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Ghirza: Town (Gh127)


Wadi. Photo Marco Prins.
The wadi
Ghirza: Roman town in Libya, one of the main archaeological sites of the country.                  
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Ghirza, situated near the confluence of the Wadi Zemzem and the Wadi Ghirza (photo), is the modern name of an ancient city in the Libyan desert. It consists of several elements: the town; the North Cemetery, the South Cemetery, and and a second settlement along the upper reaches of the Wadi Ghirza. The inhabitants were Libyans tribesmen who had become sedentary and had -as is shown by inscriptions- adopted Roman names.
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Dams. Photo Marco Prins.
Dams

Ghirza became a boom town after 200 CE, when the Roman emperor Septimius Severus had organized the Limes Tripolitanus. Former soldiers were settled in this area, and the arid land was developed. Dams and cisterns were built in the Wadi Ghirza to regulate the flash floods. These structures are still visible, as you can see on this photo. The farmers produced cereals, figs, vines, olives, pulses, almonds, dates, and perhaps melons.

Ghirza town. Photo Jona Lendering.
Ghirza town

The town itself consists of some forty buildings, including six fortified farms (centenaria). Two of them were really large: the one to the right on this photo, known as Building 34, measured about 45 x 45 m; the other (Building 31) 47 x 47. Because the town also had two monumental cemeteries (called the North and South Cemetery), it has been assumed that Ghirza was occupied by two clans. Among the ruins was a temple, which may have been dedicated to the Libyan god Gurzil, after whom Ghirza is named.

Ghirza town. Photo Jona Lendering.
Ghirza town

In  the North Cemetery, three temple-shaped mausoleums still overlook the village. They are comparable to the the tomb at Qasr Banat. Their decoration offers a mix of classical architecture and native-style representations of hunting and agricultural activities. In the South Cemetery, where the mausoleums were resembling obelisks.

The town was abandoned in the early Middle Ages, and there was nobody left to loot the site. Later generations, seeing the isolated ruins, thought that the inhabitants had been sinners, and that God had punished them by petrifying their city.

Ghirza town. Photo Jona Lendering.
Ghirza town

In Graeme Barker e.a., Farming the Desert. The UNESCO Libyan Valleys Archaeological Survey (1996), the town is recorded as Gh127; a satellite photo can be found here.

Getting there

If you travel on your own, you can rent a car (many travel books offer instructions how to get to Ghirza), but because travel in the desert is not entirely without danger, it is probably better to hire a driver in a town like Misurata or Bani Walid, which has the additional advantage that your local guide can bring you to sites like Qasr Banat or Suq al-Awty.

Ghirza, northern necropolis. Photo Marco Prins.
Northern necropolis
General North-A South A Gh 82

North-B South C

North-C South F

North D-G South G


South NN
Jona Lendering for
Livius.Org, 2006
Revision: 23 May 2009
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