Jewelry of leptis magna and sabratha, African Rome must be preserved

Near the Gulf of Libya from where migrants sought refuge and a dignified life in a boat insufficient to cross the Mediterranean, two authentic urban jewels recall how Roman civilization flourished and was a crossroads of African culture and commerce. Its cities Leptis magnaBefore Tripoli, e Sabratha, West of the capital, built in Phoenician and Punic settlements. Roads, columns, bathrooms, forums, theaters, amphitheaters, an impressive arch of Emperor Septimius Severus (146-211 AD), who was a citizen of Leptis, all had it: the sites are preserved in an amazing way because they remain. From 1911 to 1943 up to 900 excavations conducted by the Italian Mission were buried in the sand.

We know that ISIS has wreaked havoc wherever it has gone: let’s just think of Palmyra in Syria. Leptis Magna and Sabratha did not know the same fate. They have been saved. He explains the reason Marie Antoinette Rizo, Professor of iterosology and italic antiquities at the University of Macerata, director for years of missions conducted in two cities by the University of the region in March. The scholar has been a member of the Council of the Center for Archaeological Research and Documentation in Roman Africa since 2011.

Marie Antoinette Rizo at the entrance to the excavation in Sabratha

Professor, what is the situation in the two cities? What has happened in recent years since the fall of Gaddafi in 2011?

It must be said that the Libyans did their best to save the monuments at personal risk, even in Tripoli: they had to bury objects and statues safely in their basements, they alone, without internationals, walled the museum doors and walls. Help .. The Libyan division has always behaved with great dignity in a remarkable way and a tradition that other countries have not been able to do and have had to act quickly: some statues weigh tons. At the greatest risk, when ISIS spread widely, they destroyed museums and statues.

Damage? Looting?

There have also been incidents of theft. Many of these works published in some markets have been restored with the help of the police and the nucleus to protect the artistic heritage of our carabinieri. Libya is doing its utmost and tending to restore that tradition. Fortunately, before the 2011 revolution we organized a photographic campaign of almost all the monuments with a very good professional Marcelo Benassai. Having professional documentation is very useful, especially when war or destruction is imminent.

What do you do for a living?

For Sabratha we have the task of restoring approximately 180 square meters of paintings on the frescoed walls of the tomb from the 1st century BC to the 4th century BC in the large sacred-funeral area of ​​Sidret El Balik.

Sabratha, Sidret area.  Special Lion & nbsp;  & nbsp;

Sabratha, Sidret area. Special Lion

What do these paintings represent?

Most importantly a great garden is depicted with a bird’s eye view of the city and a hunting scene with a lion, panther and a remarkable animal among the pets. On other walls, Cupids have been collected according to the most common patterns in North Africa. These are well preserved paintings and have been restored by us in thirty years since the walls collapsed due to an earthquake in 365 AD. C. so powerful that it affected the entire Mediterranean. The walls were fixed to the ground, the paintings did not come into contact with the air, they were protected to preserve the colors, but the collapsed blocks formed millions of pieces which were then efficiently raised and the frescoes restored. It is one of the largest late antique illustrated ensembles in the Mediterranean.

Do they need to be restored?

The University of Macerata created full coverage and closed the area with a huge tent, setting up special lights to open to the public when the revolution took place in 2011 so it was no longer possible to go. We went there until 2014. Today we need some restoration work as the shed was partially damaged during the war. If we have the funds of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, we will be able to intervene together with the Libyan staff. Other painted tombs under the ground are better protected but paintings must be checked for temperature and humidity. In Sabratha, the 23-meter-high Hellenistic Punic tomb must be controlled: made of local limestone, so subject to wear and tear of sand and salt, it requires constant care. There has been some damage to the theater, if not minimal, damage. Libyans will seek the help of European countries and UNESCO.

Leptis Magna, Porto.

Leptis Magna, Porto.

And leptis magna?

It is a large site from Pompeii, it was the city of Emperor Septimius Severus and the Severan dynasty. It’s like a second Rome. Here, for example, the Severian Forum and the Basilica should be restored, along with their huge paintings, hunting baths, and many other monuments that require significant investment and limited funding.

What were your plans and what?

In recent years they have declined because they could not go to the scene. We continue to plan and prepare other projects: we think and hope to intervene in the most urgent cases.



What are the relevance of Leptis Magna and Sabratha?

These are very important cities. Due to their location they were probably Phoenician settlements in the beginning, continuing in the classical and Hellenistic eras. They flourished during the Roman Empire and especially from the end of the 2nd century AD to the first half of the 3rd century AD because there were “African” emperors. Septimius Severus was born in Leptis and was in favor of its monument. The forum is larger than Rome, where it had “rivals” from Egypt with columns and precious marbles. Leptis has everything without overlapping: forums, markets, temples, roads, numerous arches, a colonnade road that we do not have in Italy. And in this region different ethnic groups coexisted in a mixture of usage, customs and language. The site has a well-preserved theater with an auditorium, with only a portion of the front view, but as you go up the steps you can see the sea. And it has a huge amphitheater. The leptis amphitheater is also well preserved.

Personally, emotionally speaking, which of the two cities do you prefer?

Sabratha on a sensitive level because it is more on a human scale and I have followed the funeral area further with the frescoes mentioned earlier.

Photo by Marcelo Benasai, Source University of Maserata

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