Greek ruins of Cyrene draw goats, cows, few tourists

By Mohammed Abbas


SHAHAAT -- A toga-clad statue that would be a prize museum piece elsewhere lies half buried among cow dung at the ancient Greek city of Cyrene in eastern Libya, where tourism has suffered decades of neglect.

Goats and cows graze among the towering Greek and Roman columns of the ruined city, a UNESCO world heritage site perched on a mountainside with stunning views over verdant plains and the Mediterranean Sea beyond.

Founded in the 4th century BC by ancient Greeks and later ruled by Rome, the site lacks the protective barriers, souvenir kiosks and restaurants usually found at such places. Instead, it is surrounded by the dilapidated, ugly village of Shahaat.

?It?s been the same here since the revolution in 1969. There?s been investment in oil, but none at all in tourism,? said Shahaat tourism policeman Hamdy Hamed.

The people of east Libya complain that there has been little investment in their part of the country since Muammar Gadhafi came to power in a military coup 41 years ago.

The region is now largely held by anti-Gadhafi rebels after mass protests and bloody fighting in the past month, much of it around the key oil exporting towns of Ras Lanuf and Brega.

?I hope to God we concentrate on tourism after the troubles. Oil runs out, but tourism will remain,? Hamed added.

Hoof prints, droppings

Libya produces about 2 percent of the world?s oil, and the oil facilities and oil worker neighborhoods nearby appear to be the few areas of east Libya to have seen recent investment.

The Mediterranean, azure at the shore then deep blue, laps at a near-pristine coastline but there are barely any resort hotels or restaurants.

Near Cyrene, one of the most important cities of the Hellenic world, are the lush hills and cool climes of Jebel al-Akhdar, but no facilities for tourists.

?We really want someone to look at tourism and for companies to invest. Most of the artifacts are still buried. Tourism has been neglected,? said unemployed Shahaat resident Hamdy Bzeiwi, who has seen little of the income that would usually come from living close to a site such as Cyrene.

At the ruins, bags of rubbish litter the 2nd century AD Arch of Marcus Aurelius, and an amphitheater likely used for performances of Greek tragedies is now apparently being used as a sheep pen judging by the hoof prints and droppings.

A school of Greek philosophy is said to have been started at Cyrene, but the only ruminating there now is done by cows.

?It?s a real shame,? said Fitah al-Fakhri, who said he was visiting Cyrene after fleeing the battle-torn town of Ajdabiyah.

Beside Fakhri, his family and a friend accompanying them, there were no other human visitors to the deserted ruins.

?This is our history and there are goats all over it,? Fakhri said. ?We have no government, so how can you expect a place like this to be protected??