts, Al Khums, Tripoli, Libya.
2. Arch of Marcus Aurelius
In the Old Town of Tripoli, the Arch of Marcus Aurelius is located along Al Hara Alkabir Street. Completed around 165 and built almost entirely from marble, the arch has a rectangular footprint measuring about 41 feet by 32 feet. Being of cubic shape with a gate on each of the four sides, it is a quadrifrons (or tetrapylon) arch. This beautiful monument in Libya was placed in a prominent position near the harbor and at the cross roads leading out to O’dea’s neighboring towns. As such, new arrivals, especially important visitors, would have passed through the arch when arriving in Oea. The Arch of Marcus Aurelius would have been one of the most elaborately decorated arches in North Africa at the time of its construction. It has been heavily eroded over the years, with some parts so damaged that the original features have been lost. But many of the most interesting features can still be identified, especially on the northwest face. Tripoli is the capital and largest city of Libya, and is located in the northwest of the country. The arch can be seen at any time of day. Entrance is free.
Address: Arch of Marcus Aurelius, Tripoli, Libya
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Cyrene in Libya is considered to be one of the most impressive Greco-Roman sites in the world and one of the best Classical Greek sites beyond Greece itself. Spread over a wide area, the ruins are extensive with four main sections. About 1 km north of the Ptolemaion and Agora neighbourhoods, the massive Greek Temple of Zeus stands on its own. Amongst its fantastic remains, Cyrene is home to the ruins of the great sanctuary of Apollo which has sites ranging from the Temples of Artemis and Apollo which date back as early as the 7th century BC to the 2nd century Trajan Baths. One of its most impressive sites is Cyrene Amphitheatre, which the Greeks built in the 6th century BC, was used as a Roman amphitheatre and is now the largest Greek site in Africa. There’s lots more to see at Cyrene including its acropolis, agora, forum and necropolis. Part of what makes this popular monument in Libya so incredible is not just its monuments but its overall planning – a mix of Greek and Roman, which is evident throughout.
Address: Cyrene, Shahat, Libya.
4. Saint-Gilles Castle
Saint-Gilles Castle used to be a powerful Crusader castle of that time but today the fortress completely converted into the modern city of Tripoli. The original Crusader fort was largely destroyed at the end of the 13th century before being rebuilt by the Mamluks. You can explore the castle yourself as well as the visitor centre which provides more information on the history of the site. This heritage monument in Libya also offers great views of the city and the surrounding area. Take your time to enjoy and relax this beautiful castle. The entry charge of the castle is 5,000 LBP and it is totally worth it. There is a beautiful small museum with information about the castle in English, French and Arabic. Take your time to enjoy the views, see how the pigeon masters communication with their pigeons. And as always, we are not allowed to take pictures of things/people related to the Army (ie. tanks). Walk around the big fortress, visit the old church and take your time to enjoy the beautiful views of the whole city including the mountains and the Mediterranean sea.
Address: El Emir Fakhreddine, Tripoli, Libya.
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5. Benghazi Cathedral
Benghazi Cathedral in Libya was one of the largest catholic churches in North Africa. Located in Benghazi, Libya, the cathedral was built from 1929 to 1939. When Gaddafi’s regime took over from the Italians in 1970, they tried to convert the cathedral into a mosque however it was abandoned in 1977. With the recent revolution in Libya topping the former dictator, the cathedral was due to be restored but work has recently stalled. Of course, it wasn’t easy getting photos or videos under Gaddafi’s rule so not many exist. Urban explorers were discouraged and severely punished. This most important monument in Libya is no longer a cathedral as is the case with Tripoli. But this is at least not converted into a mosque, it is rather left to wear and tear. With broken windows, its present condition is quite sad. The cathedral used to be nothing less than the largest church of North Africa.
Address: Benghazi Cathedral, Benghazi, Libya.
The impressive ruins of Sabratha lie approximately fifty miles west of Tripoli once a thriving Roman city alongside the modern town of the same name. The ruins of Sabratha are remarkably picturesque and look out across the Mediterranean and give modern visitors an insight into why this location served the ancient trading routes so well. This ancient monument in Libya was partially or wholly reconstructed by the Italians in the early 20th century Particularly under Mussolini’ reign, he used to give speeches from the ancient theatre. Today, including the three-storey theatre, several temples and the remarkable remains of luxury Roman villas, visitors can explore an impressive set of ruins which boast well-preserved mosaics.
Address: Sabratha, Tripoli, Libya.
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The ancient oasis city of Ghadames lies close to the Libyan border or shares its border with Algeria and Tunisia. Less than 300 miles away from Tripoli there exists an ancient getaway, an oasis made of mud, lime, and the trunks of palms. Covered alleyways and heat-reflecting, cream-colored walls weave in and out of grottos and lead to the old town spring water pool. This pre-Saharan city and most popular monument in Libya is also known as the ‘pearl of the desert’. Considering the old part of town, new housing has been built outside of the lime-washed walls, however many of the 10,000 residents of this historic oasis return when the heat becomes unbearable, as those walls still provide more relief from the relentless heat than anywhere else. The old town is a labyrinth of tunnels, houses, courtyards and places of worship, all built underground to provide protection from the heat of the Sahara. Today several houses of the deserted town have been furnished and restored to give the handful of visitors an idea of what they were like to live in. You can also travel across the rooftops as the local women once did – but this can involve some fairly precarious crossings – not for the faint-hearted.
Address: Ghadames, Libya.
Of course, there are lots of other important cultural monuments in Libya, and if we’ve missed any, be sure to share them in the comments below. In the meantime, you can also read about the future of tourism in Libya.