As the Libyan city of Benghazi looks towards rebuilding from the conflict that scarred much of the city, residents express concern about the state of the many heritage sites that have been looted or destroyed.
The Libyan city of Benghazi is slowly emerging from the two-year long ISIS occupation and the subsequent battles that have scarred much of the city. As the dust settles, however, the sheer scale of the challenges ahead become ever-clearer. Many of the city’s services are struggling due to the destruction of infrastructure; amidst concerns to restore such services, a small group of residents are trying to ensure that the city’s rich history and heritage will survive as well.
As one of the oldest cities in Libya and, indeed, the whole of North Africa, Benghazi has lived through many empires and civilisations, all of which leaving their marks on its landscape. The city owes much of its current form to the Second Ottoman era between 1835 and 1911 and the subsequent Italian Colonial era between 1911 and 1951. Both imperial powers built numerous monuments and landmarks around the city during their reign.
The instability and subsequent conflicts that took place since 2011, however, have taken a toll on the city’s heritage. Many sites have been caught in the crossfire of warring factions, rigged with mines and explosives or been simply looted by residents to make money on the black market. The Hawsh al-Kikhya and Hawsh al-Mahishi built during the Ottoman era and al-Manar Palace built during the Ottoman era have suffered particularly badly.
For the older residents of Benghazi, however, the destruction of history goes far back. Although Colonel Muammar Gaddafi has made efforts to preserve certain sites during his reign, landmarks such as the Zalam Market were destroyed under his orders. Others such as the Omar al-Mukhtar Shrine, suffered damage while being moved to a different site.
For the residents of the city, the destruction caused by ISIS is only a symptom of a larger problem: A lack of care for history. Older residents, in particular, feel that many fellow Libyans do not care much for their history and heritage, looking to make easy money by looting them instead of protecting these sites. They are concerned that many non-ISIS residents involved in the looting of the city’s history have not been punished.
Despite the bleak state of affairs, there is cause for optimism. The local authorities have recently explored options to procure funding so that many of the sites can be returned to their original glory. Indeed, the sentiments there highlight that the attitudes towards the preservation of such sites is slowly changing for the better.