|Archaeological Site of Cyrene*|
|UNESCO World Heritage Site|
|Criteria||ii, iii, vi|
|Inscription||1982 (6th Session)|
* Name as inscribed on World Heritage List.
** Region as classified by UNESCO.
Cyrene (in Greek, Κυρήνη – Kyrēnē) was an ancient Greek colony in present-day Shahhat; Libya, the oldest and most important of the five Greek cities in the region. It gave eastern Libya the classical name Cyrenaica that it has retained to modern times.
Cyrene lies in a lush valley in the Jebel Akhdar uplands. The city was named after a spring, Kyre, which the Greeks consecrated to Apollo. It was also the seat of the Cyrenaics, a famous school of philosophy in the 3rd century BC, founded by Aristippus, a disciple of Socrates.
Cyrene was founded in 630 BC as a colony of the Greeks from the Greek island of Thera, traditionally led by Battus I, ten miles from its port, Apollonia (Marsa Sousa). Details concerning the founding of the city are contained in Book IV of Histories, by Herodotus of Halicarnassus. It promptly became the chief town of ancient Libya and established commercial relations with all the Greek cities, reaching the height of its prosperity under its own kings in the 5th century BC. Soon after 460 BC it became a republic. In 413 BC, during the Peloponnesian War, Cyrene supplied Spartan forces with two triremes and pilots. After the death of Alexander III of Macedon (323 BC), the Cyrenian republic became subject to the Ptolemaic dynasty.
Ophelas, the general who occupied the city in Ptolemy I's name, ruled the city almost independently until his death, when Ptolemy's son-in-law Magas received governorship of the territory. In 276 BC Magas crowned himself king and declared de facto independence, marrying the daughter of the Seleucid king and forming with him an alliance in order to invade Egypt. The invasion was unsuccessful and in 250 BC, after Magas' death, the city was reabsorbed into Ptolemaic Egypt. Cyrenaica became part of the Ptolemaic empire controlled from Alexandria, and became Roman territory in 96 BC when Ptolemy Apion bequeathed Cirenaica to Rome. In 74 BC the territory was formally transformed into a Roman province.
The inhabitants of Cyrene at the time of Sulla (c. 85 BC) were divided into four classes: citizens, farmers, resident aliens, and a minority population of Jews. The ruler of the town, Apion bequeathed it to the Romans, but it kept its self-government. In 74 BC Cyrene was created a Roman province; but, whereas under the Ptolemies the Jewish inhabitants had enjoyed equal rights, they now found themselves increasingly oppressed by the now autonomous and much larger Greek population. Tensions came to a head in the insurrection of the Jews of Cyrene under Vespasian (73 AD) and especially Trajan (117 AD). This revolt was quelled by Marcius Turbo, but not before huge numbers of people had been killed.. According to Eusebius of Caesarea the outbreak of violence left Libya depopulated to such an extent that a few years later new colonies had to be established there by the emperor Hadrian just to maintain the viability of continued settlement.
Cyrene's chief local export through much of its early history was the medicinal herb silphium, which was pictured on most Cyrenian coins. Silphium was harvested to extinction, which, in conjunction with commercial competition from Carthage and Alexandria, resulted in a reduction in the city's trade. Cyrene, with its port of Apollonia (Marsa Susa), remained an important urban center until the earthquake of 262. After the disaster, the emperor Claudius Gothicus restored Cyrene, naming it Claudiopolis, but the restorations were poor and precarious, and soon decadence hit Cyrene irremediably. Natural catastrophes and a profound economic decline dictated its death, and in 365 another particularly devastating earthquake destroyed its already meager hopes of recovery. Ammianus Marcellinus described it in the 4th century as a deserted city, and Synesius, a native of Cyrene, described it in the following century as a vast ruin at the mercy of the nomads. Ultimately, the city fell under Arab conquest in 643, by which time little was left of the opulent Roman cities of Northern Africa; the ruins of Cyrene are located near the modern village of Shahhat.
Cyrene was the birthplace of Eratosthenes and there are a number of philosophers associated with the city including Aristippus, the founder of the School of Cyrene, and his successor daughter Arete, Callimachus, Carneades and Synesius, a bishop of Ptolemais in the 4th century CE.
Cyrene is mentioned in Isaiah 49:12 as a place from where, it's prophesied, Hebrews living there will return to the land of Israel.
It's referred to in 2 Maccabees. The book of 2 Maccabees itself is said by its author to be an abridgment of a five-volume work by a Hellenized Jew by the name of Jason who lived around 100 BC. (Catholics, and Eastern churches consider 2 Maccabees to be canonical; most Protestants, including Anglicans , do not.)
Cyrene is also mentioned in the New Testament. A Cyrenian named Simon carried the cross of Christ (Mark 15:21 and parallels). See also Acts 2:10 where Jews from Cyrene heard the disciples speaking in their own language in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost; 6:9 where some Cyrenian Jews disputed with a disciple named Stephen; 11:20 tells of Jewish Christians originally from Cyrene who (along with believers from Cyprus) first preached the Gospel to non-Jews; 13:1 names Lucius of Cyrene as one of several to whom the Holy Spirit spoke, instructing them to appoint Barnabas and Saul (later Paul) for missionary service.
Cyrene is now an archeological site near the village of Shahhat. One of its more significant features is the temple of Apollo which was originally constructed as early as 7th century BC. Other ancient structures include a temple to Demeter and a partially unexcavated temple to Zeus (the latter was intentionally damaged under orders of Muammar al-Gaddafi in the summer of 1978). There is a large necropolis approximately 10 km between Cyrene and its ancient port of Apollonia.
In 2005, Italian archaeologists from the University of Urbino discovered 76 intact Roman statues at Cyrene from the 2nd century AD. The statues remained undiscovered for so long because “during the earthquake of 375 AD, a supporting wall of the temple fell on its side, burying all the statues. They remained hidden under stone, rubble and earth for 1,630 years. The other walls sheltered the statues, so we were able to recover all the pieces, even works that had been broken."
Beginning in 2006, Global Heritage Fund, in partnership with the Second University of Naples (SUN, Italy), the Libyan Department of Antiquities, and the Libyan Ministry of Culture, has been working to preserve the ancient site through a combination of holistic conservation practices and training of local skilled and unskilled labor.
Apart from conducting ongoing emergency conservation on a theater inside the Sanctuary of Apollo through the process of anastylosis, the GHF-lead team is in the process of developing a comprehensive master site management plan.