Janzur: site of a beautiful ancient tomb in Libya.

Priest pooring a libation

About ten kilometers west of modern Tripoli (ancient Oea), along the road to Sabratha, lies Janzur, where you will find a small museum, south of the main street, at the edge of town. It is built over an ancient rock tomb with several splendid wall paintings, which was discovered by accident in the first weeks of 1958.

The monument, although of an exceptional beauty, is not unique: there are several similar rock tombs in the area. They were also situated along an east-west axis, with the square tomb itself in the west, and the eastern entrance being entered from a little court, which was reached by stairs. The difference, however, is that the wall paintings of the Janzur rock tomb are much better preserved than the designs in the other funeral monuments. They probably date to the second or third century CE.

The burial room itself measures 2.5 x 2.2 meters; the ceiling and walls were covered with a white overlay on which the painting was added (fresco). On the northern and southern walls were niches in which an urn could be placed; in front of the walls were two coffins, but they were apparently never used (unless the dead bodies were later removed).

The paintings can be divided into three sections. The lower part shows wild beasts chasing domestic animals: you can see a dog attacking an antelope, a wolf pursuing a gazelle, and a lion chasing a donkey. Only the hippopotamus and the bull are not following each other, although the hippo has turned its head and watches the bull. The upper register shows humans: Proserpina and Pluto, attended by two slaves, receiving the dead; a naked man holding hands with two men in long robes; a man carrying someone's body; and Heracles with Cerberus following a lady (Alcestis?); Charon in his boat; a priest pooring a libation; . The ceiling is covered by angel-like figures, which must represent the soul (cf. the flying figure on Mausoleum A at Ghirza's southern necropolis). Although it is obvious that humans are represented as somewhere between the spiritual and animal beings, the message of the paintings is unclear.

The museum of Janzur also has some other finds, including some glass work, but the tomb itself is why you should interrupt your trip from Tripoli to Sabratha.

This page was created in 2008; last modified on 13 August 2020.