Founded by the Greeks, Cyrene is a one of the great cities of antiquity. A designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, the vast evocative ruins of Cyrene in North Eastern Libya are one of the most impressive from the ancient world and provide a majestic insight to its wondrous and celebrated past.
In the 7th century BC, the Greek island of Thera (modern Santorini) was experiencing a severe drought which overwhelmed its limited resources, causing it great struggles in sustaining its increasingly distressed population. Because of this, the island’s leaders sent a committee to mainland Greece to seek advice from Apollo’s Oracle at Delphi, the largest and most famous religious and spiritual centre in the ancient Mediterranean world.
The Oracle at Delphi advised the committee that to change their fortunes and to survive as a people that they had to establish a new settlement in the lush and abundant north-eastern coast of Libya, a place that rained regularly, a place that the “sky leaked through a hole in the heavens”.
So in 631 BC, led by Heroic Battus (the first Greek King in Libya) the Therans founded their new city-state, Cyrene, on the fertile highland ground overlooking the Green Mountain plateau or Jebel Akhdar uplands, 13 kilometres inland from the Mediterranean. Note: The famous Ancient Greek historian Herodotus describes the foundation of Cyrene in his ‘Histories’ which is the founding work of history in Western literature.
The city and people thrived in the lush environment and Cyrene quickly established a profitable maritime trade with Greek cities. Cyrene soon became the principal and most prosperous city of Libya and as a result of its success; four more cities were founded in the region. Known as the Pentapolis, these flourishing cities were Cyrene, Apollonia, Teuchira, Ptolemais and Eusperides.
Cyrene was famous around the whole Ancient Greek world for its intellectual and academic pursuits and philosophy school and became known as the “Athens of Africa”.
Cyrene produced and traded, olives, dates, apples, grapes, and cereals and was renowned for its horses and medicinal plant silphium.
The city was established as a Roman province in 74 BC, and continued to prosper and be a major influence and important player in the Mediterranean world. Cyrene was severely damaged in AD 115 as a result of the Jewish revolt and then completely rebuilt during the reign of Roman Emperor Hadrian (117 to 138).
In 365 AD a catastrophic earthquake (and subsequent tsunami) struck off the Western coast of Crete that lifted that island 9 metres. As a result of this event, Cyrene and many other cities in the region were severely damaged or destroyed and many thousands of people died.
Cyrene never recovered from this and eventually declined as an influence fell under the Arab conquest in 643; however by then it was only dusty footprint of its glorious and opulent past.
Famous Ancient Greeks from Cyrene:
Erastosthenes – Born 276 BC – Died 194 BC (82 years).
- Mathematician, Geographer, Poet, Astronomer and Librarian.
- First to prove the earth was a sphere.
- The first person to calculate the circumference of the Earth.
- First to calculate the tilt of the Earth’s axis.
- Calculated the distance from the Earth to the Sun and invented the leap day.
- He created the first map of the world and inventing the idea of latitude and longitude.
- Became the Chief librarian of the Library of Alexandria: the most important library of the ancient world.
Arete – Born c 400 BC – Died c. 340 BC (60 years).
- Teacher and Philosopher.
- Daughter of Aristippus of Cyrene who was a close follower of Socrates.
- Arete was a career teacher of natural and moral philosophy at the academies and various schools of Ancient Greece. She also wrote over forty books.
- She was so highly esteemed that they had inscribed on her tomb a truly beautiful epitaph which declared the following:
she was the splendour of Greece,
and possessed the beauty of Helen,
the virtue of Thirma, the pen of Aristippus,
the soul of Socrates and the tongue of Homer.
Further photos from Cyrene, Libya can be viewed from my image library website
All images, text and content on this blog are copyright Steven Sklifas.
Above image: View of the front and North side of the Temple of Zeus which like most Greek Temples faced east. Constructed in an archaic Doric style using local yellow limestone, the Temple dates originally from the 5th century BC and is comparable in size to the Parthenon in Athens Greece.
Above View: The interior of the Temple of Zeus and the platform that supported the colossal seated statue of Zeus (twelve times life size) that was modelled on the famous Zeus statue at Olympia Greece which was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
Above image: The colonnaded main entrance to the Gymnasium / Forum which dates from 2nd century BC. Surrounded on all four sides by an elegant Doric colonnaded portico, the Gymnasium / Forum was originally built by the Greeks as a sports centre and was the scene of races and other sporting contests. It was converted in the 1st century AD by into a forum or caesareum – Forum of the Caesars and it became a place for informal assembly and discussion.
Above image: Partial view of the Doric colonnade portico of the Gymnasium / Forum.
Above image: View of the Odeon or Theatre which lies outside the west wall of the Forum. It is of typical Roman period form with five vaulted corridors giving access to the cavea from the outer semicircular corridor. The back wall of the stage is well-preserved, although it has been stripped of its marble columns, some of which are lying in ruins in the orchestra area.
Above image: View over the coloured marble inlays of south courtyard, possibly the banqueting hall, towards the central courtyard of the House of Jason Magnus. The house was the private residence of Claudius Tiberius Jason Magnus, high priest of the Temple of Apollo in the 2nd century AD.
Above image: The prominent Naval Monument which stands opposite the Captiolium in the Agora was originally built by the Ptolemies in the 3rd century BC in celebration of a naval victory won by the Cyreneans. This reconstructed monument is in the form of a prow of trireme and features a beautifully sculptured marble wingless and now headless Victory standing on the prow of the ship, flanked by two dolphins and holding the tritons of Neptune.
Above image: View of the circular sanctuary of Demeter and Kore with marble figures that depict the deities and their followers. Demeter is the Greek Goddess of grain and Kore is her daughter. The Sanctuary was the scene of a riotous women only annual celebration.
Above image: Marble draped female figure depicting a follower of the deities at the sanctuary of Demeter and Kore.
Above image: View of the remains of the Western Stoa which originally was a barn-like building with a ridged roof supported on a row of five central columns. The Agora was the heart of the civic life of Cyrene in Greek times and developed as an open-air market clustered around the tomb of the Founder Battus.
Above image: Overview of the Sanctuary of Apollo which is dominated by the Temple of Apollo. The sanctuary is beautifully situated 600 meters high, overlooking the Green Mountain plateau and 13 km inland from the Mediterranean. It is where Cyrene was first established by the Greeks and it has within it a rich collection of temples, altars, fountains, theatre, baths and a Doric monumental entrance.
Above image: View at the Sanctuary of the Temple of Apollo which incorporates the remains of three successive buildings. The original Temple was built during the 6th century and then rebuilt again in the 4th century BC. The third and last restoration of the temple took place after the Jewish revolt in AD 115-117 and what seen now is a Roman period building in the Greek Doric style temple without the typically fluted columns of Greek Temples.
Above image: View of a finely cut marble portal and headless marble sculpture of female figure beautifully draped at the Temple of Artemis which dates from the late 7th or early 6th century BC. The Temple is located in the Sanctuary of Apollo.
Above image: Marble sculpture of female figure beautifully draped with the unfluted columns of the Temple of Apollo behind it.
Above image: Cut into a cliff faces overlooking the Green Mountain plateau and all around Cyrene are thousands of tombs and individual sarcophagi that were built and used for 1000 years from the 6th century BC by the Greeks, up to the 6th century AD. Some of the tombs which were quite spacious still contain traces of their distinctive Greek and Hellenistic facades. Unfortunately every visible tomb or sarcophagi has been robed and damaged either in Byzantine or early Islamic times. The Necropolis of Cyrene is one of the most extensive cemeteries in the ancient world and gives the most vivid impression of Cyrene’s Greek Heritage.
Above image: Example of one of the tombs that resemble the facade of a Greek temple.
Above image: A Greek inscribed stone tablet found at the courtyard of the Cyrene sculpture museum which is adorned with many marble sculptures and architectural remains from the ancient city.
Above image: View at the sculpture museum of a Sphinx on top of a column with Ionic capital. Dating from the Archaic period – (650 BC-480 BC), the Sphinx is one of the most important monuments found at Cyrene. A similar copy of the statue is also found in Delphi Museum, Greece. The Sphinx was crafted from marble from the Greek island of Paros.
Above image: View at the museum of the beautiful sculpture known as the Three Graces. The sculpture is a representation of the three daughters of Zeus known as three charities, Euphrosyne, Aglaea and Thalia – who were said to represent beauty, charm and joy. This example dates from the time of Hadrian and was found in the Baths of Trajan.
Above image: View at the sculpture museum of some of the beautiful marble finery that once adorned its ancient buildings.
Above image: View at the sculpture museum of a marble statue of Alexander the Great. This example dates from the time of Hadrian and was found in the Baths of Trajan.
Above image: View at the museum of a fine marble sculpture of the God Zeus / Jupiter.
Above image: View at the sculpture museum of a funerary statue representing Persephone -the Goddess of the underworld.
Above image: View at the museum of the fingers and toes from the statue of Zeus that once adorned the platform inside the Temple of Zeus at Cyrene. The Colossal seated statue of Zeus was twelve times life size and modelled on the famous Statue of Zeus at Olympia Greece which was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
Above image: View at the museum of a fine marble sculpture of the Olympian Greek God Hermes. Dating from the 1st- 2nd centuries AD the sculpture was found at the Baths of Trajan at the Sanctuary of Apollo.
Above image: View at the museum of a fine marble sculpture of the goddess Aphrodite. Dating from the 1st century AD, the sculpture was found at the Baths of Trajan at the Sanctuary of Apollo.
Above image: View at the museum of the famous life size fine marble sculpture of the goddess Aphrodite Anadyomene (rising from the sea). The sculpture was found in 1913 at the Trajan Baths in the Sanctuary of Apollo. It was brought to Rome by the Italian colonists and was exhibited in Octagonal Hall of the Baths of Diocletian (Museo delle Terme). The sculpture was returned back to Cyrene Libya in 2008 by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi who transported the sculpture in his private jet.
All images, text and content on this blog are copyright Steven Sklifas.