Libya Travel Articles

The Jewel of the Mediterranean

A Mediterranean cruise would be incomplete without a stop in Libya, located in northern Africa with beautiful beaches and coastline. The capitol city of Tripoli, with its rich history and incredible architecture, is considered the “Jewel of the Mediterranean”. Libya is a country that has turned itself around several times in just a century; from Italian colonization and its status as the site of most of World War II’s desert fighting, to a renunciation of the pursuit of nuclear weapons and the declaration of becoming a leader toward world peace. Libya is a truly unique place that straddles Africa and the Arab world.

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The Origins of Tripoli

The region now known as Libya was first occupied by the indigenous Berber tribes. Around the 7th century B.C., Greeks colonized the western areas and called them Tripolitania. Phoenicians settled in the eastern parts and named them Cyrenaica.

Like many African regions, Libya changed hands several times over the next centuries. Tripolitania was controlled by Carthage for some time, and then came under Roman rule for 500 years beginning in 46 B.C. It fell to the Vandals in 436 A.D. Cyrenaica remained under Roman rule until 642 A.D., when Arabs invaded. Both sections were integrated into the Ottoman Empire in the 16th century. Later, Barbary pirates used Tripolitania as an outpost to raid Mediterranean merchant ships during the19th century. A cruise to the Libyan coast may reveal some relics of those famous pirate years.

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Life on the Libyan Mediterranean

Libya’s culture is highly influenced by life on the Mediterranean, as about 80% of the population lives on or just south of the coast. Its diverse origins are instrumental in its makeup: Turkish, African, Italian, and Middle Eastern. Arab is the official language, although Berbers inhabited Libya for centuries before Arab influence arrived. The vast majority of Libyans practice Islam, which is the country’s official religion.

Folk culture is still very strong throughout the country in rural areas. Men tend to wear trousers and loose shirts under a cotton cloak. Women wear full-length robes. Big cities like Tripoli host a more modern culture of music, dance, and fashion. Tripoli is, in fact, an extremely beautiful city. It is known as “Arous Albahr Almotawasit”, or Jewel of the Mediterranean. A Libyan cruise will lavish a fair amount of time on the city’s beautiful architecture and cultural activities.

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The Water Issue

The most pressing environmental issue that Libya faces is a water shortage. In a country that receives painfully little rain, the water supply tends to remain in the forefront of the public and political sphere. Libya has undertaken several large-scale irrigation projects, the most impressive of which is called the Great Man-Made River. The GMMR was constructed to tap the aquifers under the Libya Desert to bring freshwater to the coast; it was begun in 1984, and was not completed until the late 1990s.

The country has also undertaken reforestation efforts in recent years to prevent further desertification as well as soil erosion. The country works to protect its Mediterranean waters and shores; it has signed the London Dumping Convention as well as the Mediterranean Action Plan. Unfortunately, Libya’s extensive petroleum exploration and extraction continue to pollute the waters.

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Libyan Cuisine

A cruise to Libya will indulge in a cuisine that is both Mediterranean and Arabic, with Italian influences and finished with overtones that are all its own. Most Libyans have a tradition of eating in the home, except on Fridays, when family picnics are common.

Couscous is the base for several meals in Libya—couscous is usually boiled millet, but it has transitioned to wheat in recent years. Mutton is the traditional meat that is served, although chicken also makes the occasional appearance on the Libyan plate.

Pasta is one of Italy’s lasting influences in Libya. Macaroni in particular remains popular throughout the country. Other common staples in the Libyan diet are dates, rice, milk, and vegetables. A Mediterranean cruise making a stop in Libya may feature such dishes as sharba libya, a soup of lamb, tomato paste, and traditional spices; zemmeetah, a pastry generally served with pure buttermilk; or osban, a vegetable-meat dish simmered in lemon juice. Dessert usually consists of sweet pastries and baked goods.

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Libya Geography: Desert and Beach

Libya is located on the northern edge of the African continent. It shares borders with several other nations: Tunisia and Algeria to the west, Niger to the southwest, Chand and the Sudan to the south, and Egypt to the east. Its northern boundary is the Mediterranean Sea. At 1100, it is the longest Mediterranean coastline of the African countries.

The Libyan Desert lies across most of the eastern portion of the country. It is one of the most arid places on the planet, where decades have been known to pass without rain. The town of Al’Aziziyah in the Libyan Desert recorded the highest naturally occurring temperature on earth in 1922, at 136F. The Desert is mostly flat, although there is a major rolling depression called the Qattara and some lines of ancient granite mountains. It is dotted with the relieving presence of a few oases.

Despite this bleak picture, Libya actually has a beautiful coastline and friendly steppes leading up to it. A cruise to Libya will drop off passengers on the country’s welcoming Mediterranean beaches to soak up some African sun.

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Modern Libyan History

During the first rumblings of World War I, when the situation deteriorated between Turkey and Italy in 1911, Italian troops occupied Tripoli. Italian sovereignty in the region was recognized one year later, although Libyans fought the Italians until 1914. In 1934, Cyrenaica and Tripolitania were united as a single Italian colony.

Libya was a staging point for desert fighting during World War II, and it came under Allied control. The United Nations later determined that Libya should be an independent nation, and the United Kingdom of Libya was born in 1951. Oil was fortuitously discovered there seven years later.

Colonel Muammar al-Qaddafi deposed the King of Libya in 1969, and transformed the county to be pro-Arabic, anti-Western, and largely Islamic with socialist undertones. It attracted U.S. attention in 1981 when two Soviet-made planes of the Libyan air force attacked tow Navy F-14s above the Gulf of Sidra. The Libyan planes were shot down, and five years later, the U.S. sunk two Libyan patrol boats in the Gulf during a skirmish.

Long suspected of harboring terrorism, Libya was held responsible for the explosion of a 747 above Scotland that killed all 259 people on board. Libyan terrorists were also responsible for the bombing of a Berlin discoteque and the downing of a French airliner in the 1980s. Qaddafi refused to hand over suspects, leading to UN air traffic and trade embargoes. Libya admitted guilt in the Scotland bombing in 2003, and agreed to compensate victims of the other two acts in 2004.

Libya underwent a full 180 when it engaged in secret talks with the U.S. and Britain, and announced to the world in 2003 that it would give up its pursuit of weapons of mass destruction. The International Atomic Energy Agency inspected four sites and reported on the aborted progress of a nuclear bomb. The U.S. restored diplomatic relations with the country after nearly 25 years of sanctions and non-recognition. Today, Libya is considered a safe country to visit, and cruises along the Mediterranean frequently stop at the African nation.

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Qaddafi's Government

Libya’s government is made up of two branches. The first is the revolutionary branch, which is comprised of Revolutionary Leader al-Qaddafi, the Revolutionary Committees and a 12-member Revolutionary Command Council. These were all established in 1969, with Qaddafi’s deposition of the king of Libya. They were not voted in and cannot be voted ou. These were all established in 1969, with Qaddafi’s deposition of the king of Libya. They were not voted in and cannot be voted out, under revolutionary law.

The legislative branch of Libyan government is made up of Local People’s Congresses, which work in all 1500 urban wards of the country; Sha’biyat People’s Congress, which works in the 32 regions; and the National General People’s Congress. These Congress members are re-elected every four years.

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Beach Weather to Desert Heat

Libya’s government is made up of two branches. The first is the revolutionary branch, which is comprised of Revolutionary Leader al-Qaddafi, the Revolutionary Committees and a 12-member Revolutionary Command Council. These were all established in 1969, with Qaddafi’s deposition of the king of Libya. They were not voted in and cannot be voted ou. These were all established in 1969, with Qaddafi’s deposition of the king of Libya. They were not voted in and cannot be voted out, under revolutionary law.

The legislative branch of Libyan government is made up of Local People’s Congresses, which work in all 1500 urban wards of the country; Sha’biyat People’s Congress, which works in the 32 regions; and the National General People’s Congress. These Congress members are re-elected every four years.

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Desert Menagerie of Libya

Libya’s wildlife is characterized by its desert landscape and climate. Hyenas, gazelles, and wildcats roam its hot, sandy reaches as icons of the African wild. The Al-Wadan, or Barbary sheep, may also be seen making its way through the unforgiving landscape, with its long beard brushing the desert rocks. This is a rare sighting though, as the Barbary sheep is endangered. The Fennec, or desert fox, is another hard-to-spot species, due to its nocturnal habits.

Smaller animals also call Libya home, from desert rodents to hares to tortoises. Travelers on a Mediterranean cruise to the country should also keep their eyes on the sky to catch a glimpse of the majestic eagle or proud hawk. The less-majestic vultures are also common, if not as pleasing to the eye.

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