Wednesday, 5 November 2008

postcard from Libya

I'm blogging from Tripoli - on my birthday. I have always thought Guy Fawkes a suitable day to be born . Perhaps explains why I'm fond of the occasional pot shot at authority ! I thought it would be nice to take a week off on holiday to celebrate yet another year . And Libya has always appealed ; though a difficult place to visit . Visas and screening , and you cannot travel independently , and have to have a guide . An English speaking guide , though in my case " sort off " . Full of the most excellent explanations as in : "that's a hospital . school , mosque..." but a little more vague on the details of the historical sites . When was that built? "Oh , that old". Or occasionally ," that very old ". Now I don't want to appear picky , and I didn't want the actual year , but a vague idea of century would have been nice .

But one of the highlights was when I managed to slip out of the hotel in Tripoli and go exploring on my own , trusty Lonely Planet in hand . The souks in the old Medina are fascinating , and I was able to stop and stare at the mosques and pause for a mint tea unaided. I was off in search of the old British Consulate , a major place of pilgrimage for students of colonial exploration . This particular building dates from 1744 and until 1940 was the British consulate and centre for the exploration of the sub Saharan Africa. It was from this building that Major Alexander Laing set off in search of Timbukto , which he found in 1826 . He also married the daughter of the then British Consul Colonel Warrington.The building has been preserved by the Colonel Qaddafi , but it now comes complete with plaque announcing the wicked deeds committed by the colonialists.As it says this is a site of, " so called scientific exploration which were in essence and as a matter of fact intended to be colonial ones to occupy and colonise vital parts of Africa."

So a must see , and when I found it down a dusty and dark street in the heart of the old Medina I found the massive wooden door closed . But a colonialist is not to be deterred and I began to knock loudly . And I was answered. So I was able to get in and look at this historic site ; a rather beautiful shaded courtyard surrounded by elegant 2 story rooms and verandas .

In the evening I went to the early 17th century Turkish baths . Still in their gorgeous old state , marble floors and beautiful Iznik tiled walls. These baths were built in 1604. Just how many backs have been scrubbed , how many joints massaged and manipulated since then; And in such elegance . I emerged tingling and refreshed to the sound of the evening call to prayer echoing out across the Medina.A wonderful evening preparing for my birthday the next day.I wish I could say that was followed by a fabulous meal , but, alas , it was not .

And it is somehow rather appropriate that I am in Libya to hear the election news form America. the first black president of the USA. change has come to America. it was here in Libya , in Leptis Magna , in AD 145 that Septimus Severus was born . he became the first black Emperor of Rome.septimus has sometimes been known as the Grim African . A superb soldier , he died and is buried in York . but visiting Leptis to see the magnificent Roman ruins you get an idea of the grandeur that was Rome .Septimus was generous to his native country when he became Roman Emperor. leptis is one of the best preserved Roman ruins in the world . A must see.

And an added bonus ; the country is dry . my liver is pleased !

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