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Classical Cities of Libya
Named after Ptolemy III, in whose reign it was founded during the 3rd century BC, Ptolemais was originally a Hellenistic mercantile city. Its importance increased following the acquisition of Cyrenaica by the Romans in 96 AD, and enjoyed the prosperity that characterised Rome of the period, with extensive public works programmes. Excavations indicate that the population of Ptolemais enjoyed wealth and a high standard of living. During the 3rd century AD, following a decline in the importance of Cyrene, it became the capital city of the region. Like Cyrene, it suffered the earthquake of 365 AD which was followed by a programme of reconstruction. However, in the sixth century AD, Ptolemais suffered a reversal when Apollonia became the capital of Upper Libya and entered a period of near destitution, aggravated by a water supply system that had fallen into disrepair, causing the population to move away. Despite aid from the Emperor Justinian which returned the city to a relative state of well-being for a while, its death knell was sounded by the Arab conquest of Cyrenaica in the 7th century AD.
Buildings of interest in Ptolemais include the small but excellent Museum, the Western Basilica, the Columned Palace, the Theatre and the underground Cisterns.
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