After dictatorship, war Libya looks to rebuild tourism

From the top of the magnificently preserved Roman amphitheater here, one can see the glimmering blue waters of the Mediterranean, where across the sea in Rome an emperor made this city a showcase of his empire.

The large market is framed by arches and ancient measurements for fabrics are etched clearly into stone. Colonnaded and cobbled streets lead from a massive archway. Public latrines remain intact, as do gladiator arenas and mosaics considered by scholars to be masterpieces of the Roman era.

On a sun-scorched day in July not a single tourist was to be found.

"Libya has all it takes to become a vacation paradise," says Adel Belhaj of the Libyan Society for the Activation of Tourism.

Except that its sites are in Libya, where a dictatorship soaked its oil fields for 41 years to pay off various military and tribal allies, and did little to attract tourists. For decades, dictator Moammar Gadhafi isolated his nation from the outside world by sponsoring acts of terrorism that included the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 270 people.

Gadhafi died in a rebellion against his rule in October. Since then, the country has held one election, and many here hope democratic reforms will bring tourists to a country that possesses five UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Belhaj certainly hopes so, boasting of "1,300 miles of palm-fringed coastline" and "an attractive historic quarter in Tripoli featuring fine colonial buildings." There are others.

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