Facts About the Culture, Geography, and History of Libya
Libya, also known as ‘Socialist Popular Libyan Arab Jamahiriya’ is a country located in North Africa. Most of its landmass rests within the expansive Sahara Desert and it is the fourth largest country in Africa.
It borders the Mediterranean Sea to the north, Algeria and Tunisia to the west, Egypt and Sudan to the East, and Chad and Niger to the south. There is plenty to find out about Libya so we are going to take you through 11 interesting facts about the country. If you have any cool facts you want to share, please drop us a line in the comments section.
11. In Libya’s entire history, it only had one King. King Idris reigned from 1951 until he was overthrown by Colonel Gaddafi (also spelled Qadhafi) in 1969.
On December 24, 1951, Libya became a Constitutional hereditary monarchy under King Idris of the Sanusi Order after gaining independence. By then Libya was a poor backward African country. Nonetheless, in 1959, the discovery of black gold (oil) turned its fortunes. By 1969, Libya had registered positive economic prospects. However, there was growing discontent due to the concentration of oil proceeds in the hands of Idris dynasty. This led to a bloodless military coup headed by Colonel Gaddafi. This coup took place while Idris had traveled abroad for medical treatment.
10. During the latter years of Gaddafi’s regime, the country’s full official name was the “Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya”.
After seizing power from King Idris, Gaddafi renamed Libya as ‘Socialist Popular Libyan Arab Jamahiriya’. Due to his revolutionary activities, Gaddafi sponsored revolutionary fronts in so many parts of the world. This led to the destabilization of many countries in Africa. Terrorist activities by these revolutionary fronts led to various bombings including Munich Olympics grounds in 1972, Lockerbie bombings, among many others. This caused strained relations with the West, leading to the US bombing of Gaddafi's residence in an assassination attempt in the early 1980s. He survived the assassination and considered himself victorious over America’s imperialist designs. It is this ‘great’ victory that informed his decision to rename Libya as the “Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya”.
9. Although an Islamic nation today, Libya was an early Christian center historically.
Libya was one of the original pillars of Christianity. Several notable characters in Jesus’ Gospel were from Libya. The most important characters include Simon of Cyrene, who helped Jesus carry the cross. Apart from Simon of Cyrene, there is also St. Mark who is the author of the first Christian Bible: “The Gospel of Mark”. St. Mark is the founder of the Church of Alexandria, which gave birth to the Coptic Church, Greek Orthodox Church, and most of the Eastern Orthodox churches. Currently, there are about 60,000 Copts and 50,000 Roman Catholics in Libya. There are also Pentecostals, though in small numbers.
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8. Libya’s 1,770 kilometers (1,099 miles) of the Mediterranean Sea coast is the longest of any North African country.
Libya's coastal strip is home to its capital city, Tripoli. It enjoys the Mediterranean climate, which it shares with other Mediterranean countries such as Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Spain, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, and Israel. Libya channels its oil exports through its seaports, mainly Tripoli. Of late, Libya’s coast has become notorious for human trafficking of economic refugees to southern Europe.
7. Libya’s poor soils and climatic conditions severely limit how much food can be grown within the country, so it imports about 75 percent of its population’s food.
Agriculture is Libya’s second-largest economic sector. However, it only meets 25% of its food requirements. Libya makes a limited production of cereals mainly wheat and barley. Apart from cereals, it also produces fruits and vegetables. These include citrus fruits, olives, grapes, dates, tomatoes, and almonds.
6. Libya is home to the largest proven oil reserves on the African continent. It makes a major contribution to the world’s supply of sweet, light crude.
Libya struck its first oil reserve in 1959 at Nasser. It started exporting this sweet oil in 1961. Currently, Libya has a proven oil reserve of 48.363 billion barrels. Prior to the civil war, Libya was producing 1.65 million barrels of crude oil per day. The cost of oil production in Libya is among the lowest at about $1per barrel. This is due to its ‘sweet crude’ that is low in sulfur. It is also cheaper in its main market – Europe, due to its close proximity. Europe accounts for about 80% of Libyan oil export. Associated with oil is natural gas. Libya boasts of a proven natural gas reserve of 1,504.9 billion cubic meters. It has a marketed production of 15.57 billion cubic meters.
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5. Libyan capital city Tripoli is also known as the Mermaid of the Mediterranean for its turquoise waters and whitewashed buildings.
The Phoenicians founded Tripoli in the 7th Century BC. They named it Oea. Greeks took their reigns from the Phoenicians. However, their reign did not last long as the Carthaginians took it from them. By the end of 2nd Century BC, Romans had conquered it from the Carthaginians. The name ‘Tripoli’ was derived from the Roman word ‘Regio Tripolitana’ meaning ‘the region of three cities’. The three cities were Oea (modern-day Tripoli), Sabratha, and Leptis Magna. Currently, Tripoli has a population of about 1.2 million people with a total coverage area of 200 square miles. It is the leading industrial and commercial hub. It is renowned for its historic old town, the Medina, which is a leading tourist attraction. Medina is dotted with Roman-era and Ottoman-era statues and fountains.
4. Libya’s national language is Arabic but the people also speak Italian and English.
While Arabic is the national language, Italian and English are widely spoken especially in areas around Tripoli. The main reason why Italian widely spoken is that Italians were former colonizers and there is a significant population of Libyans with Italian heritage. English too is widely spoken due to the influence of commerce and a significant population of English-speaking foreigners. English and Italian speakers are concentrated in main urban centers.
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3. Libyans are warm and welcoming people. When greeting another, they shake hands and maintain the handshake as long as the verbal greeting is on-going.
The Libyan people extend their hospitality to any guest. Traditionally, the first thing is that the guest will be served a meal to eat before being asked about his/her identity and other social matters. Food-first is a policy for most Libyan societies. Furthermore, some families cannot serve a meal without having an invited guest. Eating food is a great form of socialization in Libyan society.
2. Popular sports in Libya are soccer, chariot races, and camel racing.
Gaddafi was an avid soccer fan. His son played for notable Italian clubs Udinese, Sampdoria, and Perugia. Apart from soccer, camel racing, a common sport for desert nomads, and chariot races are also common. The three most popular soccer teams are Ahly Tripoli, Al-Ittihad Tripoli, and Ahly Benghazi.
1. The people drink green tea after they eat to aid digestion. Tea and coffee are favorite beverages. Libyan tea is thick and like black syrup.
After every meal, Libyans drink tea. Throughout the day, tea is the main drink.