The city of Cyrene is said to have been settled first by Greeks from the island of Thera in the 7th century BC. It became the chief town of ancient Libya and established relations with all the Greek cities, reaching the height of its prosperity 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 triremes and pilots.10 After the death of Alexander III of Macedonia the Cyrenian republic was subject to the Ptolemaic dynasty. Cyrenaica became part of the Ptolemaic empire controlled from Alexandria, but became Roman territory in 96 BC when Ptolemy Apion bequeathed Cyrenaica to Rome. In 74 BC Cyrene was a Roman province. The city was destroyed during the Jewish revolt of AD 115-117 and rebuilt by the emperor Hadrian.
The Temple of Zeus
At the top of the hill, above the rest of the site is the Temple of Zeus, said to be the biggest in Africa. It is even said to be as big as the Parthenon, at 32 m. by 70 m. Like much of the rest of the site the temple was rebuilt by Hadrian in AD 120 but destroyed again in the 365 earthquake. After some work by the British it is now being restored by the Libyans and Italians. The rows of columns which now exist are a magnificent sight. They are large fluted drums, not a usual feature of cipollino, and, in spite of Lazzarini’s reference, there is no evidence of cipollino in the temple as it now exists.
Turning back through the Roman forum (originally built as a gymnasium) and on to the Odeon there is one column of cipollino standing 1.5 m. /5.06 Rf high (Plate 5.14).
The Agora was the heart of the ancient city, a large open space serving as market and meeting place surrounded by columns (Plate 5.15). There are blocks of cipollino facing the northeast side, near the northern stoa.
The Sanctuary of Apollo
The path down from the Agora leads to the Fountain of Apollo. The Sanctuary of Apollo is a collection of temples, baths and other buildings situated on a ledge overlooking the plain. There are two fairly complete columns approximately 4 m. /13.5 Rf high and between .40 /1.35 Rf and .50 m. /1.68 Rf in diameter, with their Corinthian capitals, concave scotia and plinth. (Plate 5.16)
The baths, which are the last buildings before leaving the site, were built in AD 98-99 under the emperor Trajan and restored by Hadrian in Ad 119. Here there are six columns altogether and two are definitely of cipollino. They are 6 m. /20.27 Rf high and .50 m. /1.68 Rf in diameter with Corinthian capitals (Plate 5.17).
10 Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War, Touchstone, New York, 1998, sec.7.50.
Maps and Plates
Plate 5.14 Part of a cipollino column at the Odeon, Cyrene.
Plate 5.15 Blocks of cipollino in the Agora, near the northern stoa, Cyrene.
Plate 5.16 Two cipollino columns at the Sanctuary of Apollo, Cyrene.
Plate 5.17 Two cipollino columns at Trajan’s baths, Cyrene.