From 1911 until the establishment of a unified colony in 1934, the territory of the two colonies was sometimes referred to as "Italian Libya" or Italian North Africa
(Africa Settentrionale Italiana
, or ASI). Both names were also used after the unification, with Italian Libya becoming the official name of the newly combined colony. It had a population of around 150,000 Italians
In 1923, indigenous rebels associated with the Senussi
Order organized the Libyan resistance movement
against Italian settlement in Libya, mainly in Cyrenaica. The rebellion was put down by Italian forces in 1932, after the so-called "pacification campaign
", which resulted in the deaths of a quarter of Cyrenaica's population.
An Italian drawing depicting Ottoman officials surrendering Libya to Italian colonial forces while Libyans prostrate themselves before the Italian colonial soldiers, 1912
Italian efforts to colonize Libya began in 1911, and were characterized initially by major struggles with Muslim native Libyans that lasted until 1931. During this period, the Italian government controlled only the coastal areas. Between 1911 and 1912, over 1,000 Somalis from Mogadishu
, the then capital of Italian Somaliland
, served in combat units along with Eritrean and Italian soldiers in the Italo-Turkish War
Most of the Somali troops remained in Libya until they were transferred back to Italian Somaliland in preparation for the invasion of Ethiopia
, in which the "Lungomare" (sea-walk) and many other buildings were constructed
In the 1930s, the policy of Italian Fascism toward Libya began to change, and both Italian Cyrenaica
, along with Fezzan
, were merged into Italian Libya in 1934.
In 1923, indigenous rebels associated with the Senussi
Order organized the Libyan resistance movement
against Italian settlement in Libya. The rebellion was put down by Italian forces in 1932, after the so-called "pacification campaign
", which resulted in the deaths of a quarter of Cyrenaica's population of 225,000.
Italy committed major war crimes
during the conflict, including the use of illegal chemical weapons
, episodes of refusing to take prisoners of war and instead executing surrendering combatants, and mass executions of civilians.
Italian authorities committed ethnic cleansing
by forcibly expelling 100,000 Bedouin
Cyrenaicans, almost half the population of Cyrenaica, from their settlements, slated to be given to Italian settlers.
The Italian occupation also reduced the number of livestock by killing, confiscation or driving the animals from their pastoral land to inhospitable land near the concentration camps.
Number of sheep fell from 810,000 in 1926 to 98,000 in 1933, goats from 70,000 to 25,000 and camels from 75,000 to 2,000.
From 1930 to 1931, 12,000 Cyrenaicans were executed and all the nomadic peoples of northern Cyrenaica were forcefully removed from the region and relocated to huge concentration camps
in the Cyrenaican lowlands.
Propaganda by the Fascist regime declared the camps to be oases of modern civilization that were hygienic and efficiently run - however in reality the camps had poor sanitary conditions as the camps had an average of about 20,000 Beduoins together with their camels and other animals, crowded into an area of one square kilometre.
The camps held only rudimentary medical services, with the camps of Soluch and Sisi Ahmed el Magrun with an estimated 33,000 internees having only one doctor between them. Typhus
and other diseases spread rapidly in the camps as the people were physically weakened by meagre food rations provided to them and forced labour
By the time the camps closed in September 1933, 40,000 of the 100,000 total internees had died in the camps.
Territorial agreements with European powers
Expansion of Italian Libya:
territories ceded by France in 1935
The colony expanded after concessions from the British colony of Sudan
and a territorial agreement with Egypt
. The Kufra district
was nominally attached to British-occupied Egypt until 1925, but in fact, remained a headquarters for the Senussi resistance until conquered by the Italians in 1931. The Kingdom of Italy
at the 1919 Paris "Conference of Peace" received nothing from German
colonies, but as a compensation Great Britain
gave it the Oltre Giuba
and France agreed to give some Saharan territories to Italian Libya.
In 1931, the towns of El Tag
and Al Jawf
were taken over by Italy. British Egypt had ceded Kufra and Jarabub to Italian Libya on December 6, 1925, but it was not until the early 1930s that Italy was in full control of the place. In 1931, during the campaign of Cyrenaica, General Rodolfo Graziani easily conquered Kufra District, considered a strategic region, leading about 3,000 soldiers from infantry and artillery, supported by about twenty bombers. Ma'tan as-Sarra
was turned over to Italy in 1934 as part of the Sarra Triangle
to colonial Italy
by the Anglo-Egyptian Condominium, who considered the area worthless and so an act of cheap appeasement to Benito Mussolini
's attempts at an empire
During this time, the Italian colonial forces built a World War I
–style fort in El Tag in the mid-1930s.
World War II
In 1939 some Libyans were granted special (though limited) Italian citizenship by Royal Decree No. 70 on 9 January 1939. This citizenship was necessary for any Libyan with ambitions to rise in the military or civil organizations. The recipients were officially referred to as Moslem Italians. Libya had become "the fourth shore of Italy” (Trye 1998). The incorporation of Libya into the Italian Empire gave the Italian Army a greater ability to exploit native Libyans for military service. Native Libyans served in Italian formations from the beginning of the Italian occupation of Libya. On 1 March 1940, the 1st and 2nd Libyan Divisions were formed. These Libyan infantry divisions were organized along the lines of the binary Italian infantry division. The 5th Italian Army received the 2nd Libyan Infantry Division, which it incorporated into the 13th Corps. The Italian 10th Army received the 1st Libyan Infantry Division, which it incorporated into the reserve. The Italian Libyan infantry divisions were colonial formations ("colonial" in the sense of consisting of native troops). These formations had Italian officers commanding them, with Libyan NCOs and soldiers. These native Libyan formations were made up of people drawn from the coastal Libyan populations. The training and readiness of these divisions was on an equal footing with the regular Italian formations in North Africa. Their professionalism and 'esprit de corps' made them some of the best Italian infantry formations in North Africa. The Libyan divisions were loyal to Italy and provided a good combat record.
camel cavalry in 1940
In 1940 the Libyans in the coastal areas were granted Italian citizenship as part of the Fascist efforts to create the Imperial Italy
in Tripolitania and Cyrenaica. This reduced the appeal of the Libyan resistance movement to a few Arab/Berbers
populations of the Fezzan
area only, but this was practically non-existent until the arrival of French troops in the area in 1942.
Italian Libya as the 4th Shore
was the southern part of "Imperial Italy" (orange borders), a Fascist project to enlarge Italy's national borders.
After the enlargement of Italian Libya with the Aouzou Strip
, Fascist Italy aimed at further extension to the south. Indeed Italian plans, in the case of a war against France and Great Britain, projected the extension of Libya as far south as Lake Chad
and the establishment of a broad land bridge between Libya and Italian East Africa
During World War II
, there was strong support for Italy from many Muslim Libyans, who enrolled in the Italian Army. Other Libyan troops (the Savari
[cavalry regiments] and the Spahi
or mounted police) had been fighting for the Kingdom of Italy since the 1920s. A number of major battles took place in Libya during the North African Campaign
of World War II. In September 1940, the Italian invasion of Egypt
was launched from Libya.
Indian soldiers chat with locals in Derna
, December 1941
Wrecked Italian aircraft at the destroyed Castel Benito airport in Tripoli in 1943
In February 1943, retreating German and Italian forces were forced to abandon Libya as they were pushed out of Cyrenaica and Tripolitania, thus ending Italian jurisdiction and control over Libya.
Libya would finally become independent in 1951.
Although Britain and France intended on dividing the nation between their empires, on November 21, 1949, the UN General Assembly
passed a resolution stating that Libya should become independent before January 1, 1952. On December 24, 1951, Libya declared its independence as the United Kingdom of Libya
, a constitutional and hereditary monarchy.
Provinces of Italian Libya in 1938
In 1934, Italy adopted the name "Libya" (used by the Greeks for all of North Africa, except Egypt) as the official name of the colony made up of the three provinces of Cyrenaica, Tripolitania and Fezzan). The colony was subdivided into four provincial governatores (Commissariato Generale Provinciale
) and a southern military territory (Territorio Militare del Sud
or Territorio del Sahara Libico
The general provincial commissionerhips were further divided into wards (circondari
On 9 January 1939, a decree law transformed the commissariats into provinces within the metropolitan territory of the Kingdom of Italy.
Libya was thus formally annexed to Italy and the coastal area was nicknamed the "Fourth Shore
" (Quarta Sponda
). Key towns and wards of the colony became Italian municipalities (comune
) governed by a podestà
Governors-General of Libya
Arrival of the first Italian locomotive in the harbour of Tripoli, 1912
In 1939, key population figures for Italian Libya were as follows:
Population of the main urban centres:
) in Cyrenaica
Many Italians were encouraged to settle in Libya during the Fascist period, notably in the coastal areas.
The annexation of Libya's coastal provinces in 1939 brought them to be an integral part of metropolitan Italy that were the focus of Italian settlement.
The population of Italian settlers in Libya
increased rapidly after the Great Depression: in 1927, they were just about 26,000 of them, by 1931 they were 44,600, 66,525 in 1936 and eventually, in 1939, they numbered 119,139, or 13% of the total population.
They were concentrated on the Mediterranean coast, especially in the main urban centres and in the farmlands around the city of Tripoli (constituting 41% of the city's population) and Benghazi (35% of the city's population) where they found jobs in the construction boom fuelled by Fascist interventionist policies.
In 1938, Governor Italo Balbo brought 20,000 Italian farmers to settle in Libya, and 27 new villages were founded, mainly in Cyrenaica.
After the campaign of reprisals known as the "pacification campaign"
, the Italian government changed policy toward the local population: in December 1934, individual freedom, inviolability of home and property, the right to join the military or civil administrations, and the right to freely pursue a career or employment were promised to the Libyans.
In a trip by Mussolini to Libya in 1937, a propaganda event was created where Mussolini met with Muslim Arab
dignitaries, who gave him an honorary sword (that had actually been made in Florence
) which was to symbolize Mussolini as a protector of the Muslim Arab peoples there.
In January 1939, Italy annexed territories in Libya that it considered Italy's Fourth Shore, with Libya's four coastal provinces of Tripoli, Misurata, Bengazi, and Derna becoming an integral part of metropolitan Italy.
At the same time indigenous Libyans were granted "Special Italian Citizenship" which required such people to be literate and confined this type of citizenship to be valid in Libya only.
In 1936, the main sectors of economic activity in Italian Libya (by number of employees) were industry (30.4%), public administration (29.8%), agriculture and fishing (16.7%), commerce (10.7%), transports (5.8%), domestic work (3.8%), legal profession and private teaching (1.3%), banking and insurance (1.1%).
Italians greatly developed the two main cities of Libya, Tripoli and Benghazi,
with new ports and airports, new hospitals and schools and many new roads & buildings.
The Berenice Albergo
Also tourism was improved and a huge & modern "Grand Hotel" was built in Tripoli and in Bengasi.
The Fascist regime, especially during Depression years, emphasized infrastructure
improvements and public works. In particular, Governor Italo Balbo
greatly expanded Libyan railway and road networks from 1934 to 1940, building hundreds of kilometers of new roads and railways and encouraging the establishment of new industries and a dozen new agricultural villages
The massive Italian investment did little to improve Libyan quality of life, since the purpose was to develop the economy for the benefit of Italy and Italian settlers.
The Italian aim was to drive the local population to the marginal land in the interior and to resettle the Italian population in the most fertile lands of Libya.
The Italians did provide the Libyans with some initial education but minimally improved native administration. The Italian population (about 10% of the total population) had 81 elementary schools in 1939-1940, while the Libyans (more than 85% of total population) had 97.
There were only three secondary schools for Libyans by 1940, two in Tripoli and one in Benghazi.
The Libyan economy substantially grew in the late 1930s, mainly in the agricultural sector. Even some manufacturing activities were developed, mostly related to the food industry. Building construction increased immensely. Furthermore, the Italians made modern medical care available for the first time in Libya and improved sanitary conditions in the towns.
The Italians started numerous and diverse businesses in Tripolitania and Cyrenaica. These included an explosives factory, railway workshops, Fiat Motor works, various food processing plants, electrical engineering workshops, ironworks, water plants, agricultural machinery factories, breweries, distilleries, biscuit factories, a tobacco factory, tanneries, bakeries, lime, brick and cement works, Esparto grass industry, mechanical saw mills, and the Petrolibya Society (Trye 1998). Italian investment in her colony was to take advantage of new colonists and to make it more self-sufficient. (General Staff War Office 1939, 165/b).
By 1939, the Italians had built 400 kilometres (250 mi) of new railroads and 4,000 kilometres (2,500 mi) of new roads. The most important and largest highway project was the Via Balbo
, an east-west coastal route connecting Tripoli in western Italian Tripolitania to Tobruk
in eastern Italian Cyrenaica. The last railway development in Libya done by the Italians was the Tripoli-Benghazi line that was started in 1941 and was never completed because of the Italian defeat during World War II.
Archaeology and tourism
was used by the Italian authorities as a propaganda
tool to justify their presence in the region. Before 1911, no archeological research was done in Tripolitania and Cyrenaica. By the late 1920s the Italian government had started funding excavations in the main Roman cities of Leptis Magna
(Cyrenaica was left for later excavations because of the ongoing colonial war against Muslim rebels in that province). A result of the Fascist takeover was that all foreign archaeological expeditions were forced out of Libya, and all archeological work was consolidated under a centralised Italian excavation
policy, which exclusively benefitted Italian museums and journals.
After Cyrenaica's full 'pacification', the Italian archaeological efforts in the 1930s were more focused on the former Greek colony of Cyrenaica than in Tripolitania, which was a Punic
colony during the Greek period.
The rejection of Phoenician research was partly because of anti-Semitic
reasons (the Phoenicians were a Semitic people, distantly related to the Arabs and Jews).
Of special interest were the Roman colonies
of Leptis Magna
, and the preparation of these sites for archaeological tourism
Tourism was further promoted by the creation of the Tripoli Grand Prix
, a racing car event of international importance.
After independence, most Italian settlers still remained in Libya; there were 35,000 Italo-Libyans in 1962. However, the Italian population virtually disappeared after the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi
ordered the expulsion of remaining Italians (about 20,000) in 1970.
Only a few hundred of them were allowed to return to Libya in the 2000s. In 2004, there were 22,530 Italians in Libya.
Italy maintained diplomatic relations with Libya and exported a significant quantity of its oil from the country.
Relations between Italy and Libya warmed in the first decade of the 21st century, when they entered co-operative arrangements to deal with illegal immigration into Italy. Libya agreed to aggressively prevent migrants from sub-Saharan Africa from using the country as a transit route to Italy, in return for foreign aid and Italy's successful attempts to have the European Union
lift its trade sanctions on Libya.
Oil Bouri DP4 in Bouri Field
, the biggest platform in the Mediterranean Sea. Italy is now Libya's most important trading partner.
On 30 August 2008, Gaddafi and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi
signed a historic cooperation treaty
Under its terms, Italy would pay $5 billion to Libya as compensation for its former military occupation.
In exchange, Libya would take measures to combat illegal immigration
coming from its shores and boost investments
in Italian companies.
The treaty was ratified by Italy on 6 February 2009,
and by Libya on 2 March, during a visit to Tripoli
Cooperation ended in February 2011 as a result of the Libyan Civil War
which overthrew Gaddafi. At the signing ceremony of the document, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi recognized historic atrocities and repression committed by the state of Italy against the Libyan people during colonial rule, stating: "In this historic document, Italy apologizes for its killing, destruction and repression of the Libyan people during the period of colonial rule.
" and went on to say that this was a "complete and moral acknowledgement of the damage inflicted on Libya by Italy during the colonial era".
On 26 September 2011, Italian energy company Eni
announced it had restarted oil production in Libya for the first time since the start of the 2011 Libyan civil war. The quick return of Eni to Libyan oilfields reflected the positive relations between Rome and Tripoli.
The Italian embassy in Tripoli is one of the few Western embassies still active in Libya during the Post-civil war violence in Libya
, because Italy is the most important trade partner for Libya.
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