Libya: Photographer battles destruction of Tripoli's Old Town one click at a time

A photographer from Tripoli has launched a social media campaign to raise awareness of the city's historic architecture, in an attempt to save the old town from further deterioration and restore its former glory.

Hiba Shalabi launched the campaign #SaveTheOldCityTripoli in order to promote the city's cultural heritage, which is coming under increasing threat amid Libya's continued political instability. She says new, unregulated building projects and inadequate preservation policy is putting the city's treasured sites in harm's way. She also fears that the destruction of Tripoli's old town would deliver a serious blow to its identity.

Tripoli's old town boasts a plethora of historic buildings, including castles, arches and places of worship. Among the city's most iconic structures is the Arch of Marcus Aurelius - a Roman triumphal arch built in the ancient Phoenician city of Oea, a historic site now located in the heart of modern Tripoli.

Shalabi took Ruptly on a tour of old Tripoli where she pointed out the city's under-threat cultural marvels, as well as new construction sites and signs of dilapidation. She snapped photographs around the Arch of Marcus Aurelius and continued adding to her collection as she wandered through the old town, past sites such as the Dawood Mosque and the former American consulate building.

As she went Shalabi commented on the issues facing the city. A particularly pressing danger is posed by the de facto lawlessness of Libya. This has given speculators the opportunity to build new homes in the old town and tear down abandoned and dilapidated historic buildings without oversight, Shalabi says.

"There were building violations, building new buildings with steel, we call it 'concrete and steel,'" she stated. "[There is] no restoration and preservation of ancient buildings, [there is] neglect, ruining buildings, demolishing ancient buildings, the building of second stories on top of buildings with steel while the old ones are not made of steel and are not equipped with proper support, so they collapse under the weight," she added.

Commenting on the structures surrounding the city's Dawood Mosque, Shalabi said: "there is a building built on the other side with a modern style, built with steel. It does not fit in the overall style of the old city. It stands out between the ancient buildings, from historical to this modern style. This is one of the violations that was not punished."

Tripoli's old town has a storied past. Phoenicians, Byzantines, Berbers and Romans have all passed through the ancient city and left their mark. Shalabi said she felt that "whether the nations added something or demolished buildings, they still added to the history, which we should preserve."

"People shouldn't ruin their past and history for the future generations," she stated.


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