LIBYA IN THE 1950s

I wonder how I would react to all the changes in Tripoli if I were to visit now, especially after the Arab Spring and all the changes the fight for freedom has brought throughout the Middle East? Life seemed simpler in the 1950s, but it was far from perfect. Libya had King Idris as a ruler and his younger wife, Queen Fatima, who could wear Western clothes and socialize privately with American women. Libyan women at that time were very much what I would consider second-class citizens; they wore barracans: white wool garments that covered everything but one eye  and their ankles.  They had to follow three steps behind their men.  Out in the streets, I saw few women.

To capture the flavor of those days, from time to time I’ll be sharing a few excellent photos, which were taken by an American fellow who went to high school with me. I was delighted with their quality and uniqueness–they show a love of photography and make me  wish I had taken more photos myself! A mix of cultures  show up in this scene of the shops in the Old City–Libyan, Italian and perhaps American. But no women.

Tripoli Market

Any trip into the old city brought up the contrasts between affluence and typical Libyan life at that time. Streets were dark and narrow, in some places no more than three feet wide, and had no gutters or sewage system. Meat shops (looks like one on the bottom right) advertised their wares by hanging raw meat on a hook outside the door, which attracted flies and added to the already pungent odors of the area. I visited the Old City with a group of American teenager volunteers to help out at the two-story Mission, one of the largest buildings in this part of town. It was styled with rooms situated around a paved courtyard. The director of the place was an English doctor, who had been there for nearly twenty years, and his staff included several older English and American couples. Besides medical aid, the Mission provided a small school for Libyan children.

Before Gadhafi deposed him and became dictator, King Idris sat on the throne, rotating his rule between his co-capitals, Benghazi in the east near Egypt, and Tripoli in the west. His golden-domed palace, which was lit up at night, was less than half a mile from Garden City, where I lived, and was available for tours when he wasn’t in residence. I joined my mother’s ladies club for a tour one day and marveled at the huge gardens: a patchwork of ice plant, pools, fountains and palm trees intersected with pathways. In this garden, grass was a weed. Inside, we were greeted with a mosaic-tiled entryway and treated to a red-carpeted throne room accented with gilt mirrors and chairs. A formal dining room hung with rich tapestries was highlighted with an elaborate chandelier. His countrymen were living simply for the most part (some of them in makeshift homes of cardboard and tin), but the king had radio, television, air-conditioning and several cars, a Cadillac among them.

The King’s Palace serves a different purpose in modern times: the last I heard,  before the revolution, it served as a very large library.

King's Palace in 1950s

King’s Palace in 1950s – contrast in modes of travel!

The scene below, also from the 1950s,  is a Libyan man selling what looks like vegetables and dates but I’m not certain. He has set himself up in a market area in the city of Misurata, east of Tripoli, which was Ghadaffi’s hometown and where he was eventually captured and killed.

The market in Misurata

The market in Misurata – Buy my onions!

 

12 Comments

  1. Thanks for the comment. No country remains the same for long. Libya and Tripoli have changed a great deal in the past 50 years.
    Victoria

  2. Magdi says:

    Am from Libya and I want to tell you it’s not like before like what dady said. I don’t know If it’s true because am jus17year old

  3. john says:

    Victoria,

    I sent you a message on Facebook in regards to a John Brookes who served in Tripoli as a British servicemen. He sent on your site a message in 2015. can you please send him my email or give me his to contact me regarding his time at Keren barracks. I want to know if he can give me further information on which other units served there.
    >[email protected]<

    John.

  4. Hello Caroll,
    Thanks for commenting. Never got the privilege of visiting Benghazi, but an Italian group of people who had mostly been born in Tripoli posts plenty of photos of Benghazi on Facebook. If you join Facebook, I can friend you and put you in touch. Victoria

  5. I agree, once a brat, always a brat! It’s in the blood.
    Victoria

  6. Caroll Tack says:

    My post should have said I was an army brat in Libya between those years!
    I was an army brat for MUCH longer, and actually still consider myself a brat. Once a brat always a brat!

  7. Caroll Tack says:

    Hi. Lovely to see these photos. I too was an army brat (British), between 1959 and 1962. We spent a long weekend in Tripoli but actually lived in Benghazi. I wonder whether you spent any time there and have photos to share?
    Caroll

  8. Ah, now I understand why your memories of the city are so sharp–you wrote the basics in 1959! My customer review of your book at Amazon is titled “A Trip Back in Time” (!)

  9. I’m delighted you read my book, Kirsten. I wrote the basics of that story in 1959 or so and then polished it a bit when I put my other books on Amazon. The other books are great too, even if I am prejudiced!

    Victoria

  10. Thanks very much for this post–wish I’d seen it sooner, when you posted it. I bought your book AN ARMY BRAT IN LIBYA and enjoyed it, especially because I lived in Libya during the 1950s too. (I went through kindergarten and elementary school at Wheelus Air Base except during first and second grade, when I was home schooled at the farm where we lived on the outskirts of Tripoli.) I believe you saw more of Tripoli than I did, since you lived downtown, but these photos bring back memories! That car in the photo of the palace even looks like our 1952 Chevy!

  11. And the poor fellow had very bad teeth! With the photo reduced somewhat, you can’t see them and his smile shows he appreciates life no matter how difficult it might be.

    Victoria

  12. Kathie deRussy says:

    So glad our Uaddan friend has decided to share the insightful pics. It’s amazing to see how selling a pile of onions and maybe some dates could sustain this vendor. He even managed a smile. Good lesson for all, appreciate what we have in our life.

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