Update: The Old City of Benghazi

By Will Raynolds and Gwendolyn Kristy

After the Libyan National Army (LNA), under the command Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, liberated the Old City of Benghazi from the Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries on July 5, 2017, civilians have gained increasing access to areas damaged during three years of urban warfare in this part of the city.

Having previously reported on some of this damage (see: ASOR CHI Incident Report LHI 17-0005 in the upcoming June 2017 Report), ASOR CHI reviewed DigitalGlobe satellite imagery of the Old City of Benghazi to get a more complete sense for the scope and timing of the destruction.  

The imagery below shows a temporal analysis of destruction in the Old City within the boundary shown in red, which encompasses an area of approximately 724,950 m2. On November 13, 2015, at a time when the campaign of the LNA had already begun, less than a tenth of the total area of the Old City exhibited damage visible in the satellite imagery. However, this damage steadily increased over the course of 2016 and by March 15, 2017 approximately a quarter of this zone had been damaged. By the end of the onslaught to liberate the city over Ramadan 2017, nearly 50% of the total surface area of the Old City has been severely damaged.

A satellite image displaying areas of damage in the Old City of Benghazi in 2015 and 2016 (DigitalGlobe NextView; November 13, 2015 and December 18, 2016)

A satellite image displaying increases in infrastructural damage to the Old City of Benghazi between March and July of 2017 (DigitalGlobe NextView; March 15, 2017, June 10, 2017 and July 17, 2017)

Over the past week, members of the Benghazi office of the Libyan Department of Antiquities (DoA) have gained limited access to this part of the city to assess the damage and salvage what they can from their former headquarters, located in an historic market building built during the Ottoman period. Employees report that any office supplies of value had been stolen and that while the roof and foundations appear to be in sound shape, the walls have been heavily damaged.

View from inside of the DoA Benghazi headquarters in summer 2013, shortly after the Historic Cities Authority had restored this souq building and turned it over to DoA for their use (Photo: Will Raynolds)

View on July 20, 2017 from the same arched doorway being approached by the two figures in the first photo (Photo: Abdel Hafid al Massalati)

Additional view of the damage to the DoA Benghazi headquarters (Photo: Abdel Hafid al Massalati)

Members of DoA Benghazi were also able to document damage to one of the most important landmarks in the Old City, the Ottoman Municipal Building. It was built in 1872 and later expanded in 1914, during the Italian colonial period.

Ottoman Municipal Building in approximately 1914 (Photo: Mohammed Abd al Aziz)

Ottoman Municipal Building on July 13, 2017 (Photo: Mohammed Abd al Aziz)

Currently, a joint group of experts from the DoA, the Historic Cities Authority and the Municipality of Benghazi are awaiting demining teams to conclude their work, and for official permission from the Engineering wing of the Libyan National Army to conduct a more thorough survey of current conditions in the Old City. ASOR CHI will publish further updates on their assessment as it becomes available.

Posted in Updates.