When you think of Libya you usually think of war and dictators, and in all honestly that’s a big part of the country’s recent history. While Libya has a fascinating ancient history, it’s actually a huge chunk of the Mediterranean coast with very few people or much else to see or do. Here are some of the most interesting facts about Libya.
Libya is one of the most sparsely populated countries in the world
At 4 people per square kilometre, Libya is one of the most sparsely populated countries in the world. Coming in at 192 nd , only Canada, Surinam, Guyana, Iceland, Australia, Namibia and Mongolia come in lower. Being the 17 th largest country in the world means there is a lot of empty space.
Most people live within 50km of the coastline, as the majority of the country is extremely inhospitable, with extreme harsh desert conditions.
Less than 1% of the country is arable, meaning people are very limited in where they can live.
People have lived in Libya since 12000 BC
At the UNESCO World Heritage listed site of Tadrart Acacus, there are petroglyphs which have been dated as having been produced around 12000 BC. The rock paintings provide a unique insight into the original inhabitants of what is modern Libya.
The current inhabitants of Libya, the Berber people, also known as Amazigh, arrived in North Africa around 2000 BC, while the Phoenicians arrived around the 7 th century BC. The Greeks and Romans conquered the region in the 4 th and 1 st centuries BC, while the final major migration was the Arab invasion in the 7 th century AD.
Libya has the largest oil reserves in Africa
Libya has the largest known oil reserves in Africa and the ninth largest in the entire world. In 2022, Libya was producing more than 1 million barrels of oil per day. The cost of each barrel being roughly only US$1.
More than 85% of Libya’s oil is exported to the European market.
Gaddafi famously used the oil revenues to ensure the stability of his rule by giving Libyan officials a significant percentage of revenues, thereby guaranteeing loyalty.
The huge oil reserves also mean that filling up your car is cheap, with a litre of petrol being roughly 3-4 cents!
90% of Libya is desert
Over 90% of Libya is desert or semi-desert. The majority of Libya is made up by the Sahara Desert (known in Libya as the Libyan Desert) which also happens to be the world’s largest hot desert.
Some parts of the Libyan desert have not seen rain in over 25 years and the region is considered one of the hottest and driest parts of an area that is already famously hot and dry!
Libya is home to the world’s largest irrigation project
In 1983, Gaddafi, using billions in oil revenue, initiated work on what was called the Great Man-Made River. The project which cost over US$25 billion, is a network of pipes that supplies fresh water from the underground Nubian Sandstone Aquifer System, itself a huge underground lake under the Saharan desert.
Even the Guinness Book of World Records has certified it is the largest irrigation system in the world. Gaddafi described the project as the 8 th wonder of the world.
Almost 3000km of pipes were laid and the system supplies 70% of Libya’s fresh water.
There are 5 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Libya
Libya is a mecca for those who love their ancient history. Many of the great empires of the world either originated in Libya or passed through. Libya can even claim that they are one of the few civilisations outside of Italy to have provided a Roman Emperor - Lucius Septimius Severus.
There are currently 5 UNESCO World Heritage sites inside modern Libya. These are the amazing and utterly magnificent Leptis Magna, the surreal Sabratah, the mesmerising Ghadames, as well as the fascinating Tadrart Acacus and Cyrene. No visit to Libya would be complete without visiting at least a couple of these grandiose sights.
If you thought these were interesting facts, wait until you read these facts about Libya under Gadaffi .
And if you'd like to join is in Libya, have a look at all our upcoming tours .