Conservators with the Libyan Department of Antiquities clean and consolidate mosaics at the UNESCO World Heritage site of Cyrene.
In this essay, Susan Kane, director of the Cyrenaica Archaeological Project in Libya, discusses how the J.M. Kaplan Responsive Preservation Initiative has allowed local Department of Antiquities officials in Cyrene to take essential steps towards maintaining and preserving this important World Heritage site, while also teaching youth and members of the local community about heritage preservation.
The site of Cyrene is located within the modern town of Shahat in northeast Libya. Called the “Athens of Africa,” Cyrene is considered one of the most important Classical Greek sites outside of Greece itself. Founded by Greek colonists in the late seventh century B.C. and made part of the Roman Empire in 74 B.C., Cyrene remained a Graeco-Roman city of distinctively Hellenic character until the time of the Arab invasions in A.D. 643.
Cyrene was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1982 and on 14 July 2016 placed on the List of World Heritage in Danger due to the ongoing political conflict and chaos of post-Revolution Libya. The ancient city not only suffered from neglect throughout the Gaddafi era (1969–2011), but since the 2011 Revolution that deposed Gaddafi, it has also suffered from military conflict, urban encroachment, and increased looting.
CAORC’s Responsive Preservation Initiative has helped fund essential cleaning and maintenance at Cyrene, which has suffered from neglect and lack of upkeep since the 2011 Libyan Revolution.
Despite the economic and political crisis, and with no dedicated budget from the regional government, the Department of Antiquities office in Shahat, under the new leadership of the Controller of Cyrene, Fadl Abdulaziz, is undertaking a series of small mitigation activities to improve general site maintenance around Cyrene. These activities, funded through CAORC’s Responsive Preservation Initiative (RPI), include the clearing of vegetation and cutting of trees and brush throughout the site as well as the removal of accumulated trash and debris and the repair of fences. The RPI program is also helping to stabilize and conserve in situ mosaics and stone walls and install much-needed lighting in the Apollo Sanctuary.
In July 2018, the Department of Antiquities hosted a group of local Boy Scouts and Girl Guides as part of a new series of advocacy and outreach campaigns in Shahat to teach young people about their cultural heritage. Under the supervision of Department of Antiquities’ archaeologists and conservators, these young people helped to clean the site and to wash in situ mosaics in preparation for their conservation.
A Department of Antiquities official introduces the site and the importance of heritage preservation to a local youth group.
About the Author
Dr. Susan Kane is Professor Emerita of Classical Archaeology at Oberlin College and the Director of the Cyrenaica Archaeological Project in Libya. Dr. Kane’s interest in Libya is not limited to archaeological research, but also includes capacity building work for the preservation and protection of Libya’s cultural heritage. Since 2005, Dr. Kane has helped to train Libyan archaeologists and police in how to protect and preserve their heritage in the midst of crisis and civil war.