Buried for centuries under shifting desert sands and the alluvial deposits of the Wadi Lebda, Leptis Magna was largely ignored by the western world for 1,500 years. It wasn’t until Italian military forces invaded Libya in 1911 that European archaeologists became reacquainted with the wonders of this ancient city. In 1920 an Italian team began excavating the site; during the ensuing 80 years Italian, French and English archaeologists uncovered much of the city.

Since 1994, a British team under the leadership of Hafed Walda, an archaeologist with Kings College in London, has explored a prosperous area of Leptis Magna just west of the theater. The team found a fourth-century C.E. house with its own cistern and toilet.

Walda told Archaeology Odyssey that other teams continue to work in Leptis Magna. Five years ago an Italian group headed by Luisa Musso of the Terza Università of Rome began excavating a villa and an ancient necropolis in the western suburbs of the city. More recently, another group of Italian archaeologists has been digging near the Severan arch, and French archaeologists have used divers to explore the port area. Some historians believe that Leptis Magna’s harbor was never deep enough to accommodate large ships; yet marble for the city’s impressive public buildings was imported in vast quantities and presumably unloaded nearby.

Leptis Magna was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO nearly 20 years ago, but politics have made visiting the site virtually impossible for American citizens. Although United Nations sanctions against Libya were suspended following the surrender of the two suspects in the Lockerbie bombing, U.S. sanctions remain in place, as they have been since 1981. U.S. passports are invalid for travel to Libya. According to Walda, tourist traffic at the site remains light—just one or two busloads of European or Japanese tourists visit each day during the high season. For more information on Leptis Magna, visit the Web Site created by Walda’s team (www.alnpete.co.uk/lepcis).