The city of Sabratha

The city of Sabratha

April 06, 2021 - 17:45
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Written By: LibyaMohammed

Sabratha was the westernmost of the ancient ‘three cities’ of Roman Tripolis, alongside Oea and Lepcis Magna. From 2001 to 2007 it was the capital of the former Sabratha wa Sorman District. It was founded by the Phoenicians from Tire or Sidon, and it is likely that its founding as a Phoenician trade station dates back to about the sixth century BC. The city witnessed a prominent position and an economic renaissance during the Roman Empire. It lies on the Mediterranean coast about 70 km (43 mi) west of modern Tripoli.


Following the Punic Wars, Sabratha became part of the short-lived Numidian kingdom of Massinissa before this was annexed to the Roman Republic as the province of Africa Nova in the 1st century BC. It was subsequently romanized and rebuilt in the 2nd and 3rd centuries CE. The Emperor Septimius Severus was born nearby in Leptis Magna, and Sabratha reached its monumental peak during the rule of the Severans, when it nearly doubled in size. The city was badly damaged by earthquakes during the 4th century, particularly the quake of 365. It fell under control of the Vandal kingdom in the 5th century, with large parts of the city being abandoned. It enjoyed a small revival under Byzantine rule, when multiple churches and a defensive wall (although only enclosing a small portion of the city) were erected. The town was site of a bishopric. Within a hundred years of the Muslim invasion of the Maghreb, trade had shifted to other ports and Sabratha dwindled to a village.

Sabratha's port was established, perhaps about 500 BCE. The port served as a Phoenician outlet for the products of the African hinterland. Greeks called it also Abrotonon (Ancient Greek: Ἀβρότονον). After the demise of Phoenicia, Sabratha fell under the sphere of influence of Carthage.

Sabratha has been the place of several excavation campaigns from 1921 onwards, mainly by Italian archaeologists. It was also excavated by a British team directed by Kathleen Kenyon and John Ward-Perkins between 1948 and 1951.Besides its Theater at Sabratha that retains its three-storey architectural backdrop, Sabratha has temples dedicated to Liber Pater, Serapis and Isis. There is a Christian basilica of the time of Justinian and also remnants of some of the mosaic floors that enriched elite dwellings of Roman North Africa (for example, at the Villa Sileen, near Khoms). However, these are most clearly preserved in the colored patterns of the seaward (or Forum) baths, directly overlooking the shore, and in the black and white floors of the theater baths.

There is an adjacent museum containing some treasures from Sabratha, but others can be seen in the national museum in Tripoli.

In 1943, during the Second World War, archaeologist Max Mallowan, husband of novelist Agatha Christie, was based at Sabratha as an assistant to the Senior Civil Affairs Officer of the Western Province of Tripolitania. His main task was to oversee the allocation of grain rations, but it was, in the words of Christie's biographer, a “glorious attachment”, during which Mallowan lived in an Italian villa with a patio overlooking the sea and dined on fresh tunny fish and olives.

Grandeur Wealth

The city is considered one of the most beautiful and important archaeological sites in Libya, characterized by its various monuments for different periods of time (Phoenician, Roman, Byzantine), the most important and most famous of which are the Punic Mausoleum, the Roman Theater, the Amphitheater, the Municipal Council (Curia), the Antonine Temple and the Flavius Fountain, the Temple Liberate, the Basilica, the Temple of Isis, the Church of Emperor Justinian, the Sea Baths, and there are also the Punic Museum and the Classical Museum in the city. The archaeological site of Sabratha was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982.

The Punic Mausoleum

It is located in the ancient city of Sabratha specifically in the fourth region according to the city plan, on the western side, west of the Roman theater, and was built in the sixth region of the ancient city in the first half of the 2nd century BC, and it is known that the region of the three cities (Labts Magna - Oya - Sabratha) had emerged from the grip of Carthaginian power after its defeat by the Romans in the Battle of Zama in the year 202 BC. The mausoleum was discovered in 1962 AD, and its restoration began in 1963 AD under the supervision of the specialist Italian Professor Antonino Di Vita, who dismantled the mausoleum and transferred the original and most important parts of it to the Punic Museum, given that the original architectural elements were carved on fragile sandstone and vulnerable to weather factors. So, alternative plaster casts were made to be returned to the shrine on site.

The height of the mausoleum is 18 meters, and it consists of a stepped base with a height of 3.20 meters. This base is topped by three concave architectural parts, each façade is decorated with an Ionic column, each part has an architectural detail that differs from the other part. The eastern facade, which is the main facade of the mausoleum, is seen as an imaginary door for the purpose of camouflaging it seems to be a Pharaonic tradition, and the middle part that follows the first part consists of three facades, the eastern facade adorned with an inscription of the Egyptian god Bes, holding two lions from their back legs, and the western facade depicts the hero Hercules wrestling a lion, and the last facade has images with an inconspicuous mythical view, in addition to the presence of three inscriptions at the level of fillings of lions in each of the three corners, and on top of it is a terrace on which stands a statue of a young man.

This mausoleum is one of the most important examples that have been uncovered in the territory of Tripolitania, and the mausoleum dates back to the 2nd century BC. And it lasted until the 60th century AD, and the impact of an earthquake destroyed it in 360 BC, and the mausoleum was dismantled in the Byzantine era for use in building walls around the city.