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Wadi Buzra / Suq al-Awty

Suq al-Awty in the Wadi Buzra: Roman settlement in the Libyan desert.

Wadi Buzra is one of the many valleys in southern Tripolitana that were developed by Roman settlers, mainly after the emperor Septimius Severus had started the construction of the Limes Tripolitanus in c.200 CE. To make the arid zone suitable for agriculture, many dams were erected. After the winter rains, when the wadis become wild flash floods, the water could be regulated., the online home of Ancient Warfare magazine
Map of the Wadi Buzra. Design Jona Lendering. This map shows the main dams and dikes (brown), several cisterns, and three settlements. To the south are the fortified farms known as Bz 906 and Bz 907, and in the north are the buildings known as Bz 901-905. The numbers are from the catalogue by Graeme Barker e.a., Farming the Desert. The UNESCO Libyan Valleys Archaeological Survey (1996).
If you go here, you can find a satellite photo of the general area, south of modern Bani Walid. In the valley, you can still see the traces of the water works. They have survived because, when the farms along the Wadi Buzra were abandoned in the seventh century, there was no one left to demolish these stone walls. As a consequence, they can still be studied today.
On one of the northern spurs along the wadi is a large complex, known as Suq al-Awty, in which at least five constructions can be discerned, which, from north to south are: a fortified farm (Bz 902) with a cistern (Bz 903), a church (Bz 901), another fortified farm (Bz 904), and another cistern (Bz 905). This photo offers a general overview from the north.
Bz 902: the northernmost fortified farm, or centenarium, as it was called. It was square and measured about 20 x 20 m, with the rooms situated around a small central square. Ceramics show that the place was settled in the second century, so it actually predates the construction of the Limes Tripolitanus. Cistern Bz 903 was close to this farm.
This photo shows the remains of the other, southern centenarium, called Bz 904 by the excavators. The eastern wall is extremely heavy. The building was about seventeen meter long. Access was possible through a vaulted passage; the outside was decorated. It was as old as the first centenarium. These fortified farms were surrounded by huts.
This vaulted cistern, known as Bz 905, was built on the southern slope of the hill. The structure, made of plastered rubble, must have served to collect the rain water that fell on the hill itself. It is a pretty deep structure and was erected on, not dug in the slope.
The Byzantine church at Suq El-Buzra. Photo Marco Prins. The main monument of Suq al-Awty is Bz 901, a real church from the Early Byzantine age. It is about 23 m long, has three barrel-vaulted aisles and is almost 13 m wide. A baptistery has been identified; water must have been obtained from the nearby cisterns. The people who visited the church, must have lived in the wide area, for example in the village now called Suq al-Fawqy, six km to the west.
Below, four photos of the decoration of the church. It must have been painted. The second photo shows graffiti, and includes a representation of a vessel - a bit odd in a small village in the desert that produced cereals and olives.
This photo, taken from Suq al-Awty, shows one of the two fortified farms on the south bank of Wadi Buzra. This one, which may have had three storeys, is called Bz 906. The heavy walls, made of coursed rubble, were about a meter in diameter. There were many people living here: there were at least twelve rooms in this building, and there were many cisterns in the neighborhood.
And this one is called Bz 907. Like Bz 906, its about 18x17 meters, but the external walls are even heavier. Suq al-Awty and the two centenaria were abandoned in the mid-seventh century, which was probably related to the Islamic conquest. The church may have been a special target, although the Muslims are not know for looting the religious buildings of fellow-monotheists.
One wonders where the inhabitants of Suq al-Awty may have fled. (This photo offers a final look at the church.)

If you want to visit the site, go to Bani Walid, and ask for a pick-up with a driver. The site is sometimes called Suq al-Buzra.

A satellite photo can be found here.

Jona Lendering for
Livius.Org, 2006
Revision: 30 Oct. 2011
Livius.Org Anatolia Carthage Egypt Germ. Inf. Greece Judaea Mesopotamia Persia Rome Other