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Tuesday, 23 August, 2011, 3:22 ( 1:22 GMT )
The Five Cities (Pentapolis)
26/11/2010 16:31:00
Photo: Cyrene

By Franco Caparrotti

Historians have easily established that Tripoli belongs to the group of the tri polis that included Sabratah, Oea (Tripoli) and Leptis Magna). These three cities were under the Romans. The Greek, however, did not only match these three cities but extended the number to five cities and were called "Pentapolis".

While the Roman cities dominated the western coast of Libya, the Greeks settled and dominated the eastern coast, stretching from the present day city of Sultan (called Charax during the Phoenician era) to beyond the present day city of Derna. At the time there was a territorial dispute between Cyrene and Carthage involving the borders between them.

An arbitration was reached and based on a race of two men from each side to start at a certain point in the east and another point on the west. Wherever these two teams meet, it was agreed, the borders between the two states would be drawn.

The brothers Philaeni represented Cyrene and raced to the west where they reached a point somewhere near today's city of Sirte, only to be buried alive to prove their point to their competitors. A statue is visible in the museum that was then constructed to honour their achievement of reaching the farthest point in the race towards the territories of Chartage.

The most developed city of the five was Cyrene (the present day Shahhat). Cyrene was founded in the 7th century BC by a party of immigrants who had fled the drought-inflicted island of Thera in the Aegean Sea. After many conflicts among families, Cyrenaica in 322 BC came under the control of the Greek general Ptolemy I and his dynasty.

Built on a series of levels, the spectacular ruins of Cyrene include the Sanctuary and Temple of Apollo, the Acropolis, the Agora, the Forum, the Stoa of Hermes and Heracles, the House of Jason Magnus, the Nine Muses and the Temple of Zeus.

Apollonia (modern Sousa), was founded by the Greeks as the harbour of Cyrene (20 Km southwest) and became a significant commercial centre.
Few are the ruins of this city dedicated to the Divinity of Apollo, since Apollonia was hit by a Tsunami caused by an earthquake that happen in Crete. Still visible are the three Churches out of five from the Byzantine period, the Palace and the theatre located close to the sea outside the wall of the city.

The third city is: Ptolemais, located north of the modern Al Marj and close to the costal city of Barka (Barce). Ptolemais or Ptolemaida was one of the ancient capitals of Cyrenaica. It was probably named after Ptolemy III Euergetes. Its Latin name in Roman times was Tolmeta. The town was most probably founded in the 7th or 6th century BC by a settler from Barka.

Moving west of Ptolemais we reach the fourth cit, Taucheira (modern day Tocra).

Under the Ptolemies, Taucheira obtained the name of Arsinoe (Arsinoë), after Arsinoe II of Egypt, named by her brother and husband, Ptolemy Philadelphus. There are not so many remains can be seen today and one only read about its existence.

In around 525 BC, Euesperides (modern Benghazi) was founded to become one of the five important cities in Cyrenaica known as the Pentapolis.

Euesperides was probably founded by people from Cyrene or Barka on the edge of a lagoon which opened from the sea.

The name Euesperides was attributed to the fertility of the area, and gave rise to mythological associations with the garden of Hesperides.

After the marriage of Ptolemy III to Berenice, daughter of the Cyrenean Governor Magas, around the middle of the third century, many Cyrenaican cities were renamed to mark the occasion. Euesperides became Berenice and the change of name also involved relocation.

Berenice, the place they moved to, lies underneath Benghazi's modern city centre.

This Greek colony had lasted from the sixth to the mid-third centuries BCE.

Before concluding we must talk about one masterpiece: Aslonta (Suluntah),

which is a small, ancient, Libyan temple dating to the period before the Greek occupation and therefore one can safely associate the cave of Slontah with the indigenous people's culture.

Hidden in the Green Mountain's groves, just where an ancient temple is expected to be; in an area rich in caves, most of which are facing south, the Slontah structure incorporates a local architecture unique to the area.

The temple is rich in carvings of human faces, unusual human figures and animals, disembodied heads, engraved directly onto the rocks, in a style totally unique to the temple.
This article has ( 3 ) Comment(s)
Name: Kim C K
Date: 23/12/2010 06:49:05
Name: BDS UK
Date: 02/05/2011 19:37:53
The author is to be thanked and congratulated on this excellent pottied history of Libya's past and the treasures which remain. I am very fortunate in having visited most of them and only wish that they become known to a much wider public
Name: Dorothy Gordon
Date: 23/02/2011 03:55:15
An enlightening article. We hope to visit your beautiful country when you have managed to get rid of Mr Gadaffi.
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