The site of Leptis Magna directly along the Mediterranean Sea is so beautifully scattered that it will appeal to even those who are least interested in visiting the ruins. Perhaps regarded as the vastest Roman ruins on the planet, the site is also the home of the most impressive Roman structures. Leptis Magna is nestled at the shore of Al Khums in Libya and is nestled at a distance 130 km from the capital Tripoli. As not much information can be found on the site, I would recommend joining a guided tour for obtaining the best out of your trip to this wonderfully perched site.
This ancient Roman city, once a very wealthy town, was where the Emperor Septimius Severus was born. With the powerful rule from 6th century BC to 400 AD, the city first gained significance during the Roman emperors Augustus and Tiberius. The unspoiled ruins of Leptis Magna reveal about a Phoenician settlement that flourished as an important trade civilization – thanks to the coastal location and proximity with the harbor where a wadi meaning a river meets the Mediterranean. The natural location as well as the powerful Roman rule blessed the city with much wealth now seen only in forms of magnificent structures left behind.
At Leptis Magna, you will love to see a vast ruined complex that is the home to many majestic structures such as the Severan Arch and Basilica, the Hadrianic Baths, the Palaestra or Sports Ground, the Colonnaded Street, the Theatre and Circus, the forum, the Temple of Rome and Augustus, the Temple of Liber Pater, and the Market. In this entire city, there were only two main roads of which one ran towards the interior of Africa, while the other stretched from east to west shore.
Currently, all the edifices have been remodeled from limestone, marble, and granite. Just at the entrance is the monumental symbol since 203 AD, the Arch of Septimius Severus that indicates the beginning of the city area. By its name, one can know that this was dedicated to the emperor Septimius Severus. The one that is currently standing is the remade arch holding the original fragments. At the core, the three step pediment aimed to put off the chariots from the entrance; while from its rear, one can see the East-West road, Decomanus Maximus that began from Carthage in Tunisia and ended in Egypt’s Alexandria.
Made by Septimus is one more attraction called the Colonnaded Street that used to hold ornate columns for parades. If you were to walk on this street from the harbor, you can easily explore the major buildings like the big nymphaeum (fountain) overlooking the River Lebda’s dam partly and the Hadrian’s baths. The sub complex of baths even today boasts several bathing suites, chic recreation zones, and swimming pools. It is very easy to conclude that only the royals were allowed here for a charge for performing the baths ritually. Each of them entered the complex from the palaestra (sports ground), reached the changing room (apodyterium), and then used to enter the laconia (sweat rooms or sauna) where oils and herbs were massaged by slaves followed by an exercise for eradicating the dirt as well as the stickiness of oil. Then, one used to visit the calidarium (hot baths) followed by the tepidarium (warm baths) as well as frigidarium (the cold baths). The striking feature of bathing in Leptis Magna was that the activity was a public activity as against what it is today. After cleansing the body, the royals used to take up the recreational activities such as a dozing in the pool or strolling in the gardens.
Also known as the Temple to the Nymphs, the Nympheum was where the residents used to collect water that used to come from the river via a reservoir. Also look for Tetraphylon from 203 AD, which is a manifold walkway that commemorates the major crossroads that once boasted the reliefs revealing Severus along with his family. Exactly in the middle of the city is the Imperial Forum – a vast, but still splendid zone holding scattered masonry as well as high walls. This is where you can see the big amphitheatre where some 15,000 people can seat for any show. Do spot for the forum where there are several temples of the patron gods, the famous rich area of basilica of Septimius Severus, the Markets as a closed rectangular zones, and of course the Harbor whose lower part is still visible with a square podium boasting the lighthouse.
How to go
Guided tour from Tripoli as a day trip; kindly do not bring any alcohol as it is severely banned in Libya; wear sturdy shoes
Best time to visit
Spring as well as autumn