A view of Benghazi from across the lake.
Benghazi, the capital of Benghazi Municipality (Sha'biya), is the main port of Cyrenaica on the Mediterranean coast, in Eastern Libya, and as such it is one of Libya's major economic centres. The city is the second largest in Libya after the capital Tripoli, with a population of nearly one million people (with confirmed 500,120 according to 1995 census).
Origin & Etymology of The Name Benghazi (Berenice)
The name Benghazi occurs in various forms, including Bengazi, Benghazi, Banghazi, Bingazi, Bengasi or Binghazi. During the Greek period the city was initially known as Eusperides or Euesperides (around 525 BC), after it was associated with the mythological Hesperides Garden, owing to the fertility of not only the area around Benghazi but also of the whole verdant Green Mountain we now know as Barqa. After Eusperides was abandoned around 347 BC, a new settlement was started nearby, which became Berenice (one of the five cities of the the Pentapolis) around 249 BC, after the Berber princess Berenice, Bernice, or Berenike, the daughter of the Cyrenaican king Magas.
The etymology of the name Berenice means: "the bearer of victory", from which we also have the local name of the region of Cyrenaica, namely Barqa, Barce or Barka. These names appear to have had been used until around 1450 AD, when the name was suddenly changed to its current form Benghazi.
Brief History of Benghazi
There is no doubt that the city goes back to the ancient period when the Greek colonists occupied Cyrenaica, as it was mentioned by Herodotus (IV.204) in relation to the revolt of Barca and the Persian invasions in the region. This ancient city (Berenice) was located northeast of modern Benghazi. Coins dating from around the 5th century BC show the famous silphium plant that made Cyrene a prosperous city. It appears that the city was invaded by Greek colonists, rather than being built or founded by them, as historians (e.g., Thucydides) spoke of the Libyan siege of the city around 414 BC by the local Berber Nasamone tribes (the Nasamones). When the Romans arrived in the area, around the middle of the 1st century BC, the city fell under their domain and quickly became a Roman city right down to the 7th century AD. After the city had attained a strategic place in the economy of the region, as a mediator between European merchants and the locals of Libya interior, it was badly vandalised by the Vandals during the 5th century AD, and then when the Ottoman pirates invaded Benghazi in 1578 they continued to ruin rather than run the city until 1911, when the wars demolished what had remained. The Italian invasions of 1911 were strongly opposed by the locals, united under the resistance of Omar Almoukhtar, where more than 100,000 Libyans were said to have disappeared in Mussolini's fascist camps. The destruction of the city reached its climax when it was bombed more than 1000 times during World War II. Then in 1942 the Allied forces invaded the area, defeated the Italians and controlled Benghazi until 1949, when appointed King Idris Assanousi made Benghazi the capital of Cyrenaica (Barqa) and ultimately the second capital of Libya.
Adda'wah Alislamiyah Building, with its distinctive pyramidal cubes.
Culture In Benghazi
Historical records portray an image of ancient Benghazi as being an important city, with advanced culture, very similar to that was present in prosperous Cyrene. Typical of ancient Libyan customary law, the legal system consisted of a council of elders who resided as the chief magistrates who between them conducted the affairs of the society. Today Benghazi remains one of the main cultural centres in Libya, teeming with renowned academics and scholars, theaters, libraries, and a big university: Gar Younes University (جامعة قاريونس), originally started as an art college.
Benghazi's Tourist Attractions
The land journey from Tripolitania to Cyrenaica can take a whole day and therefore most tours are designed to include flying from Tripoli to Benghazi airport and then use Benghazi as a base to explore the archaeological sites of the Green Mountain including Cyrene, Apollonia, Qasr Libya and Slontah. Many of the old landmarks of Benghazi were repeatedly destroyed during its violent history and as such the city has lost most of its ancient and old buildings. The architectural heritage of Benghazi is evident through the various styles still present within its distinctive streets, including Islamic buildings and mosques, Christian churches,Turkish houses, Italian colonnaded streets, and modern tower blocks. Perhaps one of the oldest remaining quarters is the Old City or the Medina - the heart of Benghazi city, with its busy Italianate Freedom Square (Maydan Alhurriya); the Old Lighthouse; and the 19th-century Ottoman palace, with its 360 rooms.
Some of the ancient buildings that survived the onslaught until recently include the remains of a Greek wall, a Byzantine church, and Roman houses (see the following map).
A view of what remained of Old Berenice, including a Greek wall and Roman houses.
Benghazi Catholic Cathedral
Benghazi Catholic Cathedral, with its two large distinct domes, was built between 1929 and 1939.
The largest colonial building still stands in Benghazi city centre today is the former Catholic Cathedral in Cathedral Square; once was one of the largest churches in the whole of North Africa. The basilica-based, neo-classical style of the church was designed by the Italian architects Guido Ottavo and Cabiati Ferrazza, with the large domes covering both spans of the nave. Apparently, the original drawings of the plan show a three-floor bell tower which was never built.
Benghazi Catholic Cathedral is currently (2009 - 2010) undergoing renovation work by an Italian company.
Souq Aljareed ('The Palm Fronds Market')
If you have a some spare time for Benghazi and would like to do some bazaar shopping, then the covered souk would be the place to start, with its vibrant colours and chatter, local music and a mixture of wonderful aromas usually dominated by the smell emanating from the falafel stalls. Here you can find local products to buy, from traditional clothes to leather shoes and bags, and from brass and copper ornaments to gold filigree earrings and bracelets.
Benghazi War Graves Cemetery
Benghazi War Graves Cemetery is built and maintained by the British Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
A view from across the lake of Tibesti Hotel, in Jamal Abdul Nasser Street - the highest building in Benghazi.
Benghazi Benina International Airport (BEN)
Benghazi Benina International Airport (BEN)
Map of Benghazi and the surrounding towns of Cyrenaica.
This map of Benghazi shows the main and connecting roads of Cyrenaica, linking Benghazi to the rest of the towns and villages of the Green Mountain. If you are driving across Libya and you are short of time, then instead of following the road from Benghazi along the coast all the way to Egypt, you can take the short cut via Ajdabiya and straight to Tobruk. There is also a road from here to Awjila > Jalu > Alkufrah.
Internet Access in Benghazi
If you need to check your emails while in Benghazi, then just ask your guide and he will take you to the nearest Internet cafe. Generally speaking Internet cafes are found in the centre of the city, like in Jamal Abdul Annaser Street, and in some big hotels, like Alfadeel hotel. Access is usually charged at between 1 and 2 Libyan Dinars per hour.
Usefull Addresses From Benghazi
Libyan Airlines Administrative Headquarters: Muhammad Almgaryif Street, close to the First of September Street. Libyan Airlines offices: 23rd of July Street.
Post Office: at the post office you can either post letters and cards or make local and international telephone calls. The address is: Omar Almoukhtar Street.
Banks: there are a number of Banks in Benghazi where you can exchange foreign currency or use ATM machines. The Central Bank of Libya, Al Ummah Bank and the Bank of Agriculture & Industry are all located in Omar (Umar) Almoukhtar Street. The Bank of Commerce & Development has several branches in the city, but to use the ATM you need to use the branch at the Tibesti Hotel.