The Libya my family knew in the 1960s

The photograph above is from my parents wedding in Tripoli, Libya in 1963.  I wrote about why they were there, and my own journey through Libya decades later, in this article for Travel + Leisure.  But with the war in Libya reaching a critical juncture this week, it has all of us thinking about how things were in Libya then, are now, and questioning how they will be in future.

My uncle sent me this video (embedded below) of Tripoli in 1964, which he found on YouTube and captures some of the feeling of place that he had when he lived in Libya as child at that same period.  The extensive footage of arriving fighter jets was shot at Wheelus, then the largest overseas American base and (it is rumored) where nuclear-armed bombers were stationed for runs on Moscow.

It should be said that Libya looks more comprehensively modern in this video (and the others) than the reality merited: the modern town built by the Italians is quite small and, beyond it, they did very little to develop the country’s infrastructure.  The Italians were a weak European power and came late to colonial empire, finding themselves with the leftover bits in Africa that others didn’t want or couldn’t conquer.  Libya was a desolate, poor, and (until the discovery of oil) mostly undesirable stretch of North Africa with a few great ancient Roman ruins like Leptis Magna but little in the way of settled communities, being one of the only truly nomadic societies in the region.  This unsettled history is still evident: on my month-long travels through Libya in 2004 I drove south from Tripoli 600km without seeing a single extant example of indigenous or vernacular architecture.  Everything was reinforced concrete with brick in-fill, of recent vintage and fairly shabby.

Here are some more archival videos of Libya as it used to be.

An automobile race in Tripoli in 1938 (in Italian):

Libya in the 1950s, depicting a modernizing country:

Archival news footage of the Italian invasion of Libya in 1912 and change in policy under fascism:

Strange and unconvincing propaganda film (in Italian) about the conquest — note the sideways glance by a praying Libyan (or impostor) at 0:47 as if to say, “Am I doing this right?”

Also, click here to read the article I wrote and photographed for Travel + Leisure to gain a sense of what Libya felt like to experience on the ground.  Or here for an excerpt from my Libya journals about the surreal experience of running through the Tripoli medina with a human rights activist.  Or here for a look inside my copy of Gaddafi’s infamous Green Book.



4 Responses to “The Libya my family knew in the 1960s”

  1. Nadiadnns says:

    Great, precious material! The Italian pieces gave a new perspective, too. Thank you!

  2. For Truth says:

    So I’m to believe that these pictures showing Europeans dominating the city reflects the good old days?  When Qathafi made Libya for the Libyans that is a bad thing?  The Libyans under this cruel dictator had free electric, water, education, health care,home or apartment ownership (free), farmers given free land, seed, animals, equipment, all Libyans had a monthly income deposited to their bank accounts, 50 thousand gift from the state upon marriage, state paid half of purchase of a car, gas 14 cents a gallon.  Government was a socialist democracy and everyone had a voice.

    Yes, I’m sure the old Libya looked better to you but for eyes that can see, Libya belongs to the Libyans.  One of the first things bombed was the great man made river that was turning the desert green.  Over 22,000 acres of agricultural land has been destroyed.

    You don’t save people by bombing them back to the stone age.  Forget about Qathafi, that the people love, think about what our aggression is doing to the Libyan people.  Hospitals, schools, places of worship are being bombed.  Neighborhoods have been wiped out.  Women and children are being raped.  Children in orphanages have disappeared into the human traffic network, which comes with any war if you do your research, and many will wind up as sex slaves.  Black migrant workers have been tortured and beheaded, by the thousands.  This is genocide of the black Africans and the Libyans. 

    Please for the love of god, see what is really happening there and use your voice to speak up for the Libyan people.  They are being murdered, hundreds of thousands men, women, children.  

  3. Haki Osman says:

    Thanks for this videos good memory and history of Libya

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