’Jewel of Roman Empire’ faces Libya dangers

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A Spanish archaeological mission recently visited Sabratha and signed an agreement to restore some areas, including the theater. (AFP)
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Officials said Sabratha suffers from stone erosion and degradation. (AFP)
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Today, the site around 70 kilometers (45 miles) from the capital lies eerily abandoned, encircled by parched grass and weeds. (AFP)
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UNESCO declared Sabratha to be at risk in July 2016, along with four other Libyan sites on its World Heritage list. (AFP)
Updated 03 October 2018
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’Jewel of Roman Empire’ faces Libya dangers

  • Experts fear worse is to come for the country’s historic sites, as armed groups continue to vie for ascendancy
  • Alongside armed conflict, several protected Libyan sites are threatened by uncontrolled urban expansion

SABRATHA, Libya: Perched on the edge of Libya’s Mediterranean coast, the ancient city of Sabratha remains an awe-inspiring spectacle, the pink columns of its amphitheater towering above turquoise waters.
But the world heritage site is classed as “endangered” by UNESCO, its majestic structures pockmarked by mortar and small arms fire.
Shell casings and bullets still litter the surrounding earth, a year after clashes between rival armed groups.
Locals say snipers positioned themselves at the top of the amphitheater, once a jewel of the Roman Empire.
Bringing bloodshed back to the gladiatorial arena some 18 centuries after it was built, 39 people were killed and 300 wounded in the fighting.
Today, the site around 70 kilometers (45 miles) from the capital lies eerily abandoned, encircled by parched grass and weeds.
Since the toppling and killing of Libya’s dictator Muammar Qaddafi in a 2011 uprising, Sabratha has become a key departure point for illegal migration.
Smugglers and militias have profited amply from a chronic security vacuum.
It is from the long and deserted shores a few kilometers (miles) from ancient Sabratha that most migrants start their perilous boat journeys toward Europe.


UNESCO declared Sabratha to be at risk in July 2016, along with four other Libyan sites on its World Heritage list.
The UN’s cultural organization based its decision on two factors — “damage already caused” and vulnerability to future destruction.
It noted that “armed groups are present on these sites or in their immediate proximity.”
Experts fear worse is to come for the country’s historic sites, as armed groups continue to vie for ascendancy.
Libya’s archaeological heritage is at great risk, warns Mohamad Al-Chakchouki, head of the North African country’s department of antiquities.
The “entrenchment of armed groups inside archaeological sites and the battles which have unfolded near the sites, including Sabratha, pose a permanent danger,” he told AFP.
The conservation of sites was once entrusted to Western teams.
But these experts have not traveled to Libya “for four years, because of the chaos and insecurity,” said Chakchouki.
Spread out over 90 hectares (220 acres), including a part engulfed by the sea, Sabratha is one of three former cities that constituted Roman Tripolitania.
The others are Oea — modern-day Tripoli — and Leptis Magna in western Libya that was one of the sites classed as endangered by UNESCO two years ago.
At the mercy of the scorching summer sun and the salty sea breeze, Sabratha suffers from stone erosion and degradation, said Mohamad Abu Ajela, an official at the city’s office of antiquities.
But the “damage caused by man is a greater fear,” he said.
A Spanish archaeological mission recently visited Sabratha and signed an agreement to restore some areas, including the theater.
But completion of the work “depends on the security situation,” Ajela said.


Alongside armed conflict, several protected Libyan sites are threatened by uncontrolled urban expansion.
One example is Cyrene, an ancient Greek city in northeastern Libya.
Exploiting the chaos, people have claimed ownership of land and built within the archaeological site’s perimeter.
Looting is another threat to these sites, as the lack of security has led to illicit excavation and smuggling of antiquities.
Several thefts of ancient objects have been reported.
In March, Spain’s interior ministry announced the seizure “of numerous works of art” from the Cyrenaica and Tripolitania regions, including seven mosaics, sarcophagi and pieces of Egyptian origin.
Madrid said it had proof that two necropolizes were looted by “terrorist groups.”
Officials in the antiquities department attempt to save what they can, often through desperate measures.
Museums have closed — including in Tripoli — and some archaeological treasures have been transferred to a “safe place,” Chakchouki said.


R&B star Alicia Keys to host 2019 Grammy Awards

Updated 16 January 2019
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R&B star Alicia Keys to host 2019 Grammy Awards

  • Alicia Keys will replace James Corden, British-late night comedian, who hosted two years in a row
  • Numerous female performers are contending for the awards this year

LOS ANGELES: American singer and songwriter Alicia Keys will host the Grammy Awards next month, she announced Tuesday, one year after the gala came under fire over diversity concerns.
Keys -- herself a 15-time Grammy winner -- will be the emcee for music's biggest night, which this year features a diverse slate of women and hip hop artists as leading contenders.
"I know what it feels like to be on that stage, and I know what it feels like to be proud of the work that you've put in and to be recognized for it," Keys said in a video posted on social media.
"I feel like it's the perfect opportunity for me to give the light back and lift people up -- especially all the young women that are nominated," she added.
"To me, it feels like sister vibes."
Keys replaces James Corden, the British-late night comedian who has hosted the awards the past two years.
Since releasing her blockbuster album "Songs in A Minor" in 2001, classically trained pianist Keys has sold more than 30 million records and become a successful film, television and Broadway producer.
Her appointment as Grammy host comes after the Recording Academy -- which organizes the event -- faced backlash that the show is consistently too male and too white.
Academy head Neil Portnow said in May he would step aside when his contract expires later this year, after he triggered outrage after saying women artists should "step up."
"A dynamic artist with the rare combination of groundbreaking talent and passion for her craft, Alicia Keys is the perfect choice as host for our show," Portnow said in a statement.
Rap superstar Kendrick Lamar is leading the Grammy pack with eight nominations, propelled mostly by his work on the "Black Panther" soundtrack.
Women performers also boast a heavy presence in top categories after being largely snubbed a year ago.
Rapper Cardi B, pop diva Lady Gaga and folk-rock singer Brandi Carlile all nabbed key nominations for the show, which will take place on February 10 in Los Angeles.