I remember during our 2007 ‘Under African Skies’ ride from Capetown to London, crossing Libya. It was Gaddafi’s time and well before his ignominious end. So Bengazi and Sirte were just two more towns that we overnighted in. And then of course all hell broke loose with the Arab Spring, Gaddafi hit the dust and ISIS moved in to try and fill the power vacuum. So much change, such a short time.
Anyway on that ride we spent a day walking around Leptus Magna, one of the Roman cities in Libya that was always under threat from Berber invasions. Being fresh out of a South Pacific island jungle I was pretty blown away by the fact I could walk along the beach there (it’s just outside Khoms) and step over these pillars from the Roman ruins that the waves of the Mediterranean and washed up plastic flotsam were just sweeping in and out over.
So now we’re along the coast and inland a bit in Morocco and amongst the ruins of the Roman city of Volubilis, an earlier Roman enclave, famous as being the centre for olive growing – but also one that ended up being a Berber possession. This city is commonly regarded as the capital of the ancient kingdom of Mauretania until it became a Roman client state – and as if to prove what goes around, comes around – then became a Muslim enclave for centuries after the Romans had to abandon it as needs must.
But in contrast to what we found at Leptis Magna in 2007 where the ruins were totally abandoned, unloved and left to the vagaries of the waves of the Mediterranean – here at Volubilis the archaeological excavations continue, the care for the site is detailed and the tourism revenue is funding much of that.
The distance between the two Roman cities is only the length of New Zealand, but the difference between both the quality of life in Morocco and Libya, as well as the fate of these two significant Roman cities couldn’t be more different. It sure reminds me that we are, all of us, totally insignificant in the fullness of time.