Leptis Magna is a UNESCO World Heritage site oil the Mediterranean coast of North Africa, in the Tripolitania region of Libya. Originally founded by the Phoenicians in the tenth century’ BC as a trading port, it survived colonisation by Spartans, became a Punic city, and was eventually established as part of the new Roman province of Africa around 23 BC.
The spectacular city of Leptis Magna was built in traditional Roman architectural styles and was a hub for trade, culture and the arts.
Serving as the Mediterranean outlet of a trade route through the Sahara into the interior of Africa, its economy was based on agriculture, and some of its products, particularly olives, became profitable trade items. Olive cultivation added so much to the town’s prosperity, in fact, that Julius Caesar imposed an annual tax of three million pounds of oil on the city in 46 BC!
The prosperous Roman city was sacked by Berbers in 523 AD and subsequently abandoned. Various materials from the site have been recycled by pillagers throughout history, but during a series of excavations in the 1920s, the magnificent ruins, one of the best preserved Roman cities in the world, were uncovered.
Archeologists have unearthed several layers of ruins including the remains of a large theatre built in the first century AD, beneath which is a cemetery probably dating from the fourth or third century BC. Particularly well-preserved are second- and early third-century Roman buildings, which include the elaborate Hadrianic Baths, the forum and the basilica, all of which were erected during the era of Emperor Septimius Severus (193-211 AD).
Despite the condition and range of the incredibly well-preserved ruins and its status as a World Heritage Site, Leptis Magna remains largely ignored, apart from some recent interest from a team of British archaeologists.
Thankfully, the arid desert climate has preserved the ruins of Leptis Magna, which were covered in sand for at least half a century. These amazing structures provide an incredible insight into the life and times of the early Romans in Africa and are well worth a visit of at least a few days.