A section of the Cyrene necropolis, an extremely important historical site in Libya, has been destroyed by local farmers in order to make way for new houses and shops.
The Cyrene necropolis is an ancient Greek city in north-eastern Libya with UNESCO World Heritage status. It was one of the largest Greek cities in the Classical period and continued to be an important city under the Romans until it was badly damaged during an earthquake in AD 365. UNESCO has described Cyrene as “one of the most impressive complexes of ruins in the entire world.”
The enormous complex, which dates back to about 700 BC, is approximately 10 kilometres in size and includes 1,200 burial vaults dug into the bedrock and thousands of individual sarcophagi that lie on the ground.
Even though the city is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, local farmers have laid claim to certain parts of the necropolis and recently destroyed a two kilometre section with the help of excavators in order to make way for new houses. About 200 vaults and tombs were destroyed, as well as a section of a viaduct that dates back to approximately 200 A.D. Ancient artefacts were thrown into a nearby river as if they were mere rubbish.
Ahmed Hussein, an archaeology professor at Bayda University in eastern Libya, expressed his disappointment at the authorities’ unwillingness to act to prevent the destruction of this invaluable archaeological heritage.
“This land traditionally belongs to families who live in nearby farms. They have no official documents that prove that they own the land, yet their claims are not contested,” said Hussein. “I have been trying everything to stop this disaster. I appealed, in vain, to the archaeological authorities as well as the local authorities. I contacted one of the brigades in charge of the city’s security, who informed me that they could intervene only if the authorities made an official request, but they haven’t made the slightest move to get involved.”
Sadly, part of this ancient necropolis is now forever lost. It has also set a precedent which will encourage other families to destroy ancient sites located on or near their land for the sake of profit.