11 Fun Facts About Libya You Probably Didn’t Know
By: Lindsey Penn/Arab America Contributing Writer
Libya is an incredible country with a long history. Despite the current conflicts, the country is a beautiful place with a rich culture. Libyans are known for being warm and welcoming, with hospitality being very important in Libyan culture. There are so many facts about Libya that make the country unique, the following are just a few of them.
1. Libya has had only one king, King Idris I.
When Libya gained independence in 1951, the government placed Idris I as the king. Previously, he had been the Emir of Cyrenaica, and was part of the order of Senussi. King Idris I was unpopular with Libyans because of how conservative he was. He was overthrown in a coup in 1969.
2. Islam spread to North Africa, Libya was a center for Christians.
Both Simon the Cyrene and St. Mark (from the Bible) have ties to Libya. Simon the Cyrene helped Jesus carry his cross, and St. Mark wrote the gospel of Mark and founded the Church of Alexandria in Egypt. Before 700 AD, Libya was ruled by the Phoenicians, Greeks, and then Romans; there are ruins today from each of those civilizations. Then, in 700 AD, the Arabs invaded and spread Islam. The Ottomans controlled Libya in the 16th century. Today, Christians are a minority in Libya, many are Coptic Christians or Roman Catholic.
3. The desert can go for decades without rain.
The Libyan Desert is part of the Sahara Desert, and makes up a majority of Libya’s land in the south. Its climate is very hot and dry, and is considered uninhabitable. For example, in Ghat, in the southwest region of Libya in the Sahara, the average rainfall per month, throughout the year, is zero. When it does rain, though, it is a downpour.
4. Most of the country’s food comes from imports.
As you can probably imagine, if many parts of Libya don’t get a lot of rain, agriculture is not possible. On top of that, the non-desert parts of Libya don’t have a good enough climate or good soil for farming. Instead, Libya has had to turn to importing a majority of food for people. In total, they import about 75% of their food so that the people can survive.
5. Its capital, Tripoli, is known as the Mermaid of the Mediterranean.
Tripoli is on the coast and is the country’s biggest city. It is also a port city. The nickname “Mermaid of the Mediterranean” came from the blue Mediterranean waters in comparison with the whitewashed buildings of the city.
6. Libya has the largest proven oil reserves in Africa.
In 2016, Libya officially held 43,363,000,000 barrels of proven oil reserves. That number places the country at 9th in the world for proven oil reserves, with 2.9% of the world’s total oil reserves. At current consumption levels, there would be 594 years’ worth of oil left in Libya alone.
7. The coast is home to many rare species of animals.
The climate of Libya’s coastline is perfect for many rare species of animals. These animals include loggerhead turtles, Egyptian tortoises, and the striped dolphin is in the water. Egyptian tortoises will nest on the beach, and sometimes, you can spot saker falcons or marbled polecats close to the coast.
8. Libya was inhabited starting in 1200 BC.
Before the Phoenicians inhabited the land, there were the Berbers. Many scholars believe that the Berbers inhabited Libya starting in 1200 BC, or the Late Bronze Age. Another more polite name for the Berbers are the Amazigh, who are spread across North Africa. The Amazigh are still in Libya today, with about 5% of the population being Amazigh.
9. Ghadames is known as the “Pearl of the Desert”.
Also spelled Gadamis, Ghadames is an oasis town about 300 miles away from Tripoli. Ghadames itself was founded when the Berbers were the only people in Libya, but none of the original buildings, or the buildings from the Roman period, still stand. The cream-colored buildings cool the city down when the heat is unbearable.
10. Cyrene is the oldest Greek city in the region.
Cyrene is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located close to Shahhat, a town in north Libya. The expedition from Greece to North Africa set out in 630 BC. It is the oldest of the five Greek cities in the region. Cyrene had many rulers, not all Greek. For example, in the Greco-Persian Wars, the Persian Empire controlled Cyrene in the Sixth Province of the Persian Kingdom. After that, Cyrene began to gain more independence and supported the Spartans in the Peloponnesian War. However, the Romans eventually conquered the city and took over until the Arabs invaded.
11. 1.5% of Libya’s population are Tuareg.
The Tuaregs are a tribe within the Amazigh and are historically nomadic, but becoming semi-nomadic. They are primarily in the western part of Libya, with people also in Mali, Niger, Algeria, and Chad, however, they are not a majority within any of those countries. Numbers stating how many Tuareg people are in Libya are inaccurate, as they were not given Libyan citizenship under Gaddafi. For that reason, the estimates of their numbers are anywhere between 10,000 and 100,000 in Libya. Another Amazigh tribe in Libya is the Toubou.
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