Libya History and Culture

By | September 9, 2021


Until modern times, the regions that form the Libyan state today have not formed a solid political unity. In 642 the overwhelming Arab expansion reached the territory of present-day Libya overwhelming any resistance of the Berbers, who converted to Islam, adhering, however, to the Khārigite heresy by contrast with the ruler. The Hilal invasionin the sec. XI definitively made the Arab demographic element prevail; the Berbers kept their identity intact only in restricted mountainous areas. Tripolitania subsequently came under the dominion of several North African Arab-Berber dynasties. From the beginning of the century. XVI was established in the coastal regions the Ottoman influence. Tripoli, conquered by the Spaniards in 1510 and ceded in 1530 to the Knights of Malta who held it until 1551, became a city-state dedicated to privateering, under the more or less formal protection and dependence of the Ottoman Empire. From 1711 to 1835 Tripolitania was ruled by the Caramanli lordship. In 1835 the Turkish government wanted to re-establish its direct sovereignty over the country, then trying to ensure effective control of the territory. In the interior of Cyrenaica, however, the power of Senussia (Sanūsíyya), a religious brotherhood centered in Giarabub, became established in 1840 . In 1911, after an intense economic penetration, Italy, having declared war on Turkey (29 September), undertook the conquest of Libya. Operations went smoothly at first, but fierce resistance soon appeared. Although Italian sovereignty over Tripolitania and Cyrenaica was proclaimed on November 5, military action had to continue for a long time, even after the conclusion of the Italian-Turkish war. (October 1912). In particular, the Fezzan was occupied after the end of the conflict and was abandoned already before 1915 following the revolts inspired by the Senussi. The First World War however led to the abandonment of many of the positions acquired until then; with the Acroma modus vivendi (April 14, 1917), Senussia obtained extensive concessions. In the first post-war period, the Italian government implemented a liberal policy (Libyan Statutes of 1919, Agreement of er-Regima of 25 October 1920, which attributed to Senussia the autonomous government of the Cyrenaic oases); but with the advent of the governor Volpi effective control over the whole Tripoli territory was vigorously re-established (1921-25); similarly in Cyrenaica the Senussite forces were defeated (1923-31). Fezzan himself was reconquered in those years (1930) and became part of southern Tripolitania. With the unification, in 1929, of the government of Tripolitania and Cyrenaica, a broad program of civil organization and economic enhancement was undertaken, in particular with the governorship of I. Balbo (1934-40). During the Second World War, between 1940 and 1943, the fluctuating campaigns of North Africa saw a succession of Italian-German offensives and British counter-offensives, which made Tripolitania and Cyrenaica the scene of important military operations following which they were occupied by the British, while the French took possession of the Fezzan.


According to loverists, Libya did not have artistic homogeneity before the cultural unification which began at the time of Roman rule and ended with the Arab conquest. In fact, while on the western coast (Tripolitania) the Phoenicians planted their emporia, the eastern one (Cyrenaica) was colonized by the Greeks and had its maximum center in Cyrene, a rich Doric colony of fundamental importance for the history of Greek and Hellenistic architecture. In the Hellenistic period Cyrene was part of the Pentapoliswith Apollonia, Tolemaide, Euesperide (Bengasi), Teuchira (Tocra), all flourishing cities of which important archaeological complexes are being brought to light. A rich house was discovered in Tolemaide with rooms decorated with mosaics and paintings (2nd-1st century BC). The forum, the basilica, the amphitheater, the porticoed decumanus and the triumphal arch complete the archaeological panorama. In Tripolitania there are notable Roman monumental complexes, among which the most grandiose and known is that of Leptis Magna including the forum (the largest in North Africa), the three-ship basilica, the market, several arches, the baths with a large ambulatory and a bi-apsidal gymnasium. The series of reliefs of the Severian arch and of the basilica of Leptis are very representative of the sculpture of Roman Africa, more than the numerous official production of imperial statues and portraits. As for the Roman theaters, that of Sabratha, built between the end of the century. II d. C. and the beginning of the III, it excels for its grandeur and the excellent state of conservation. Tripolitania has pride of place in the use of mosaics, as evidenced by the rich cycles of the villas of Leptis and Sabratha. After the Arab conquest, the subsequent complete insertion into the Islamic world led to the need for numerous religious buildings which, extensively reusing Roman (and more rarely Byzantine) elements and conforming according to a certain typology with a regional basis (Tripolitania, Cyrenaica and Fezzan), they constitute a separate chapter in the architecture of North Africa. Under the Turkish domination (1552-1911) the architecture, more monumental and more richly decorated, characterized by mosques with several domes, tends to repeat Ottoman prototypes. To the period of the Italian occupation (1911-43) we owe the organization of important archaeological excavations in Cyrenaica and Tripolitania and the renewal of the building structure of the cities, in which new districts and public buildings were built according to a modern urban planning concept.

Libya History and Culture