Free enamel pin when you buy any two Atlas Obscura products. Shop now.

Al-Khums, Libya

Leptis Magna

Magnificent Roman ruins lie vulnerable to destruction on the edge of the Mediterranean. 

In what is now Libya, Leptis Magna was once the shining star of the Roman Empire.

As far as ruins go, the city still stands out as a superior example of Rome’s considerable advances in urban planning and architecture. Despite existing in an unstable nation and sporadically under threat of being caught in the crossfires of civil unrest, it has survived as one of the most complete set of Roman ruins standing.

Originally a Phoenician and Berber foundation, the city became part of the grandiose Roman Empire under Tiberius. Under the reign of Lucius Septimius Severus in 193, Leptis peaked as the third greatest city on the entire continent of Roman Africa. Unfortunately, like so many other Roman cities, the vibrant metropolis was doomed by its growth and ingenuity outgrowing its means, and by mid-4th century, the once glorious city by the sea was heavily abandoned, easily sacked by invaders, and in constant threat of destruction due to war and civil unrest. 

While the ruins still stand regally against the sky, that threat has yet to pass. As recently as 2011, civil war has found its way to Leptis Magna, a ready-made bunker,  attractive as a place to hide weapons, shield military vehicles, and keep backs to the sea. Despite being under UNESCO’s protective wing, its vulnerability to rebels has prompted NATO to make no promises that it will remain off limits from air strikes if intervention is necessary. Currently the site is quiet, and the empty city sleeps.