An Extinct Past

We have left the squat, flat-roofed houses of Homs city far behind now, and the car is cruising comfortably along the serpentine road bordering the sea. Aai picks out a tape from the many she has brought along on the trip. Its her favourite… an assorted Rafi. She starts singing along. In the back of the car, I sigh happily. It is the perfect start to our summer holidays.

When the car finally slows down, my brothers and I tumble out, anticipating an empty beach where we could swim and play all day long. Instead, we are staring at a sight unlike any other we have ever seen. Juxtaposed against the shimmering blue of the Mediterranean Sea are the towering ruins of Leptis Magna.

Carved figurines and ancient motifs are everywhere, watching us as we follow the young guide through empty cobbled streets; medusa heads stare stonily from crumbled walls. For a while, I try to imagine the children who must have run through the endless lines of pillars once. What battles were fought here? What tragedies wrought? I listen keenly to the inflections of the young man’s voice, as he drones on in Arabic, throwing in a few words of English. I cannot understand him, or the history. Losing interest, I wander off.

The whispered words are startling… floating in waves to the edge of the amphitheatre where I stand. ‘… the pygmies were made to fight crocodiles here.‘ I look back but there is no one. Am I imagining them? ‘…they were slaves mostly… captives… unarmed.’ The words are fragmented by silence. But they have shocked something deeply primeval inside me. I strain to hear more, thirsting for gory details… no different from the frenzied spectators lusting for blood and death.

A statue of Hercules, buck-naked, scrutinizes me impassively from his high perch. Behind him, the fallen arches and the perfectly chiselled steps are stained by centuries of salty moisture. 

Marbled arches stood

Protruding like exposed ribs

From an exhumed tomb

Once an important Roman city, Leptis Magna was discovered in the 1930s. Only partially excavated, it is the best preserved of the seven world heritage sites in Libya, and a fine remnant of Roman architecture.

Colonnaded streets, piazzas, triumph arches, public baths, gymnasium, basilica, an amphitheater built in A.D. 56, are just some of the archaeological remains that can still be seen.

The port city ceased to be a commercial centre after the Arab conquest in the 7th century, and fell into ruin. For more pix, click https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/183/gallery/

This post is a part of #BlogchatterA2Z2022.

Do leave a comment to let me know if you enjoyed it. Or not.

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