The section of the North African coast to the west of Egypt has been known as Libya for several millennia. Much of its population has always lived close to the coastline, as a very large proportion of the area of modern Libya is formed by desert (up to ninety per cent, although the desert is a relatively recent phenomenon, appearing only in the last four thousand years or so). Therefore much of its recorded history has concentrated on the struggle for ownership of this coastline. Berbers have existed here since about 8000 BC, attracted by the Mediterranean climate and the prospects for early farming.


The history of Libya dates back to around 8,000 BC, when its coastal areas were inhabited by the ancient Berber peoples. Following the Berbers, Libya was ruled by many conquering empires, such as the Romans, the Greeks, the Persians, the Arabs and also the Turks. One of the best places to learn about Greek history in Libya is at Cyrene, an ancient city and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Another UNESCO site on this Mediterranean coast is Leptis Magna, a Roman ruin which was excavated in 1994. It is believed to be the largest Roman ruin in the entire country.

In the capital, Tripoli, there is only one remaining Roman monument, the Arch of Marcus Aurelius, but there is plenty of architecture dating back to the Turkish Ottoman Empire. The most famous piece is the Assaraya al-Hamra, a huge palace complex which overlooks the city. By 647 AD, a large contingent of Arab warriors ‘liberated’ the region from waning Byzantium rule and Berber influence, converting the locals to Islam. It was later to come under Abbasid rule, before the rising Ottoman Empire arrived in the mid-16th century to restore order among Tripoli’s ‘city of pirates’. Their reign lasted until the Second Barbary War of 1815 was lost to British and American allied forces.

Italy ruled Libya from 1912 until 1927 as ‘Italian North Africa’, when it administered two separate parts of the country, Tripolitania and Cyrenaica. More than 100,000 Italians were encouraged to move to Libya, making up one-fifth of the population. Italian rule was often barbaric, with half of the Bedouin population wiped out by the early 1930s. Some of the finest architecture from this period can be found in the city of Ghat, home to the Fortress of Ghat. Building of this fortress began in the 19th century, although it was actually finished by the Italians in order to cement their control in this important trading post.

Despite a rebellion led by Sheikh Idris I against the Italians between the World Wars, it wasn’t until the latter years of WWII that the British and French regained control of the territory. Idris returned from his Egyptian exile once Italy had relinquished all claim to Libyan territory in 1947, while the British remained in the former Italian colonies until the year of 1951.

Libya formally declared its independence in December 1951, when Idris became the first and only king. The following decade was one of the most stable times in the history of Libya – oil was unearthed in 1959, which led to large amounts of investment from Western countries such as the USA and the UK. However, there were concerns in some quarters about how this wealth was to be shared, leading to a rise in Arab nationalism and an eventual coup d’état


Libya’s key natural resources include natural gas, petroleum and gypsum. In 2010, the country produced high levels of hydrocarbons and the output of crude oil amounted to about 1.7 Mbbl/d. In 2010, Libya was globally ranked 7th on the size of its crude oil reserves and was the fourth largest African country based on its crude oil output. Other than crude oil, the country also produced lime, cement, sulfur, nitrogen, direct-reduced iron (DRI) and refined petroleum products in 2010. Industrial Minerals In 2009, Libyan Norwegian Fertilizer Co. operated urea and ammonia plants at Marsa El Brega, located east of Tripoli. Natural gas for these plants was supplied by NOC. These plants together were capable of producing 750 t/d of granular urea and 2,200 Mt/day of liquid ammonia. In 2010, Libyan Norwegian Fertilizer Co. produced 900,000 t of urea and 700,000 t of ammonia. About 11% of ammonia and 93% of urea were exported by this company in 2010. Metals In 2010, Lisco was the country’s only iron and steel producer. The company produced 1.3 million Mt of direct-reduced iron in 2010 which was an increase in comparison with 2009’s direct-reduced iron output of 1.1 Mt. Fossil Fuels Libya’s natural gas and crude oil output and production of petrochemical and petroleum products increased in 2010 in comparison with that of 2009. In 2010, China was Libya’s chief petroleum importer and most of the country’s petroleum exports were sent to Europe. In 2010, Libya had 2,064 crude oil producing wells and one natural gas reserve. In the same year, the country experienced a decrease in its number of petroleum wells that amounted to 200 in comparison with 247 wells in 2009. The Sirte Basin in the northeast of Libya contained almost 80% of the country’s crude oil reserves. The amount of natural gas produced in the country in 2010 totaled to about 30.6 billion m3 and the country also had 1.5 trillion m3 of natural gas reserves.


Libya is the home of several impressive archaeological and cultural sites that are truly unique and unparalleled in the whole world. The hardly known valleys of the Libyan Sahara are the home of an array of sophisticated and stylish prehistoric civilizations. Five of these sites have been added to the World Heritage List between 1982 and 1986. These sites are now the responsibility of the whole of humanity and not just Libya, to protect, preserve and ultimately explore and enjoy. We kindly invite our visitors and all tourists to report to us or to the appropriate authorities any illegal activity within these protected sites.