Cyrene is one of the five enlisted UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Lybia. It was the most important Greek colony in the area, founded in the 7th century B.C. The remains spread over a large area, and present impressive structures such as the Greek Temple of Zeus and the Roman theatre. Since the beginning of the revolution, fears had arisen in the international community for the possible damage that military actions could bring to the site.
Fortunately, the archaeological structures of Cyrene passed unharmed through the troubled period that led to the fall of Gaddafi in October 2011. However, a less lucky fate happened to the precious items that were excavated from the Temple of Artemis in Cyrene in 1917. The so-called “Benghazi treasure”, comprising golden figurines, jewelry and thousands of coins, was stolen in May from the bank in Benghazi were they were kept. The looters managed to drill a hole into the over half meter wall of steel-reinforced concrete, and since then every trace of the antiquities was lost.
The Italian army force “Comando Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale” is a special section appointed to contrast looting and illicit trafficking of cultural heritage. Their website (in Italian) has a freely accessible database of all the antiquities that have been looted and that may illegally appear on the market.
The Benghazi treasure is one of the most relevant cases and has a dedicated page.
Furthermore, a direct attack to the archaeological site of Cyrene came in the August 2013, when about 2 km of the ancient necropolis edging the site was completely destroyed. The necropolis includes 1,200 burial vaults dug into the bedrock and thousands of individual sarcophagi, the earliest ones dating back to the Greek period (6th-4th century B.C.).
Local farmers, claiming old tribal rights on the area, demolished the ancient structures with bulldozers to divide the land in lots to be sold to local developers. They were even reported to have thrown the ancient artifacts in the near river. The fact was reported on the 9th of August 2013 by Areej Khattab, a local archaeologist, on her blog (in Arabic)
The story was initially picked up by the French news website France 24:
23/08/2013 France 24, Ancient Libyan necropolis threatened by real estate speculators
and then by national and international press, receiving much attention:
23/08/2013 Archaeology, Blogger Reports Destruction of Cyrene Necropolis
27/08/2013 Ancient Origins, Ancient Libyan Necropolis Bulldozed
25/08/2013 Libya Herald, Developers start to wreck UNESCO World Heritage site
31/08/2013 The Times, Ancient Libyan necropolis bulldozed by developers
As a result an initiative started on Facebook, backed by archaeologists, academics and journalists, for raising public awareness about the threats faced by this unique World Heritage Site: Save Cyrene – Facebook Group. A similar initiative is the Save Cyrene Heritage – Facebook Group. The group, created by Ray Bondin of Heritage Malta at the beginning of 2013, aims to give better visibility to the world heritage site of Cyrene in Libya, and to ensure its conservation.