Marhaban, welcome to Lybia, the desert state in North Africa!
Libya is a desert state in North Africa. With an area of approximately 1,8 miilion square kilometers it is the fourth largest country in Africa. North of Libya is the Mediterranean Sea with a long coastline. The coastal areas are fertile but after that there is only desert. West of Libya you will find Tunisia and Algeria, to the south Niger und Chad. Egypt and Sudan are east of Libya. These neighboring countries are molded by the Sahara as well. Where the name Libya comes from? The old Egyptians named the country west of the Nile “Lebu”, which is how the war mongering Berber tribes of the west were called. The Romans and the Greeks later assumed the title Lybié for the country on the Great Syrte.
The coastline of Libya is shaped like a “U”. This U is a large bay that is located between two headlands. It is named Geat Syrte, which you can see on the map above. In the middle is the Syrte Pool. The region in the northwest is called Tripoli, the “three-city-area”. The Phonecians had built three trading posts thousands of years ago. Behind the coastal plain a mountain range rises, that turns into a stone desert, named Fazan. East of the Syrte Pool lies the Cyrenaica Region, with a steep mountain range.
There is a subtropical climate in the coastal area. The winters are mild. The summers are long and very dry. Spring is pleasantly warm. The hot sand storms from the south, which whip across the country in Spring and Fall, are dreaded. In the heart of Libya a desert climate dominates year-round. During the day it is as hot as a oven, at night the temperature can drop to a chilly zero degrees centigrade.
The Libyan Desert
In southeast Libya there is a huge sand dune sea; the Libyan Desert. It belongs to the driest places on earth and is almost completely uninhabited. In the border area towards Chad the largest mountain of Libya rises into the clouds. The Bikku Bitti with a height of 2 267 m. It belongs to the foothills of the Tibesti mountain range. Libya is a country without rivers. Matter of fact, there are only wadis, which is what you call dried up river beds. They only carry water during very strong rainfall, the water seeps into the land and leaves behind dry and rocky canyons.
Tripolis, Libya's Capital
Tripolis is located on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea and has a large sea port. Around 1.9 million Libyans live here. Tripolis was founded by Phoenicians, who conquered the coasts of North Africa in the 7th century before Christ. 2 more cities emerged nearby, and in the course of time the area was named Tripole, which means “three cities”.
Today Tripolis is the political and economic center of the country. Because of its large sea port the city is the most important transit knot of the country. The most famous landmark is the triumphal arc by Marcus Aurelius. A magnet for visitors from all over the world is the Souk of Tripolis. In the narrow alley-ways a loud and colorful chaos reigns. Jewelers, carpet sailsmen, smithys, and tailors are constantly trying to sell their products. There are cookshops and cafes everywhere.
Peoples and Languages
Libya is home to more than 6 million Berbers and Arabs. Most of them live in big cities near the coast. The majority of the Berbers have been “arabized”. Arabian is the official language as well, while a libyan-arab dialekt is most spoken. In the cities many speak English and Italian because Libya used to be an Italian colony. The Libyans live by the rules of Islam. Islam is the state religion and dictates the day-to-day life. The majority count as Sunni Muslims, like in most of North Africa. Only a small part of the Berbers still live in traditional tribal societies. The Tuareg belong to this part. The Tuareg are nomads and wander the western parts of Libya. Family plays an important role for the Berbers. Children take care of their parents and their grandparents. It is natural for grown children to take care of their parents when they grow old. The upbringing seems quite authoritarian for us Europeans. Children are not allowed to contradict their fathers, they must do as they are told. A family used to consist of seven to eight children, today it is only three to four. That still means that every Libyan child grows up with siblings.
Schools and Education
During the civil war a couple of years ago, many schools had to close or had to be turned into shelters. This is why many children were home-schooled. During times of peace the schools in Libya are organized similar to the European system with nine years of elementary school and three years of high school. The teaching language is Arabian. While Gaddafi reigned the simultaneous teaching of girls and boys was promoted. Since the civil war and the overthrow of the old dictator a lot has changed at Libyan schools. The teachers do not know if they should begin teaching in a more western way again or not. They make a virtue of necessity and concentrate on the most important classes.
Economy and Natural resources
Libya has the largest oil-reserves of all of Africa. This is why the entire economy is concentrated on oil and gas. At one point in time Libya was even the third largest exporter of oil and gas. Only two percent of its area are fertile and can be used agriculturally. Near the coast wheat, barley, different types of vegetables, almonds, citrus fruits, and dates are grown. These areas are used so effectively that a part of the produce can even be exported. There are refineries near the coast to produce petroleum as well. Besides the oil and gas industry and the food industry, the textile industry is the third largest in Libya. According to the United Nations, Libya was the most developed African country in 2011.
Sights and Attractions
Libya is filled with antique attractions and geographical particularities. It begins a long time ago with the famous cave paintings in the Libyan desert. Have you ever seen a miracle? In case you haven’t, definitely visit the salt lake Umm el M’aa, a phantastic salt lake in the middle of the desert. You can catch even more desert feeling in the desert city Ghadamés, which has been the goal for many desert wanderers in the past centuries.
Today, unfortunately it is not possible to simply visit all the antique cities, such as Leptis Magna, Sabratha, and Kyrene, because of the great political uncertainty in Libya. The three cities were founded by Phonecians. With the fall of the Karthagos they were incorporated into the Roman Empire. This is why you can find ruins of old roman theaters, tempels, or triumphal arches. You can find out more on the Leptis Magna here.
Animals in Libya
What kind of animals can survive in the hostile environment of the Libyan desert? Drought proven dune gazelles, olive baboons, wild donkeys, rabbits and birds of prey, snakes and scorpions. A rare species of cats have survived here, sand cats. They are smaller than house cats, have sand colored fur, and have a type of second fur in their paws that protects them from the hot desert sand. The rulers of the coastal areas are the chameleons. You can find the shimmering lizards everywhere, because they find plenty of food in the fertile landscapes. The true survivalists in Libya are the locusts. There are 141 different types of Locusts here.
Thousands of years ago, when the desert was still a fruitful savanna, hunters and collectors lived here. They immortalized themselves on rocks and cliffs with artful cavings and paintings. This is how we know they hunted big game, domesticized animals, and were shamans. They believed in a higher power and held religious rituals. Are they the ancestors of the Berber tribes that were mentioned in Egyptian hieroglyphics thousands of years later? That is still unclear. It definitely got uncomfortable for the natives when the Phoenicians and immigrants from the Greek coast arrived. The Berber tribes were expelled from the coastal areas.
Libya was ruled by despot Muammar al-Gaddafi for decades. He coined the modern Libya. Since the civil war and the death of Gaddafi the country is transitioning. The destructions of the civil war have thrown Libya back by many years. There are bombed cities and towns, destroyed streets and bridges to be seen everywhere. Unemployment is high, people survive by offering simple services. The new government is aiming for a state characterized by the Islam. It has introduced the Sharia law, an islamic justice system from the middle ages. Are dark times ahead? Fact is, the freedom of press is limited and human rights are being disregarded. People with dark skin are discriminated. Homosexuality is against the law. The majority of Libyans want peace. The women of Libya have proven this wish by demonstrating in large numbers. They want their children to grow up without troubles. They should be able to go to school and learn for their future life. Libyans are proud of their beautiful country and their rich past. They want more visitors come to Libya. Tourism could be an important source of income. There are plenty of impressive attractions like the ruins of Leptis Magna and Sabratha, or the cave paintings of Tadrart Acacus. All of these sites belong to the UNESCO World Heritage.