Benghazi Cathedral – An Abandoned Symbol Of Libya’s Civil War

Benghazi Cathedral in Libya was one of the largest catholic churches in North Africa. Located in Benghazi, Libya, the cathedral was built from 1929 to 1939. When Gaddafi’s regime took over from the Italians in 1970, they tried to convert the cathedral into a mosque however it was abandoned in 1977. With the recent revolution in Libya topping the former dictator, the cathedral was due to be restored but work has recently stalled.

Of course, it wasn’t easy getting photos or videos under Gaddafi’s rule so not many exist. Urban explorers were discouraged and severely punished. The following extract is from an article about the restoration of buildings in Benghazi following the revolution and focuses on the cathedral –

A cavernous double-domed Catholic cathedral dominates the city’s waterfront, and in an adjoining wing statues lie in open crates like coffins, while stone friezes depicting Christ lie in open boxes on the floor.

The wing’s windows are long gone and its door has no lock, leaving the artwork open to the elements and passers-by.

Built in the 1930s under Italian occupation, the cathedral has not been used for decades, its interior damaged by fire.

Shafts of sunlight from cracked stained glass windows pierce the charred gloomy interior, highlighting floating motes of dust. The floor is a sea of feathers and bird droppings.

Wali Saleh, head of Benghazi’s council for the preservation and restoration of old buildings, said the friezes and statues were removed and packed away after the fire.

He said his appointment in April last year under Gaddafi’s rule was part of his administration’s belated attempts to stop the architectural rot in Benghazi.

“There was some younger blood coming up in Gaddafi’s administration, and they started to pay attention to the old buildings, from a historical and tourism perspective,” he said.

On taking his post, he blocked the destruction of old buildings and commissioned a survey, finding 173 old structures in Benghazi in need of protection.

There are signs of some rudimentary restoration work, with scaffolding propping up the Benghazi local government building and parts of the cathedral, but Saleh said work stalled due to bureaucratic problems with Tripoli and a lack of funds.

With Benghazi’s new rebel leadership struggling for finance, it is unlikely that further restoration will take place any time soon, but Saleh is hopeful.

“There’s been a change of mentality. When I speak to the new executive, they all seem to love this city and are sad about what’s happened to it,” he said.

“They seem really keen to preserve Benghazi, and tie its new future to its past.”

Location: Benghazi, Libya

Category: Church

Abandoned: 1977

Abandoned Cathedral in Benghazi

The altar of the abandoned Benghazi Cathedral

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