Libya: Leptis Magna,
Africa's Greatest Roman Ruins

Leptis Magna, in modern day Libya, once Africa's premier Roman city.

Why visit?

It is one of the greatest archeological sites in the whole Mediterranean. 

If Leptis Magna were in Tunisia or Morocco or Egypt, it would be crawling with thousands of tourists. 

Up until fairly recently, every now and again, a luxury cruise liner would anchor down nearby, and the site would be inundated by hordes of affluent coffin dodgers. But most of the time any foreign visitors would find that they were the only ones.

About 130KM East of Tripoli. Map

JUST PAST THE small museum, near the main entrance, is the huge lump of ornately carved stone that is the Arch of Septimus Severus. The monument can't be dated precisely, but it seems that it was erected soon after the Emperor's defeat of the Parthians. The grand arch covered the crossroads on the main street of the city and each of its corners points to the four corners of the compass. It clearly marked the point at which all roads from Leptis Magna began.

   All roads lead to Leptis Magna...
Further on, down the ancient road towards the once great port, are the Hadriatic Baths. Libyan tourists seem to enjoy having their picture taken, with their trousers around their ankles, pretending to make use of the shared open air toilet facilities (it was more of a communal activity in Roman times).
The Forum: Constructed by Septimus Severus at the peak of Leptis Magna's power
Beyond the remains of the grand forum that Septimus Severus constructed at the time of Leptis Magna's greatest prominence are the ancient docks that Severus had extensively rebuilt. The natural harbour had always had a tendency to silt up but these 'improvements' had made it far worse. The eastern wharves are particularly well preserved as they ended up being hardly used. 

It was around this time that Leptis began to seriously over-extend itself. By the third century, trade had begun to fall dramatically, and by the middle of the fourth century, large parts of the city had been abandoned. Leptis Magna came under the control of the Vandals in the fifth century, until it was so badly sacked by Berber raiders that it never really recovered. The ruins became a UNESCO world heritage site in 1982 and new archaeological discoveries are still being made today.

   Leptis Magna was once a great centre for Mediterranean trade.
Around a kilometre or two up the road are the circus and the amphitheatre in the second part of the Leptis Magna complex. The amphitheatre was built to seat up to 16,000 spectators who would come to be entertained by circuses, chariot races and gladiatorial combat. 
   Murderous entertainment for the masses. 
Criminals would be torn apart by wild animals for the entertainment of the masses, and gladiators would hack each other to death in front of the baying crowds. It seems difficult to imagine that anything so brutal could have been allowed to happen in what was once a great centre of civilisation. 

Getting there:

As little public transport is available, most independent travellers stay in Tripoli, and have to hire a taxi to take them the 130km or so, and back again. This isn’t cheap but wouldn’t be too bad if there was a group of you, and can easily be arranged through the Sara Guardian Hotel in Tripoli.

About the author:
Tom Coote's first book ‘Tearing up the Silk Road' was published by Garnet Publishing in 2012. He has travelled independently in over 120 countries, is a founder of Wicked World Magazine ( and regularly updates his own site at 
Tom is currently researching a follow up to his second travel book 'Voodoo, Slaves and White Man's Graves: West Africa and the End of Days'.


  1. I’ve been to the Roman ruins of Volubilis in northern Morocco and was kind of underwhelmed because there really wasn’t much left there at all. But ever since reading about Leptis Magna on Wikipedia I’ve wanted to check it out…yet was dissuaded from going due to the chaotic/anarchic political situation in Libya right now. I had no idea they were so close to Tripoli in Tunisia. Thanks for the helpful, inspiring write-up!

    1. Thanks Trevor! The author Tom Coote gives a more detailed description of how to visit Leptis Magna on his own site,

      However, given the current security situation, you might decide to wait a few years...

  2. i am living there and i can assure you, the situation in libya is not bad as it seems, here in Al Khums (where leptis magna is) i never heared of a foreign being attacked. most of the war is in the east (sirte, derna and benghazi which is too far from leptis magna)

    1. Thank you for the useful local insight, Saleh! I hope all stays calm. Have you been to the actual Leptis Magna site recently?


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