The Libyan city of Benghazi is slowly healing its wounds after the occupation and subsequent expulsion of ISIS militants in the city over the course of 2017. The city suffered extensive damage during this period, not just physically but also socially and culturally. Many locals are still grappling with the fact that many of their fellows were radicalised by the militants. Meanwhile, many of the city’s renowned educational institutions are slowly reopening with the goal of providing a better, alternative vision for the future than the one ISIS offered.
One facet of restoring the city entails restoring its historic and cultural heritage. The city of Benghazi has been around since the days of the Old Testament. However, it 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 were responsible for extensive construction projects across the city, and many of its most recognisable monuments hail from these eras.
After independence in 1951, the Libyan Kingdom under King Idris and the Libyan Jamahiriya under Colonel Muammar Gaddafi have taken extensive care of these monuments while emphasising their Libyan identity. However, many of these monuments were caught in the crossfire of the Libyan Revolution, particularly after ISIS militants entered the city.
Whether through pragmatism or lack of inclination, the militants did not engage in the same level of destruction they did in Syria’s Palmyra and Iraq’s Nimrud. However, the militants still looted many priceless artefacts to sell them on the black market and had little compunctions about rigging the monuments with IEDs and booby traps, many of which still exist to this day. Others were caught in the crossfire and bear the scars of shelling and gunfire. Among the monuments that suffered extensive damage are the Hawsh al-Kikhya and Hawsh al-Mahishi built during the Ottoman era and al-Manar Palace built during the Italian era. The latter is of particular importance to Libya’s history, as it is where King Idlis declared independence in 1951. The palace suffered numerous fires as a result of shelling and is in need to intense reconstruction.
The authorities here in Benghazi have announced that a reconstruction conference will be held later in March. The conference, which will invite local and international donors, aims to discuss the best ways to restore these monuments and bring together the relevant funds and expertise for optimal rehabilitation.
The authorities hope that the reconstruction of these landmarks will be symbolic for the resurgence of the city of Benghazi as a whole.