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Libya is a country in North Africa. Bordering the Mediterranean Sea to the north, Libya lies between Egypt to the east, Sudan to the southeast, Chad and Niger to the south, and Algeria and Tunisia to the west. With an area of almost 1.8 million square kilometres (700,000 sq mi), 90% of which is desert, Libya is the fourth largest country in Africa by area, and the 17th largest in the world. The capital, Tripoli, is home to 1.7 million of Libya's 5.7 million people. The three traditional parts of the country are Tripolitania, the Fezzan and Cyrenaica.
Archaeological evidence indicates that from as early as the 8th millennium BC, Libya's coastal plain was inhabited by a Neolithic people who were skilled in the domestication of cattle and the cultivation of crops. This culture flourished for thousands of years in the region, until they were displaced or absorbed by the Berbers. The area known in modern times as Libya was later occupied by a series of peoples, with the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Greeks, Romans, Vandals and Byzantines ruling all or part of the area. Although the Greeks and Romans left ruins at Cyrene, Leptis Magna and Sabratha, little other evidence remains of these ancient cultures.
The Phoenicians were the first to establish trading posts in Libya, when the merchants of Tyre (in present-day Lebanon) developed commercial relations with the Berber tribes and made treaties with them to ensure their cooperation in the exploitation of raw materials. By the 5th century BC, Carthage, the greatest of the Phoenician colonies, had extended its hegemony across much of North Africa, where a distinctive civilisation, known as Punic, came into being. Punic settlements on the Libyan coast included Oea (Tripoli), Libdah (Leptis Magna) and Sabratha. All these were in an area that was later called Tripolis, or "Three Cities". Libya's current-day capital Tripoli takes its name from this.
The Greeks conquered Eastern Libya when, according to tradition, emigrants from the crowded island of Thera were commanded by the oracle at Delphi to seek a new home in North Africa. In 631 BC, they founded the city of Cyrene. Within 200 years, four more important Greek cities were established in the area: Barce (Al Marj); Euhesperides (later Berenice, present-day Benghazi); Teuchira (later Arsinoe, present-day Tukrah); and Apollonia (Susah), the port of Cyrene. Together with Cyrene, they were known as the Pentapolis (Five Cities).
The Romans unified both regions of Libya, and for more than 400 years Tripolitania and Cyrenaica became prosperous Roman provinces. Roman ruins, such as those of Leptis Magna, attest to the vitality of the region, where populous cities and even small towns enjoyed the amenities of urban life. Merchants and artisans from many parts of the Roman world established themselves in North Africa, but the character of the cities of Tripolitania remained decidedly Punic and, in Cyrenaica, Greek. Arabs conquered Libya in the 7th century AD. In the following centuries, many of the indigenous peoples adopted Islam, and also the Arabic language and culture. The Ottoman Turks conquered the country in the mid-16th century, and the three States or "Wilayat" of Tripolitania, Cyrenaica and Fezzan (which make up Libya) remained part of their empire with the exception of the virtual autonomy of the Karamanlis who ruled from 1711 until 1835 mainly in Tripolitania but had influence in Cyrenaica and Fezzan as well, at the peak their reign (mid 18th century). This constituted a first glimpse in recent history of the united and independent Libya that was to re-emerge two centuries later. Ironically, reunification came about through the unlikely route of an invasion (Italo-Turkish War, 1911-1912) and occupation starting from 1911 when Italy simultaneously turned the three regions into colonies.
In 1934, Italy adopted the name "Libya" (used by the Greeks for all of North Africa, except Egypt) as the official name of the colony (made up of the three Provinces of Cyrenaica, Tripolitania and Fezzan). King Idris I, Emir of Cyrenaica, led Libyan resistance to Italian occupation between the two World Wars. From 1943 to 1951, Tripolitania and Cyrenaica were under British administration, while the French controlled Fezzan. In 1944, Idris returned from exile in Cairo but declined to resume permanent residence in Cyrenaica until the removal of some aspects of foreign control in 1947. Under the terms of the 1947 peace treaty with the Allies, Italy relinquished all claims to Libya.
On November 21, 1949, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution stating that Libya should become independent before January 1, 1952. Idris represented Libya in the subsequent UN negotiations. On December 24, 1951, Libya declared its independence as the United Kingdom of Libya, a constitutional and hereditary monarchy under King Idris.
Sources: Wikipedia and CIA World Factbook
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