South from Barbary: Along the Slave Routes of the Libyan Sahara. Justin Marozzi
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Название: South from Barbary: Along the Slave Routes of the Libyan Sahara

Автор: Justin Marozzi

Издательство: HarperCollins

Жанр: Хобби, Ремесла


isbn: 9780007397402


СКАЧАТЬ to him for possessing a camera. Other customs officers were inspecting the boots of Mercedes saloons for contraband. I was small beer. Gruffly, he condescended to stamp my passport with the information that I was carrying photographic equipment and waved our car through. Outside, the first of many propaganda portraits of Muammar al Gaddafi welcomed us to the Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, or GSPLAJ for short. Sporting a hard hat and shades, he was presiding benignly over a scene of oil wells in the Sahara. The border area was an ugly scattering of buildings and warehouses and the heat was intense, but none of this mattered. We were a step nearer the desert.

      Before preparing for the camel journey in Tripoli, we first had to visit the Roman ruins of Sabratha, forty miles west of the capital. With its more august sister city of Leptis Magna, 120 miles to the east, Sabratha is one of the Mediterranean’s great Roman sites. If it had been in Tunisia, the city would have been clogged with tourists. Thanks to Libya’s status as one of the world’s last remaining pariah states, we had the place to ourselves.

      Sabratha dates back to Phoenician times, probably between the late fourth and seventh centuries BC, when it was established as an emporium or trading post, but is an essentially Roman creation. Sabratha, Leptis Magna and Oea (as Romans knew Tripoli) together formed the provincia Tripolitania – province of the three cities – created by the Emperor Diocletian in AD 284. All three both grew through commerce with the Garamantes, the great warrior-traders of southern Libya, and through commercial exchange with Rome. Before the Romans set foot in North Africa, the Phoenicians had introduced agriculture to the coastline, encouraging the cultivation of olives, vines and figs. Tripolitania was, above all, a great exporter of olive oil for use in Rome’s baths and oil lamps, if not its kitchens. The Romans considered African olive oil too coarse for their palates.

      After olive oil came wild animals, exported in staggering numbers to feed the bloodlust of Rome’s circusgoers. Tens of thousands of elephants, flamingoes, ostriches, lions, and wild boar were shipped to their destruction. Titus marked the inauguration of the Colosseum by dispatching 9,000 animals into the arena to fight the gladiators. Augustus recorded that 3,500 African animals were killed in the twenty-six games he gave to the people, while Trajan had 2,246 large animals slaughtered in one day. On one occasion, Caesar sent 400 lions into the arena to kill or be killed by gladiators, outdone by Pompey, who sent in 600. North Africa’s ‘nursery of wild beasts’, as noted by Strabo, could not take such wholesale decimation and its animal population never recovered.

      By contrast with this northern-bound traffic, the desert trade, whose staple products would later include gold, ivory and ostrich feathers, was not yet advanced. ‘Our only intercourse is the trade in the precious stone imported from Ethiopia which we call the carbuncle,’ remarked Pliny in the first century AD. With abundant sources of slaves in both Asia and Europe, the Romans felt little need to tap the Sahara. Negro slaves, besides, could be procured from the North African coast without having to venture farther south.

      We walked slowly through the Forum Basilica, where Claudius Maximus, Proconsul of Africa, had acquitted the Latin writer Apuleius of Madura of a fabricated charge of witchcraft in AD 157. Behind us the magnificent theatre, a warm terracotta in the fading afternoon sun, dominated the eastern part of the city. It was built in the late second century at the outset of the Severan dynasty, a time that would prove to be Roman Africa’s finest hour. It is hard to imagine a more romantic or dramatic spot for a theatre: the cool blue sea is visible only yards behind the three-storey scaenae frons that towers 25 metres above the stage. Gracious marble reliefs on the stage front depict the three Muses, the goddess Fortuna, Mercury with the infant Dionysus, the Judgement of Paris, Hercules, and personifications of Rome and Sabratha joining hands alongside soldiers. Intoxicated by his plans to recreate the Roman Empire, Mussolini reinaugurated the theatre in 1937, almost 1,800 years after its birth. Inside, we came across a small family of Libyans from Tripoli, the only other visitors in Sabratha that afternoon. Passing the crumbling mosaics of the seaward baths, unprotected from the elements, we headed to the easternmost part of Sabratha, to the serene Temple of Isis, smoked cigarettes and stared across at the elegant ruins of the city as a lilac sunset flooded across the sea.

      Anxious to press on the next morning, we commandeered a taxi to take us the last few miles to Tripoli. Gleaming white, it rose before us, staring out across the Mediterranean as it had done for three millennia since the bold seafaring Phoenicians established a trading post here. For centuries it had been the principal terminus of the slave-trade routes of Tripolitania that penetrated across the Sahara deep into Black Africa. Today, the city steamed under a shocking noon sun, its fierce glare an unforgettable feature of arrival for as long as anyone can remember. ‘When we approached, we were blinded by the brilliant whiteness of the city from which the burning rays of the sun were reflected. I was convinced that rightly is Tripoli called the “White City”,’ wrote the Arab traveller At Tigiani during his visit of 1307–8.

      Arriving by boat from Jerba on 17 May 1845 James Richardson, the opinionated British explorer and anti-slave-trade campaigner, part of whose travels in Libya we would be following, thought it massive and imposing. He admired the slender limewashed towers and minarets that rose towards the heavens, dazzling in the shimmering sunlight. But, he went on deflatingly, ‘such is the delusion of all these sea-coast Barbary towns; at a distance and without, beauty and brilliancy, but near and within, filth and wretchedness’.

      We checked in at a small hotel in Gargarsh, formerly the American part of town in the more cosmopolitan, pre-revolution times of King Idris. In those days, the streets were lined with foreign restaurants and eating out in Tripoli was a joy. If you were looking for Greek food, you could choose between Zorba, the Akropol in front of the Italian Cathedral, and the Parthenon in the Shooting and Fishing Club. If it was Italian you were after, there was Delfino, Romagna and the Riviera, while Chicken on Wheels, Black Cat and Hollywood Grill catered for the thousands of Americans in town, together with a long list of French, Tunisian and Lebanese restaurants. Now they had all gone, replaced by the occasional hamburger bar and second-rate Libyan pizza outlet. Here in Gargarsh, a rusting miniature Eiffel Tower, which once had marked the hottest nightspot in town and was now home to the local post office, was all that remained of those livelier days.

      On the ground floor of the hotel were the offices of a small tourism company owned by a man called Taher Aboulgassim, whom I had met during my visit to Libya the previous September. He was a smooth, straight-talking businessman in his mid-thirties, one of the new generation of Libyan entrepreneurs, who had been intrigued by the plans I had put to him. No-one had attempted anything like this in recent years, he had informed me, but he would do everything in his power to assist us with the purchase of camels, selection of guides and so on. He had another office in his home town of Ghadames, from where we would probably set off into the desert. During the three months that I would be back in England, he would begin preparations on my behalf and would be waiting for us when we got to Tripoli. The initial encounter inspired confidence. Taher looked like a man we could do business with.

      The first hint that arranging a camel trek in Libya might be more difficult than anticipated was that there was no sign of him in his office the next morning.

      ‘Taher no come,’ said Hajer, his Sudanese office assistant. He said it with some satisfaction. In a country where little was certain here was an incontrovertible fact, and he relished it.

      ‘Where is he?’ I asked.

      ‘No problem. He will come,’ he replied with the confident air of one who had inside information.

      ‘What time will he come?’

      ‘Maybe 12 o’clock. Maybe 5 o’clock,’ came the vague reply.

      ‘Which one?’

      ‘He will come.’

      Hajer’s hairstyle, an exuberant greying Afro, suggested a man still caught in the giddiness СКАЧАТЬ