One of the first tips people gave us when we arrived here in Libya was to join the Archeological Society. I came here over a year ago, expecting everything and nothing with very little knowledge of what I would like to see or do. But I definitely wanted to learn more about my home away from home. I do not want to be leaving and not taking anything in with me, and come back home without anything to share about Tripoli and Libya.
However, since having no car is difficult enough if you wanted to go anywhere, I realized early on that unlike Paris or Rome, you can’t just go touristy on your own here in Libya. Thus the purpose of the Archeological Society. The said group basically organizes tours around Libya, not just the ruins of Leptis Magna and Sabratha, but even to the deserts.
They open tours annually and this year began with a tour of the Old City. JG, me, and my Mother-in-Law had already walked around the old city a few months ago, armed only with a Lonely Planet book. It was great, but it wasn’t really the same especially that we could only see and look at parts that are outside. The great thing about the guided tour was that we were able to get access inside those places we couldn’t go into when we went off on our own.
For example, a lot of the stops in the tour were inside the mosques inside the walls of the Old City. Ever since I got here, I have always wanted to go inside a mosque and see what’s inside. We went on a Friday which would’ve been a great time to see them pray, but it was still too early. We went to every kind big, small, old, new,…
Aside from the mosques, there were also a surprising number of non-Muslim places of worship …
Also this Greek Orthodox church, which used to be a Turkish prison.
It was also interesting to know that few years ago, there were a lot of hotels inside the city. There are still some existing now, with the open orchard in the lobby very unlike the usual hotels but very Mediterranean, so if you are visiting and you wanted to get more of the Sahara feel, I think these are the places to go to.
Of course there was the Marcus Aurelius arch, and an interesting tidbit that there is a whole town of Roman ruins left untouched underneath the city. The tour guide says that there are some talk about how to go about unearthing it. But I think mostly, they do not want to disturb the continuous development happening inside the walls.
But again it’s really neat to think that the whole thing sits on top of something that was once a Roman town hundreds of years of ago. All around you can still see protruding Roman posts that are mostly found on the corners of buildings.
Although most of the stores around are closed there are still some that are continuously thriving, like cooper making stores and many of the textile shops.
My favorite stop was when we passed the local Hammam or Turkish bath inside the walls. So in case you don’t know, Turkish baths are basically a shared Sauna bath but made extra special because I think you get a special massage afterwards. But I think the one we went to was just an ordinary kind not unlike the super posh kinds you find in big hotels.
So the baths have alternate schedules for when the men and the women can use it. Friday mornings are scheduled for the ladies so only the females were allowed to look inside. So I was expecting to see robed women sitting around a steam room inside, I was also expecting to have to go further in until I could find them. So I come in a small hallway, and at the very first turn, a women wearing nothing but her birthday suit opens the door. I was really taken aback, and inside were two more women also very naked. You have to understand why this really shocked me because hey I’ve been living here over a year and every women I pass by is completely covered from head to feet and I wasn’t expecting them to be that open with each other, plus the fact that I wasn’t expecting to see them at the lobby of the room.
I was also expecting them to be a bit upset that a group of tourists would be barging inside while they go about a very private part of their grooming routine. But they were all really nice about it, except naturally that picture-taking was prohibited. All of us were hesitant to go in the main bath room because we did not know if we could bring in our shoes or if the steam was too hot we could come out wet, but they kept urging us in if we wanted to see, even offered to lend us their flipflops. I passed because I did not want to upset the others inside who probably did not share the welcoming nature of the women inside.
Anyway we also passed by the old British and French Embassy, as well as some more mosques along the way. It was a great tour, our guide was a local who grew up around the city, which showed in his stories.
So let me pass the advice to you, if you’re ever in Tripoli make sure you sign up with the Archeological Society, I have to say it’s one of the best tips I’ve received living here.