Michael J. Totten offers a unique pictoral look inside Libya, which gives an intriguing study of contrasts between the Libya of old and the totalitarian state it is today.
Tripoli is typically Stalinist in design, a sparse and soulless mass of nondescript and massive concrete buildings marked only by their decay and the occasional piece of pro-regime propaganda. Indeed, Tripoli reminds me much of the Ukrainian ghost town of Pripyat, abandoned after the Chernobyl disaster – except Pripyat is a ghost town and Tripoli is ostensibly a metropolis.
The unique architecture of the city of Ghadames provides a more interesting look into the local culture that the Communist dictatorship of the Qaddafi regime has virtually wiped away. No one is allowed to live in Ghadames, and all the residents were forced into more of the same nondescript concrete kvartiri — Soviet-style apartments that might as well be filing cabinets for the proletariat. The contrast between the unique and vibrant architecture and decoration of Ghadames only highlights the starkness of totalitarianism.
Totten also has some images of the Roman ruins at Leptis Magna — some of the best preserved Roman ruins in the world. As a Roman architecture nut, Leptis Magna would be an amazing sight to see — sadly it is in the midst of such a repressive country. The Roman theater at Sabratha is an example of architecture designed to show the power and wealth of the state, but unlike the bleakness of Tripoli, Roman architecture seems to be a celebration of the human spirit, imbued with the gravitas of centuries of tradition that have scarcely diminished over nearly two millennia.
The oppression and totalitarianism of Qaddafi’s Libya is evident even in a few snapshots of the local architecture. Totten’s excellent photoessay is a reminder of the way in which totalitarianism oppresses the very essence of the human spirit in every way possible.