Culture of Libya

Libya has a rich history; over the years, it has been invaded by the Romans, Arabs, Turks and Italians. That’s why Libyan culture, similar to other African countries, is a mix of various other cultures. Its origin can be traced back to Berber, African and Turkish cultures.

However, it has been able to remain alienated from Western influences, keeping its traditional folk aspect alive. While the big cities are vibrant with exhibitions, concerts and fashion shows, the more remote regions are a colourful blend of traditional customs.

Libya is culturally similar to its neighboring Maghrebian states. Libyans consider themselves very much a part of a wider Arab community. The Libyan state tends to strengthen this feeling by considering Arabic as the only official language, and forbidding the teaching and even the use of the Berber language. Libyan Arabs have a heritage in the traditions of the nomadic Bedouin and associate themselves with a particular Bedouin tribe.

Cultural differences between the provinces are important. The population of the west is far more cosmopolitan than that of the east and includes a higher proportion of people with Berber, Sudanese African, and Turkish origins. Cyrenaica was profoundly affected by the teachings of the 19th-century Sanusiyah, an Islamic brotherhood, which had little influence in the west and south.

As with some other countries in the Arab world, Libya boasts few theatres or art galleries. Conversely, for many years there have been no public theatres, and only a few cinemas showing foreign films.

The tradition of folk culture is still alive and well, with troupes performing music and dance at frequent festivals, both in Libya and abroad. The main output of Libyan television is devoted to showing various styles of traditional Libyan music.

Tuareg music and dance are popular in Ghadames and the south. Libyan television programmes are mostly in Arabic with a 30-minute news broadcast each evening in English and French. The government maintains strict control over all media outlets. A new analysis by the Committee to Protect Journalists has found Libya’s media the most tightly controlled in the Arab world. To combat this, the government plans to introduce private media, an initiative intended to bring the country's media in from the cold.

Since the 1969 coup, life-styles have been strongly influenced by the revolutionary government's restructuring of national and local government and its efforts to reduce the influence of traditional tribes. The government has also brought women out of traditional seclusion and into the mainstream of the revolutionary socialist society.

Libyan culture centres on folk art and traditions, which are highly influenced by Islam. The traditional arts of weaving, embroidery, metal engraving, and leatherwork rarely depict people or animals because of the Islamic prohibition against such representation. The dominant geometric and arabesque designs are best presented in the stucco and tiles of the Karamanli and Gurgi mosques of Tripoli. Surviving traditions are represented by festivals, horse races, and folk dances.

Nonreligious literature has developed largely since the 1960s; it is nationalistic in character but reveals Egyptian influences. The arts are supported by the government through the Ministry of Information, the Ministry of Education and National Guidance, and the Al-Fikr Society, a group of intellectuals and professionals.

Many Libyans frequent the country's beaches. They also visit Libya's beautifully-preserved archaeological sites—especially Leptis Magna, which is widely considered to be one of the best preserved Roman archaeological sites in the world.

Libraries include the Government Library and the Archives in Tripoli, the Public Library in Banghazi, and the university libraries. The Department of Antiquities is responsible for the Archaeological Museum, the Leptis Magna Museum of Antiquities, the Natural History Museum, and the Sabratha Museum of Antiquities, all in the western region, and the archaeological sites of Ptolemais and Appolonia in the eastern region. The Sabha Museum contains exhibits of ancient remains of the former Fezzan region.

The nation's capital, Tripoli, boasts many good museums and archives; these include the Government Library, the Ethnographic Museum, the Archaeological Museum, the National Archives, the Epigraphy Museum and the Islamic Museum. The Jamahiriya Museum, built in consultation with UNESCO, may be the country's most famous. It houses one of the finest collections of classical art in the Mediterranean.

Most of the Libyan events are primarily politically or religiously inclined. Libya celebrates Independence Day on 24 December, Revolution Day on 23 July and National Day on 1 September (this event commemorates the day the monarchy was overthrown).

Apart from these politically-based holidays, certain other events are celebrated during the year. These may occur on different days, depending on the Islamic calendar. During Ramadan, which extends for around one month and culminates with the festival of Eid al-Fitr, a majority of shops, restaurants and business remain open; however, in certain orthodox areas, life may come to a standstill.

Last Updated on Monday 4th August 2008