A colony of the Greeks of Thera, Cyrene was one of the principal cities in the Hellenic world. It was Romanized and remained a great capital until the earthquake of 365. A thousand years of history is written into its ruins, which have been famous since the 18th century.
A colony of the Greeks of Thera, Cyrene was one of the principal cities in the Hellenic world. It was Romanized and remained a great capital until the earthquake of AD 365. A thousand years of history is written into its ruins, which have been famous since the 18th century.
Cyrene was founded in the 4th century BC by Greeks of Thera (Santorini) guided by Battos, within a zone where Carthaginian influence was preponderant. From 631 BC (the traditional accepted date of its foundation) to 440 BC, this trading centre, situated in the interior, away from the sea, was dominated by the dynasty of the Battiadae. Within little less than a century (430-331), this kingdom was succeeded by a democratic regime; following which the city spontaneously submitted itself to the rule of Alexander the Great and, at his death, was annexed to the kingdom of the Lagids. One of the last of the line of descendants of Berenice and Ptolemy III Euergetes bequeathed it to the Roman people in 96 BC.
Established as a Roman province in 74 BC, Cyrenaica shared in the fortunes of the empire and, as such, never ceased to play a preponderant role in the Mediterranean world: it was given by Mark Anthony to Cleopatra, united with Crete by Augustus, who decreed the date of the battle of Actium (34 BC) as the beginning of a new era, and then separated from Crete by Diocletian in a reform of 305, which united it with Egypt. Its capitol, which was reconstructed in the 1st century AD and damaged during the insurrection of the Jews in 116, was entirely rebuilt from the reign of Hadrian. Its decline did not begin until the earthquake and tidal wave of 365, one of the great catastrophes of history. Ammianus Marcelinus found it deserted.
Cyrene, which was described by geographers from Herodotus to Synesius and had its praises sung by Pindar and Callimachus, is not only one of the cities of the Mediterranean world around which myths, legends and stories have been woven over more than 1,000 years, but it is also one of the most impressive complexes of ruins in the entire world.
To the north, the sanctuary and sacred fountain of Apollo, the fountain celebrated by Pindar, Herodotus and Callimachus, regroups the temples of Apollo (7th-4th centuries BC) and Artemis (7th-6th centuries BC), the sacella of Persephone, Hades and Hecate, votive monuments and treasuries. This cultic zone was completed, during the Roman period, by extremely large buildings of which the most important are the Baths of Trajan, restored in the 2nd century. To the west, the Greek theatre was transformed into an amphitheatre by the Romans. To the south-west, the Acropolis constitutes an immense archaeological reserve, whose exploration has been postponed for some time owing to the strategic nature of the site.
To the south-east, about 500 m from the sanctuary of Apollo, the agora and the Roman forum, which are well preserved, formed the centre of the civic life. This sector is characterized by the coexistence of both Greek and Roman forms of urban planning within a unified whole of very ample proportions: the Bouleuterion and Capitolium, Agora and Forum, Nomophylakion (public archives depository), and similar are placed side by side with Heroa, of which the best known is that of Battus. It is the urban centre of the ideal city; proud of its past, conscious of the continuity of its history and turned towards the future. The archaeological site of Cyrene is not limited to these three monumental complexes of the sanctuary of Apollo, the Acropolis and the Agora. Excavations have revealed the great interest of the north-eastern sector, where the grandiose ruins of the Augustan period were inhabited until the end of Cyrenian history.
Elsewhere, Cyrene preserves a necropolis complex which is numbered among the most extensive and varied of the ancient world. Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC