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Introducing Libya

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Leptis Magna ruins in Libya © David Gunn

*Libya is currently in the aftermath of a civil war, and is still struggling with rebel insurgency. Safety in Libya is far from certain and most governments advise against all travel to the country.

Oil-rich Libya has had a tumultuous history and many have wrestled for control of this fascinating and beautiful land. Tucked between Egypt and Tunisia, and bordering on the Mediterranean Sea, Libya has seen invasions by Turks, Vandals, Byzantines, Romans, Arabs and Italians, only gaining independence in 1951. These various civilisations have left their mark, particularly evident in the striking Roman and Greek ruins at Leptis Magna, Cyrene and Sabratha, though Libya remains quintessentially Arabic, as evident in the Medina (old city) of the capital Tripoli, the nomadic lifestyle of desert-dwelling Bedouin and Berber tribes, and the language, culture and customs of the people.

Tripoli, in the northeast, is the country's main port, and is a bustling city dominated by the splendid Assaraya al-Hamra (Red Castle), a large palace complex, as well as the walls and gates of the Medina. Filled with orange groves, grapevines, palms and olive trees, the lush city is home to several interesting mosques, museums and historical sites, as well as modern amenities. Benghazi is Libya's second largest city and is chiefly more modern in flavour, having been all but destroyed during World War II, though one can still enjoy the lively local souqs (markets), and it acts as a good base from which to explore the neighbouring Green Mountain area, as well as several Roman ruin sites along the coast.

Libya is largely an undiscovered tourist destination, due to sanctions imposed on the country through its rocky political history, and a current high risk of terrorism. There was a rise in tourism and an increased interest in the country after the lifting of sanctions in 2003, with a number of resorts springing up along Libya's Mediterranean coast; however, the country's descent into civil war in 2011 put an end to Libya's gradual rise as a travel destination. Nevertheless, although 90 percent of Libya is desert or semi-desert, there are breath-taking oases to be discovered, ruins to explore, cities to investigate, and beaches to laze on. Political instability aside, Libya promises to be an interesting country to explore.

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