Bengazi - Encyclopedia

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'BENGAZI (anc. Hesperides-Berenice), a seaport on the north coast of Africa, capital of the sanjak of Bengazi or Barca, formerly in the vilayet of Tripoli, but, since 1875, dependent directly on the ministry of the interior at Constantinople. It is situated on a narrow strip of land between the Gulf of Sidra and a salt marsh, in 30 7' N. lat. and 20 0 3 E. long. Though for the most part poorly built, it has one or two buildings of some pretension - an ancient castle, a mosque, a Franciscan monastery, government buildings and barracks. Senussi influence is strong and there is a large zawia (convent). The harbour is half silted up with sand and the ruins of fortifications, and is accessible only to vessels of light draught. A lighthouse has been erected at the entrance, but reefs render approach difficult, and the outer anchorage is fully exposed to west and north and not good holding. The export trade is largely in barley, shipped to British and other maltsters. The Sudan produce (ivory, ostrich feathers, &c.) formerly brought to Bengazi by caravan, has now been almost wholly diverted to Tripoli, the eastern tracks from Wadai and Borku by way of Kufra to Aujila having become so unsafe that their natural difficulties are no longer worth braving. Consular vigilance has also killed the once considerable slave trade. Trade in other commodities, however, is on the increase, exports now amounting to nearly half a million sterling and imports to half that figure. The neighbouring coast is frequented by Greek and Italian sponge-fishers, the industry being a valuable one. The province of Bengazi, being still without telegraphs or roads, is one of the most backward in the Ottoman empire.

Founded by the Greeks of Cyrenaica under the name Hesperides, the town received from Ptolemy III. the name of Berenice in compliment to his wife. The ruins of the ancient town, which superseded Cyrene and Barca as chief place in the province after the 3rd century A.D., are now nearly buried in the sand. The modern town lies south-west of the original site. Certain large natural pits which are found in the plain behind, and have luxuriant gardens at the bottom, are supposed to have originated the myth of the Gardens of the Hesperides. Ancient tombs are found, which in 1882 yielded fine Greek vases to G. Dennis, then British vice-consul. The present name is derived from that of a Moslem saint whose tomb, near the sea-coast, is an object of veneration. The population, amounting to about 25,000, is greatly mixed. Levantines, Maltese, Greeks and Jews form the trading community, but since 1895, when a branch of the Agenzia Italiana Commerciale was established at Bengazi, Italians have exercised an increasing influence on Cyrenaic commerce. Turks, Arabs and Berbers are the ruling castes, and negroes act as labourers and domestics. Many of these found their way to Crete, and becoming porters, &c. in Canea and Candia, were notorious for turbulence and fanaticism. In 1897 and 1898 the European admirals forcibly deported consignments of the worst characters back to Bengazi. In 1858 and again in 1874 the town was devastated by plague (see also TRIPOLI and CYRENAICA). (D. G. H.)

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