Part of Cyrene, Libya, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and GHF project site. Photo: Gordon Tour
Last November, in an op-ed about heritage-based development in post-Gaddafi Libya, William Y. Brown described heritage as “a mosaic of lives and ecologies that Libya’s people can prosper from if given the chance.” Emphasizing the need for better planning, funding and management of cultural heritage sites, Brown urged Libya’s new leaders to remake its heritage laws and agencies to involve diverse stakeholders within the country as well as international donors and experts.
On August 2, the country took a major step in that direction, signing an agreement with UNESCO to launch a program for the protection and promotion of its cultural heritage. As reported by the Libya Herald, the program will be partly funded by a €1-million grant from Italy to UNESCO and will aim to develop the “technical and institutional capacities” of the Libyan Department of Antiquities. This includes supporting several museums and preserving archaeological sites, with the goal of creating local jobs and increasing economic activity.
Since the revolution began in February 2011, a lack of security has halted virtually all tourism to the country, with international conservation projects like GHF Cyrene being put on hold. But Libya, with destinations that range from ancient Greek and Roman ruins to more than 1000 miles of palm-fringed coastline, remains well-suited for a post-war tourism boom — provided it is made safe for visitors.
Alia Al-Senussi, a member of Libya’s royal family who had spent her life barred from visiting the country, was among those who visited for the first time after the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi. In a special report for CNN, Al-Senussi described seeing the country’s ancient monuments for the first time, feeling both “struck by the ageless beauty of Sabratha, Leptis Magna and Cyrene,” as well as troubled by “the lack of preservation surrounding the ruins.”
An assessment by national and international experts last October found that a vast majority of Libya’s heritage sites miraculously escaped the intense conflict intact. Hopefully the new UNESCO program will help these sites not only continue to survive but also thrive as engines for Libya’s reformed economy and development.