Historical sites in Libya that once appealed to foreign tourists have lost their lustre because of damage caused by fighting, looting and lack of care.

Popular ancient cultural areas are suffering from great damage and lack of care following the war and conflict which have ravaged Libya since Muammar Gaddafi was toppled and killed in 2011.

One of the historic sites which once appealed to the tourists is Cyrene, an ancient city in eastern Libya. It was built by the Greeks more than 2 600 years ago. Today, it no longer resembles the fame that made it one of the five United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage sites in Libya.

Some of the sites that have lost their glory include the ruins of the Roman city of Leptis Magna and Sabratha, well-known for its amphitheater. Other sites include the prehistoric rock cuttings in the Akakous mountains in the southern Sahara Desert, near Libya’s border with Algeria.

These sites are now in a sorry state because of the looting, insecurity and lack of care that followed the overthrow of Gaddafi in 2011. Foreign tourists visiting Cyrene are now scarce, with the site only being occasioned by Libyan families. Some locals have decided to grab the land for themselves, because of the breakdown of the rule of law in Libya. Graffiti is now a familiar feature on the ancient city’s structures and walls.

However the local officials are not just sitting by as they are trying all they can to save the situation. They are trying to stop the damage. “In Cyrene, instead of speaking to one owner, now we speak to 50…” said Ahmed Hussein, a local official. He said owners have built houses on the ancient sites.

There is a rule that was passed down in 2013 which worsened the situation with the ancient cultural areas. A law permitting people to reclaim land that was taken from them under Gaddafi’s rule was passed. Some people took advantage of this and took land they felt they deserved. Hussein made it clear that he wants to hold these people responsible for their actions.

The governance crisis in Libya makes it all the more difficult to manage sites like Cyrene. There are parallel governments in Libya; one that is in Tripoli backed by the United Nations and another in Eastern Libya, then a whole lot of rebel groups.

Some success has been registered. Hussein said about 1,700 objects that were stolen from historic sites have been returned. The returned objects had been looted inside the country. Many other objects have been illegally taken out of the country.

Sabratha has been repeatedly hit by fighting between warring groups, but Leptis Magna has not undergone a lot of damage because of the people there, who are avid fans of history.

Without doubt, tourism in Libya was high before 2011. The crisis that followed Gaddafi’s death has inflicted extensive damage on the country’s tourism sector.

Header image credit: Reuters