Conservation Libya

Farmers bulldoze ancient tombs in Libya to sell plots to developers

The country’s fragile political situation leaves authorities unable to intervene

The ancient site of Cyrene, before the bulldozing

Several ancient tombs at a Unesco World Heritage Site in northeastern Libya have been bulldozed to clear space for a residential complex. Local farmers, who have laid claim to part of the vast necropolis at Cyrene, began demolishing a mile-long section of the site last week in the hope of selling 500 sq. m parcels to real estate developers. Although the proper authorities have been notified, the country’s current fragile political situation has left them unable to intervene.

“Ancient artefacts were thrown into a nearby river as if they were mere rubbish,” Ahmed Hussein, an archaeology professor at Bayda University, told France 24.He says that around “200 vaults and tombs were destroyed, as well as a section of a viaduct that dates back to approximately AD200.” The ancient Greek colony, which was founded in the seventh century BC, is described by Unesco as “one of the principal cities in the Hellenic world” and its necropolis is considered one of the largest and most varied of its kind. The site is one of Libya’s five World Heritage Sites.

“In Libya, customs and practices tend to carry more weight than the written law. This land traditionally belongs to families who live in nearby farms. They have no official documents that prove that they own the land, yet their claims are not contested. Under Gaddafi, these families did not dare try to act on these claims. But now, they have transformed the archaeological site into a construction zone,” Hussein says. Locals, he says, are willing to halt the destruction if the government were to offer them other plots in exchange or to pay them for the land.

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9 Sep 13
17:46 CET


Heritage falls under extreme risk in times of turmoil as this article shows. What will UNESCO, ICOMOS, and similar do to sound a forceful alert about such abuses? EuropAID, USAID and other donors too.

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