’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.


International Hay Festival set to arrive in the UAE

UAE’s Ministry of Tolerance announced Wednesday that the event will start on Feb. 24. (Supplied)
Updated 11 min 19 sec ago

International Hay Festival set to arrive in the UAE

DUBAI: For its first edition in the Arab World, the international Hay Festival will arrive in the UAE on Feb. 24, at Abu Dhabi’s Manarat Al-Saadiyat and other venues across the city, UAE’s Ministry of Tolerance announced Wednesday. 

The four-day event will host workshops, artistic performances, new technology discovery, storytelling and many more art and literature-related activities.

The festival will take place at Abu Dhabi’s Manarat Al-Saadiyat and other venues across the city. (Supplied)

Since 1987, the Hay Festival has launched 125 events globally, attracting more than 4.5 million people to events in 30 locations. 

The festival, originally based in Whales, will bring together writers and thinkers from different cultures and backgrounds to discuss ideas, share knowledge and host conversations. 

The festival aims to spark imagination and curiosity, from children and young literature enthusiasts to seasoned readers.

The Minster of Tolerance Sheikh Nahyan Mabarak Al-Nahyan said: “Hay Festival Abu Dhabi will be an important initiative of our Year of Tolerance, which celebrates the legacy of our nation’s founder, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan, whose tolerance enabled the success we enjoy as a country today.”

Minster of Tolerance Sheikh Nahyan Mabarak Al-Nahyan announced the news in a press conference in Abu Dhabi. (Supplied) 

 “(The event) is not only about bringing the festival to Abu Dhabi, but taking Abu Dhabi to the world,” the international director of the Hay Festival, Cristina La Roche, told Arab News.

Cristina La Roche is the international director of the Hay Festival. (Supplied)

The award-winning Syrian poet Adonis is said to be attending the festival and will celebrate his 90th birthday with the participants. “He is one of the world’s greatest poets. He is unquestionably influential not only in Arabic but to poets all around the globe,” Peter Florence, director of Hay Festival, told Arab News.   

Peter Florence is the director of Hay Festival. (Supplied) 

Other award-winning novelists like the Saudi Muhammed Hasan Alwan and the Omani Jokha Alharthi will also attend the event. 

Conversations will take place in multiple languages and all sessions will be live translated into Arabic and English. Tickets to all sessions will be free for those in full time education.