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Sabratha: Treasure of the Tripolitana in Libya

Nestled in the modern Libya’s Az Zawiyah province, Sabratha is the ancient land that today boasts a myriad of ruins of an old civilization that used to thrive here around 500 BC. This UNESCO World Heritage Site along with the famous Leptis Magna as well as Oea forms the Tripolis that means a set of three towns that is also called Tripolitana. To be very precise, the archaeological site of Sabratha expands along the Mediterranean shore making it to reside exactly at 65 km from Tripoli.

Historically, Sabratha refers to a Phoenician civilization that was famous as a port due to which African trade was at its peak here in the olden days. ‘Sabratha’ itself stands for the grain market that reveals much about this settlement and their means of income. It is said that the city was remade in the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD by the Romans, but prior to that it was a part of the small Numidian Kingdom of Massinissa. Some of the city’s major milestones that track the history include the golden period during the rule of Septimus Severus, vital hub for North African Christianity in 253 AD, and earthquakes of the 4th century, Byzantine Roman rule in the 5th century, and Arabs rule in the 7th century after which the city was deserted.


Currently, the land is full of the Roman temples, basilicas, tombs, and later churches. Hats off the caretakers here, who have preserved this heritage site very well for maintaining its original look and feel. On my trip, I first explored the most famous monument that is the well maintained theater boasting numerous, notable reliefs. It was made in 2nd century AD during the Roman rule and so you can think how beautifully it must have been in those days. The best part is that you get a chance to look at the most complete 3-storey theatre that can accommodate 5000 people who have to select from 25 entrances to enter. What a giant structure it must have been!

Besides this architectural marvel, Sabratha is also the home to a few great temples that are dedicated to Hercules, Isis, Serapis, Liber Pater, and Antonine. In addition, you will also come across the Capitolium as well as a Christian basilica that was erected during the Justinian time (late 2nd century). It was at this basilica where the Roman writer Apuleius protected himself from the sorcery blame due to which it is also called as the Basilica of Apu leius. Formerly, the city’s law court; the building was transformed to act as a Christian church in 440 AD. Within, you can see a few relics of mosaic floors that are actually the protected tinted patterns of the Forum baths also known as the seaward baths dominating the shore.

Sabratha Jupiter Tempel

Some more remarkable structures include the bathhouse, the Neopunic tombs, myriad of villas, museums, and fountain along with the Mausoleum of Bes. The latter is called so because of the main deity of the Phoenician civilization, Bes, who is the protector against ill luck, of the dead, and of the expectant mothers. On the site, the two museums are also worth a visit, of which, one houses the Roman art items such as mosaics and the other houses the Punic art collection. Coming to the tombs, a few sections of it date back to the 3rd century BC. In Sabratha, you will also come across three out of five sets of baths namely, the Baths of Neptune, the classic Seaward Baths, and the Theatre Baths.

Do also explore the Forum that is actually the original location of the real settlement. In addition, it was the heart of the roman public life as well as the home of the two Byzantine Christian churches and a burial ground.

Reaching Sabratha

From the Libya’s capital Tripoli, one needs to drive for 50 miles.

Best time to go

Spring as well as autumn is the most famous seasons for visiting Libya. The climate here is desert-like and dry. However, in spring and autumn, the sirocco or ‘gibli’ winds hit the region. And yes, very often dust as well as sand storms take place.


No train service exists here, so transport is via the buses between the cities.

Alcohol is considered illegal and is strictly followed by law.

Do not miss to explore the Sahara desert for its most spectacular sunset colors.