The first edition of Lonely Planet's guidebook to Libya (written by Anthony Ham) was published in 2002. I had it with me on a trip to Libya in 2004 during which I was able to check some of the information presented in the book.
I visited the ancient sites on or near the northern coast in the western part of the country (Tripolitania) and the eastern part of the country (Cyrenaica). But I did not visit the southern part of the country (Fezzan), so I was not able to check what the book says about this area.
This book gives you information about local transport (how to get from A to B). There is also information about hotels and restaurants. But most visitors will not need any of this information, because they will travel on a package tour, where a travel agency will arrange local transport and pick the hotels and restaurants.
Because of Libya's special visa system and the rules for foreigners, it is (almost) impossible to travel on your own. You must travel with a group and follow a fixed itinerary. But this does not have to be a bad thing.
What you need from a guidebook is general information about the history of the country and specific information about the sites you are going to visit. A local guide will probably show you around, but it is always good to know something about the place in advance.
Using my experience as a yardstick I have to say that this is a good guidebook which gives you a lot of useful information. However, I have to point out a few mistakes in the text:
(a) On pp. 150-151 we hear about the monumental tombs of Ghirza. Ham says "the northernmost tomb features particularly fine stonework atop some of the pillars, and a Roman eagle above the door with Latin inscriptions."
In fact, it is quite the opposite: above the door of the northern tomb (known as Tomb A) there is a Latin inscription flanked by two Roman eagles.
(b) Under the heading "Getting there" Ham writes the following: "The best option is a long (six hour) day trip from Misrata."
This timeframe is not realistic. When we travelled to Ghirza, it took the driver five hours to drive from Misrata to Ghirza, because the road is rather bad. If you spend three hours at the site, including one hour for lunch, and then return to Misrata, you will need thirteen hours for the whole trip. It is a long day, but in my opinion, Ghirza is worth a visit.
(c) On page 153 we hear about Medinat Sultan and the Italian arch which once stood here. Ham writes about the two bronze statues of the Philaeni brothers:
"The hollow statues once stood more than 5 m tall atop the arch demarcating Tripolitania from Cyrenaica."
In fact, the statues were lying down then, just as they are when you see them today. One of them was facing west towards Tripolitania, while the other was facing east towards Cyrenaica.
(d) On the same page a sidebar with the heading "The division of Libya" explains how the Greeks and the Romans divided Libya between them in the 4th century BC. This explanation is not true. The Greeks and the Carthaginians did this. One pair of runners was Greek; they started from Cyrene and moved west. The other pair was Punic; they started from Carthage and moved east. The point where the two pairs met would mark the border between the two cities. Rome had nothing to do with this. The Romans did not come to Africa until much later. So whenever Ham says "Roman," the word should be changed to "Punic."
The story about the division of Libya is told by the Roman author Sallust in his book about the war with Jugurtha: Sallust, Rome and Jugurtha, chapter 79.
(e) On pp. 168-169 we hear about the ancient church of Qasr Libya. Ham writes:
"Also of great importance is panel 23, a Byzantine inscription stating that the mosaics were laid in AD 339."
In fact, the mosaics were laid in 529-530, after the Byzantine conquest of North Africa, as stated on the preceding page.
(f) Further on Ham mentions a Turkish fort "which has fine views over the surrounding countryside."
When I was there, I climbed to the roof of the fort, but I was unable to see anything, because the walls are about two meters high. The only way to view the surrounding countryside from this fort is if you bring you own ladder!
Apart from these minor flaws, I like the book. The first edition published in 2002 is still quite useful, although of course the section about recent history is not quite up-to-date. The following events took place after the book was published:
* In May 2006 the US removed Libya from its list of states suspected of supporting terrorism.
* In August 2008 the US and Libya signed an agreement about mutual compensation for any damage the two states might have caused each other.
* In September 2008 the US Foreign Secretary Condoleezza Rice made an official visit to Libya during which she met with the Libyan leader colonel Kadafi - the first official visit by a US foreign secretary since 1953. These events marked the fact that the two countries had re-established diplomatic relations with each other
* The UK re-established diplomatic relations with Libya in 1999, and in March 2004 the British Prime Minister Tony Blair made an official visit to Libya during which he met with Kadafi.
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I wish there had been such a book when I lived in Libya for 5 years from 1977, and during many business trips since. I really cannot find much to fault in this book. It presets Libya as it is. A great place to visit, providing you don't want a normal package tour and lifes little luxuries. The book clearly spells all this out, and clearly shows how to cope in the 'out of the way' locations (anywhere except Tripoli and Benghazi!).
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A country of mysteries and the unknown this book guides you through Libya with a helping hand. Whether you are there for business or pleasure the Lonely Planet guide gives you an excellent insight into this little known country. The publication provides excellent cultural, social and historical background advice as well as information on the best of Libya's sites and cities. This guide will enable you to get the most out of your trip.
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