Sometimes I come across studies on topics I never even knew could be topics. Here, an essay examining the models of urbanity ‘exported’ to Libya by Croatian architects working on the naval base in Khoms (الخمس), Libya.
Smode Cvitanović, Mojca, Smokvina, Marina, Kincl, Branko. 2016. “Maritime Ports as the Testing Field for a New Urbanity. Centroprojekt Zagreb Design for Naval Base Homs, Libya, 1976.” In Urban Planning in North Africa, ed. Carlos Nunes Silva, Routledge, pp. 145–155. [Link to partial preview]
“Drawing on experience gained through the modernization of their own country after the Second World War, Yugoslav experts made their mark applying their expertise in many African and Asian countries, thereby taking part in the creation of those continents’ modern societies in the years that followed. A large field of expertise was as a consequence applied including civil engineering, architecture, and urban planning. A specific professional sector among Yugoslav ‘exports’ was the design and construction of port facilities. Depending on the developments adjacent to the ports, different expertise in urban planning and architecture was needed within this multi-disciplinary task. Architectural developments, as support to a port facility, were usually planned in empty areas and without a previously established analogous architectural or urban typology in the local tradition. This chapter follows the particular case of the Naval Base Homs (Khoms, Al-Khums) in Libya which received a significant contribution of urban and architectural design, the task having been assigned to the Centroprojekt Zagreb company in the mid-1970s. The chapter examines the models of urbanity ‘exported’ by Croatian architects engaged in a task whose primary function was to support the adjacent port facility.”
Poster from the Tripoli Trade Fair 1930 (Mitchell Wolfson Jr. Collection, The Wolfsonian, see McLaren 2002, p. 178 for details)
Brian L. McLaren, “The Tripoli Trade Fair and the Representation of Italy’s African Colonies“, The Journal of Decorative and Propaganda Arts 24, Design, Culture, Identity: The Wolfsonian Collection (2002), pp. 170–197.
Extract: “The most significant exhibition to be organized in the Italian colonies was the Tripoli Trade Fair — an annual display of metropolitan and colonial goods held between 1927 and 1939. This series of exhibitions closely paralleled the representation of Italy’s colonies at similar events held in Italy and elsewhere in Europe during the same period. Indeed, all of these exhibitions were intended to communicate the value of Italy’s colonial possessions to a wider audience, while also establishing stronger economic and commercial ties between Italy and North Africa. However, the Tripoli Trade Fair also was a crucial medium through which an image of Italian society was disseminated to the indigenous populations of North Africa. There was, thus, a relationship between the Tripoli Trade Fair and its potential audiences that was more complex than that at fairs in the metropole. It not only represented Italian industry and culture in the colonial context, it was also the mechanism for a complex process of exchange between Italian and North African culture. Using a wide range of material — from postcards, posters, and publicity photographs to pamphlets and catalogues — this essay examines the Tripoli Trade Fair as a constantly evolving hybrid of metropolitan and colonial identities…”
Islamic Sanctuaries in 17th-century Tripolitania is the translation of a work by the Libyan religious scholar ‘Abd as-Salām al-‘Ālam al-Tajouri.* It gives details about the many shrines and mosques in Tripolitania (western Libya), as they were known in the 17th-century. The Italian translation of the work, shown here, is the only scholarly work on the text that I know of. Antonio Cesàro, an Arabist who also wrote a grammar of the Tripoli dialect of Arabic, teamed up with the human geographer Enrico de Agostini to also track down the sites mentioned by al-Tajouri and document them in photos and with maps.
An interesting, though probably discouraging, project would be to go to these sites today, in and around Tripoli, Tajoura, Tarhuna, Zliten, and Misrata, and document as many as possible—both those that have survived the past five years of turmoil and those that have not.
*The full reference is Tajouri, A. Santuari Islamica nel secolo XVII in Tripolitania, tr. by Antonio Cesàro. Tripoli: Maggi, 1933.
An article on the Italian period and its impact on the old city of Tripoli, available online:
Mia Fuller (2000), “Preservation and self-absorption: Italian colonisation and the walled city of Tripoli, Libya,” The Journal of North African Studies 5/4, pp. 121-154.
“Scholars periodically return to the study of how French administrators and architects handled the urban settings of North Africa – the ones they found and the ones they founded – beginning with the occupation of Algiers in 1830. Italian occupation of Libya began much later, in 1911, but in the 32 years of their effective rule, Italians had sufficient time to be both destructive and constructive in significant ways. Nonetheless, only a handful of scholarly efforts have been devoted to Italian architectural and urban policies in Tripoli;
and very few of those have been concerned with the walled city at all…”
The newest publication of the Society for Libyan Studies’ monograph series is a much-anticipated study of the Ibadite mosques in the Nafusa mountains of western Libya by Virginie Prevost, a scholar of the Ibadites in North Africa.
Virginie Prevost (2016) Les mosquées ibadites du Djebel Nafūsa: Architecture, histoire et religions du nord-ouest de la Libye (VIIe-XIIIe siècle). [The Ibadite Mosques of the Jabal Nafūsa: Architecture, history and religion of North West Libya (7th-13th centuries)]. London.
From the publisher’s description: “The mosques of the Djebel Nafūsa, little known and under threat, personify the continuity of traditions and faith of the Ibadites, who have retained their grip over the centuries on this rugged landscape, despite their many trials and tribulations. This book is the result of a mission carried out in 2010 with the photographer Axel Derriks and examines twenty or so mosques, bringing to light their architectural features and linking them to medieval Ibadite texts.” The book features over 150 full-color photographs, maps, and plans.
The Built Utopia: The Italian rural centres in colonial Libya (1934-1940) | L’utopia costruita: I centri rurali di fondazione in Libia (1934-1940), ed. Vittoria Capresi, Bologna (2009).
The Built Utopia is a bilingual English-Italian ‘guide’-book to Italian colonial architecture in Libya. As the author notes in the chapter ‘A guide to travel, a search to deepen’, “this volume provides a comprehensive description and introduction to the architecture of the newly founded rural centres in Libya, created by Italian architects during the Fascist colonial occupation. The period analysed, from 1934 to 1940, includes the starting point for the construction of the rural centres, 1933-1934, which saw the establishment of the first centres for the political, religious and administrative management of the territory. The project for the last centre was designed in 1940, but it was never constructed due to the outbreak of the Second World War. Particular attention is given to two key dates, 1938 and 1939, which marked the stages of mass colonization with the transfer of rural Italian families to the coast of Libya.”
The book is available online in PDF form at the above link. A review of the volume can be found in Libyan Studies 42 (2011), p. 160.
A new electronic magazine has just been launched out of Benghazi, and two issues are already online. Sketch Magazine is a digital periodical focusing on architecture and design (in Arabic). Furthermore, it is produced by two young women, Aisha Abdelhaqq and Fatoum al-Fallah.
The first issue includes pieces, with plenty of photographs, about Benghazi’s architectural heritage, including buildings such as the baladiyya (town hall) and the cathedral, as well as a presentation of projects by university architecture students and a selection of creative works. The second issue has a feature on the traditional mud architecture of the Awjila oasis in eastern Libya. Both are worth your reading time!
Anyone who wants to get a feel for what Libya looked like during the height of the colonial period should read Brian McLaren’s beautifully-illustrated study Architecture and Tourism in Italian Colonial Libya (Washington University Press, 2006). Though somewhat hard-to-find and a little pricey, it is absolutely worth the purchase.
“To be a tourist in Libya during the period of Italian colonization was to experience a complex negotiation of cultures. Against a sturdy backdrop of indigenous culture and architecture, modern metropolitan culture brought its systems of transportation and accommodation, as well as new hierarchies of political and social control. Architecture and Tourism in Italian Colonial Libya shows how Italian authorities used the contradictory forces of tradition and modernity to both legitimize their colonial enterprise and construct a vital tourist industry. Although most tourists sought to escape the trappings of the metropole in favor of experiencing “difference,” that difference was almost always framed, contained, and even defined by Western culture.” (From the publisher’s website).
There are academic reviews here and here.