Italian Libya

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Italian Libya

Libia Italiana(Italian)
ليبيا الإيطالية(Arabic)
Lībyā al-Īṭālīya
Italian North Africa.JPG
Status Colony of Italy [1]
Common languages Italian (official)
Libyan Arabic, Berber languages, Domari
Islam, Coptic Orthodoxy, Judaism, Catholicism
Government Colonial administration
King Victor Emmanuel III
1939 [2] 1,759,541 km2 (679,363 sq mi)
 1939 [2]
Currency Italian lira
ISO 3166 code LY
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Flag of Tripoli 18th century.svg Ottoman Tripolitania
Flag of Egypt 1922.svg Kingdom of Egypt
Flag of France.svg French Algeria
Flag of France.svg French West Africa
Flag of France.svg French Equatorial Africa
Flag of Anglo-Egyptian Sudan.svg Anglo-Egyptian Sudan
British Military Administration (Libya) Flag of the United Kingdom.svg
Fezzan-Ghadames (French Administration) Flag of Fezzan-Ghadames.svg
Today part ofFlag of Libya.svg  Libya

Italian Libya (Italian : Libia Italiana; Arabic : ليبيا الإيطالية, Lībyā al-Īṭālīya) was a colony of the Kingdom of Italy located in North Africa, in what is now modern Libya. Italian Libya was formed from the Italian colonies of Cyrenaica and Tripolitania that were taken by the Kingdom of Italy from the Ottoman Empire in 1911, during the Italo-Turkish War of 1911 to 1912. The unified colony was established in 1934 by governor Italo Balbo, [3] with Tripoli as the capital [4] .

Italian language Romance language

Italian is a Romance language of the Indo-European language family. Italian, together with Sardinian, is by most measures the closest language to Vulgar Latin of the Romance languages. Italian is an official language in Italy, Switzerland, San Marino and Vatican City. It has an official minority status in western Istria. It formerly had official status in Albania, Malta, Monaco, Montenegro (Kotor) and Greece, and is generally understood in Corsica and Savoie. It also used to be an official language in the former Italian East Africa and Italian North Africa, where it plays a significant role in various sectors. Italian is also spoken by large expatriate communities in the Americas and Australia. In spite of not existing any Italian community in their respective national territories and of not being spoken at any level, Italian is included de jure, but not de facto, between the recognized minority languages of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Romania. Many speakers of Italian are native bilinguals of both standardized Italian and other regional languages.

Kingdom of Italy kingdom on the Appenine Peninsula between 1861 and 1946

The Kingdom of Italy was a state which existed from 1861—when King Victor Emmanuel II of Sardinia was proclaimed King of Italy—until 1946—when civil discontent led a constitutional referendum to abandon the monarchy and form the modern Italian Republic. The state was founded as a result of the unification of Italy under the influence of the Kingdom of Sardinia, which can be considered its legal predecessor state.

North Africa Northernmost region of Africa

North Africa is a region encompassing the northern portion of the African continent. There is no singularly accepted scope for the region, and it is sometimes defined as stretching from the Atlantic shores of Morocco in the west, to Egypt's Suez Canal and the Red Sea in the east. Others have limited it to top North-Western countries like Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia, a region that was known by the French during colonial times as "Afrique du Nord" and is known by all Arabs as the Maghreb. The most commonly accepted definition includes Algeria, Sudan, Morocco, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt, the 6 countries that shape the top North of the African continent. Meanwhile, "North Africa", particularly when used in the term North Africa and the Middle East, often refers only to the countries of the Maghreb and Libya. Egypt, being also part of the Middle East, is often considered separately, due to being both North African and Middle Eastern at the same time.


The territory of Italian Libya was also called Italian North Africa (Africa Settentrionale Italiana, or ASI), both before and after its unification. In 1923, indigenous rebels associated with the Senussi Order organized the Libyan resistance movement against Italian settlement in Libya. The rebellion was totally put down by Italian forces in 1932, after the so called "pacification campaign", which resulted in the deaths of a quarter of Cyrenaica's population.


The Senussi or Sanusi are a Muslim political-religious tariqa and clan in colonial Libya and the Sudan region founded in Mecca in 1837 by the Grand Senussi, the Algerian Muhammad ibn Ali as-Senussi. Senussi was concerned with what he saw as both the decline of Islamic thought and spirituality and the weakening of Muslim political integrity.

The Libyan resistance movement was the rebel force opposing the Italian Empire during its Pacification of Libya between 1923 and 1932.

Pacification of Libya

The Pacification of Libya or Second Italo-Senussi War, was a prolonged conflict in Italian Libya between Italian military forces made mainly by colonial troops and indigenous rebels associated with the Senussi Order that lasted from 1923 until 1932, when the principal Senussi leader, Omar Mukhtar, was captured and executed.

During World War II, Italian Libya became the setting for the North African Campaign. Although the Italians were defeated there by the Allies in 1943, many of the Italian settlers still remained in Libya. Under the terms of the 1947 peace treaty, Italy officially relinquished all claims to Libya, which was administrated by the United Kingdom and France until its independence in 1951.

Italian settlers in Libya ethnic group

Italian settlers in Libya typically refers to Italians, and their descendants, who resided or were born in Italian Libya, in the colonial period preceding independent Libya.

Kingdom of Libya 1951-1969 kingdom in Northern Africa

The Kingdom of Libya, originally called the United Kingdom of Libya, came into existence upon independence on 24 December 1951 and lasted until a coup d'état led by Muammar Gaddafi on 1 September 1969 overthrew King Idris and established the Libyan Arab Republic.



Allegory of the Italian conquest of Libya, 1912. Italo-Turkish War peace treaty chromolithograph.jpg
Allegory of the Italian conquest of Libya, 1912.

The history of Libya as an Italian colony started in 1911 and was characterized initially by a major struggle with Muslim native Libyans that lasted until 1931. During this period, the Italian government controlled only the coastal areas of the colony. Between 1911 and 1912, over 1,000 Somalis from Mogadishu, the then capital of Italian Somaliland, served as combat units along with Eritrean and Italian soldiers in the Italo-Turkish War. [5] Most of the troops stationed never returned home until they were transferred back to Italian Somaliland in preparation for the invasion of Ethiopia in 1935. [6]

Mogadishu Capital in Banaadir, Somalia

Mogadishu, locally known as Xamar or Hamar, is the capital and most populous city of Somalia. Located in the coastal Banadir region on the Somali Sea, the city has served as an important port for millennia. As of 2017, it had a population of 2,425,000 residents. Mogadishu is the nearest foreign mainland city to Seychelles, at a distance of 835 mi (1,344 km) over the Somali Sea.

Italian Somaliland colony of the Kingdom of Italy in Somalia

Italian Somaliland, sometimes also referred to as Italian Somalia, was a colony of the Kingdom of Italy in present-day northeastern, central and southern Somalia. Ruled in the 19th century by the Somali Majeerteen Sultanate and the Sultanate of Hobyo, the territory was later acquired in the 1880s by Italy through various treaties.

Italo-Turkish War 1911–12 war between the Ottoman Empire and the Kingdom of Italy

The Italo-Turkish or Turco-Italian War was fought between the Kingdom of Italy and the Ottoman Empire from September 29, 1911, to October 18, 1912. As a result of this conflict, Italy captured the Ottoman Tripolitania Vilayet (province), of which the main sub-provinces (sanjaks) were Fezzan, Cyrenaica, and Tripoli itself. These territories together formed what became known as Italian Libya.

Italian Benghazi, in which the "Lungomare" (sea-walk) and many other buildings were constructed. Italian Benghazi.jpg
Italian Benghazi, in which the "Lungomare" (sea-walk) and many other buildings were constructed.

After the Italian Empire's conquest of Ottoman Tripolitania (Ottoman Libya), in the 1911–12 Italo-Turkish War, much of the early colonial period had Italy waging a war of subjugation against Libya's population. Ottoman Turkey surrendered its control of Libya in the 1912 Treaty of Lausanne, but fierce resistance to the Italians continued from the Senussi political-religious order, a strongly nationalistic group of Sunni Muslims. This group, first under the leadership of Omar Al Mukhtar and centered in the Jebel Akhdar Mountains of Cyrenaica, led the Libyan resistance movement against Italian settlement in Libya. Italian forces under the Generals Pietro Badoglio and Rodolfo Graziani waged punitive pacification campaigns using chemical weapons, mass executions of soldiers and civilians and concentration camps. One quarter of Cyrenaica's population of 225,000 people died during the conflict. [7] After nearly two decades of suppression campaigns the Italian colonial forces claimed victory.

Italian Empire Italy during the era of modern European imperialism

The Italian colonial empire, known as the Italian Empire between 1936 and 1943, comprised the colonies, protectorates, concessions, dependencies and trust territories of the Kingdom of Italy. The genesis of the Italian colonial empire was the purchase in 1869 of Assab Bay on the Red Sea by an Italian navigation company which intended to establish a coaling station at the time the Suez Canal was being opened to navigation. This was taken over by the Italian government in 1882, becoming modern Italy's first overseas territory.

Ottoman Tripolitania Ottoman province

The coastal region of what is today Libya was ruled by the Ottoman Empire from 1551 to 1864, as the Eyalet of Tripolitania or Bey and Subjects of Tripoli of Barbary from 1864 to 1912 and as the Vilayet of Tripolitania from 1864 to 1912. It was also known as the Kingdom of Tripoli, even though it was not technically a kingdom, but an Ottoman province ruled by pashas (governors). The Karamanli dynasty ruled the province as de facto hereditary monarchs from 1711 to 1835, despite remaining under nominal Ottoman rule and suzerainty from Constantinople.

Treaty of Lausanne peace treaty between the Republic of Turkey and the Allied Powers at the end of World War 1, replacing the Treaty of Sèvres

The Treaty of Lausanne was a peace treaty signed in the Palais de Rumine, Lausanne, Switzerland, on 24 July 1923. It officially settled the conflict that had originally existed between the Ottoman Empire and the Allied French Republic, British Empire, Kingdom of Italy, Empire of Japan, Kingdom of Greece, and the Kingdom of Romania since the onset of World War I. The original text of the treaty is in French. It was the result of a second attempt at peace after the failed Treaty of Sèvres, which was signed by all previous parties, except the Kingdom of Greece, but later rejected by the Turkish national movement who fought against the previous terms and significant loss of territory. The Treaty of Lausanne ended the conflict and defined the borders of the modern Turkish Republic. In the treaty, Turkey gave up all claims to the remainder of the Ottoman Empire and in return the Allies recognized Turkish sovereignty within its new borders.

In the 1930s, the policy of Italian Fascism toward Libya began to change, and both Cyrenaica and Tripolitania, along with Fezzan, were merged into Italian Libya in 1934. In the second half of the 1930s, under the Governor Italo Balbo, Italian Libya experienced a huge development.[ dubious ][ citation needed ]

Tripolitania Place

Tripolitania is a historic region and former province of Libya.

Fezzan Place

Fezzan or Phazania is the southwestern region of modern Libya. It is largely desert, but broken by mountains, uplands, and dry river valleys (wadis) in the north, where oases enable ancient towns and villages to survive deep in the otherwise inhospitable Sahara Desert. The term originally applied to the land beyond the coastal strip of Africa proconsularis, including the Nafusa and extending west of modern Libya over Ouargla and Illizi. As these Berber areas came to be associated with the regions of Tripoli, Cirta or Algiers, the name was increasingly applied to the arid areas south of Tripolitania. Fezzan is Libya’s poorest region.

Italo Balbo Italian Marshal of the Air Force and minister

Italo Balbo was an Italian Blackshirt leader who served as Italy's Marshal of the Air Force, Governor-General of Libya, Commander-in-Chief of Italian North Africa, and the "heir apparent" to Italian dictator Benito Mussolini.

Territorial agreements with European powers

Expansion of Italian Libya.
territories ceded by the Ottoman Empire in 1912
territories ceded by France in 1919
Kufra District conquered in 1919 and 1931
territories ceded by Britain in 1926
territories ceded by Britain in 1934
territories ceded by France in 1935 Territorial growth of Italian Libya.svg
Expansion of Italian Libya.
 territories ceded by the Ottoman Empire in 1912
 territories ceded by France in 1919
 Kufra District conquered in 1919 and 1931
 territories ceded by Britain in 1926
 territories ceded by Britain in 1934
  territories ceded by France in 1935

The colony expanded after concessions from the British colony of Sudan and a territorial agreement with Egypt. The Kufra district was nominally attached to British-occupied Egypt until 1925, but in fact remained a headquarters for the Senussi resistance until conquered by the Italians in 1931. The Kingdom of Italy at the 1919 Paris "Conference of Peace" received nothing from German colonies, but as a compensation Great Britain gave it the Oltre Giuba and France agreed to give some Saharan territories to Italian Libya. [8]

After prolonged discussions through the 1920s, in 1935 under the Mussolini-Laval agreement Italy received the Aouzou strip, which was added to Libya. However this agreement was not ratified later by France.

In 1931, the towns of El Tag and Al Jawf were taken over by Italy. British Egypt had ceded Kufra and Jarabub to Italian Libya on December 6, 1925, but it was not until the early 1930s that Italy was in full control of the place. In 1931, during the campaign of Cyrenaica, General Rodolfo Graziani easily conquered Kufra District, considered a strategic region, leading about 3,000 soldiers from infantry and artillery, supported by about twenty bombers. Ma'tan as-Sarra was turned over to Italy in 1934 as part of the Sarra Triangle to colonial Italy by the Anglo-Egyptian Condominium, who considered the area worthless and so an act of cheap appeasement to Benito Mussolini's attempts at empire. [9] [9] During this time, the Italian colonial forces built a World War I–style fort in El Tag in the mid-1930s.

World War II

In 1939 some Libyans were granted special (though limited) Italian citizenship by Royal Decree No. 70 on 9 January 1939. This citizenship was necessary for any Libyan with ambitions to rise in the military or civil organizations. The recipients were officially referred to as Moslem Italians. Libya had become the fourth shore of Italy”(Trye 1998). The incorporation of Libya into the Italian Empire gave the Italian Army a greater ability to exploit native Libyans for military service. Native Libyans served in Italian formations from the beginning of the Italian occupation of Libya. On 1 March 1940, the 1st and 2nd Libyan Divisions were formed. These Libyan Infantry divisions were organized along the lines of the binary Italian infantry division. The 5th Italian Army received the 2nd Libyan Infantry division which it incorporated into the 13th corps. The Italian 10th Army received the 1st Libyan Infantry Division which it incorporated into the reserve. The Italian Libyan infantry divisions were colonial formations ("colonial" in the sense of consisting of native troops). These formations had Italian officers commanding them with Libyan NCOs and soldiers. These native Libyan formations were made up of people drawn from the coastal Libyan populations. The training and readiness of these divisions was on an equal footing with the regular Italian formations in North Africa. Their professionalism and 'esprit de corps' made them some of the best Italian infantry formations in North Africa. The Libyan divisions were loyal to Italy and provided a good combat record. [10]

In 1940 the Libyans in the coastal areas were granted Italian citizenship as part of the fascist efforts to create the Imperial Italy in Tripolitania and Cyrenaica. This reduced the appeal of the Libyan resistance movement to a few Arab/Berbers populations of the Fezzan area only, but this was practically non-existent until the arrival of French troops in the area in 1942. [11]

Italian Zaptie camel cavalry in 1940. CamelSpahisinItalianLibya.jpg
Italian Zaptié camel cavalry in 1940.

After the enlargement of Italian Libya with the Aouzou Strip, Fascist Italy aimed at further extension to the south. Indeed Italian plans, in the case of a war against France and Great Britain, projected the extension of Libya as far south as Lake Chad and the establishment of a broad land bridge between Libya and Italian East Africa. [12] During World War II, there was strong support for Italy from many Muslim Libyans, who enrolled in the Italian Army. Other Libyan troops (the Savari [cavalry regiments] and the Spahi or mounted police) had been fighting for the Kingdom of Italy since the 1920s. A number of major battles took place in Libya during the North African Campaign of World War II. In September 1940, the Italian invasion of Egypt was launched from Libya. [13]

Italian Libya as the 4th Shore was the southern part of "Imperial Italy" (orange borders), a Fascist project to enlarge Italy's national borders GreaterItalia.jpg
Italian Libya as the 4th Shore was the southern part of "Imperial Italy" (orange borders), a Fascist project to enlarge Italy's national borders

Starting in December of the same year, the British Eighth Army launched a counterattack called Operation Compass and the Italian forces were pushed back into Libya. After losing all of Cyrenaica and almost all of its Tenth Army, Italy asked for German assistance to aid the failing campaign [14]

With German support, the lost Libyan territory was regained during Operation Sonnenblume and by the conclusion of Operation Brevity, German and Italian forces were entering Egypt. The first Siege of Tobruk in April 1941 marked the first failure of Rommel's Blitzkrieg tactics. In 1942 there was the Battle of Gazala, when the Axis troops finally conquered Tobruk and pushed the defeated British troops inside Egypt again. Defeat during the Second Battle of El Alamein in Egypt spelled doom for the Axis forces in Libya and meant the end of the Western Desert Campaign.

Wrecked Italian aircraft at the destroyed Castel Benito airport in Tripoli in 1943. Wrecked Italian aircraft at Tripoli 1943.jpg
Wrecked Italian aircraft at the destroyed Castel Benito airport in Tripoli in 1943.

In February 1943, retreating German and Italian forces were forced to abandon Libya as they were pushed out of Cyrenaica and Tripolitania, thus ending Italian jurisdiction and control over Libya.

The Fezzan was occupied by the Free French in 1943. At the close of World War II the British and French collaborated with the small new resistance. France and the United Kingdom decided to make King Idris the Emir of an independent Libya in 1951.

Libya would finally become independent in 1951. [15]

Independence and contemporary relations

Tripoli Cathedral and the former FIAT centre (Meydan al Gaza'ir) during the 1960s. LA CATTEDRALE DI TRIPOLI 1960.jpg
Tripoli Cathedral and the former FIAT centre (Meydan al Gaza'ir) during the 1960s.

Under the terms of the 1947 peace treaty with the Allies, Italy relinquished all claims to Libya. [16] Tripolitania and Cyrenaica were under British military administration, while the French controlled Fezzan. On November 21, 1949, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution stating that Libya should become independent before January 1, 1952. On December 24, 1951, Libya declared its independence as the United Kingdom of Libya, a constitutional and hereditary monarchy. The Italian population virtually disappeared after the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi ordered the expulsion of remaining Italians (about 20,000) in 1970. [17] Only a few hundred of them were allowed to return to Libya in the 2000s.

On 30 August 2008, Gaddafi and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi signed a historic cooperation treaty in Benghazi. [18] [19] [20] Under its terms, Italy would pay $5 billion to Libya as compensation for its former military occupation. [21] In exchange, Libya would take measures to combat illegal immigration coming from its shores and boost investments in Italian companies. [19] [22] The treaty was ratified by Italy on 6 February 2009, [18] and by Libya on 2 March, during a visit to Tripoli by Berlusconi. [19] [23] Cooperation ended in February 2011 as a result of the Libyan Civil War which overthrew Gaddafi. At the signing ceremony of the document, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi recognized historic atrocities and repression committed by the state of Italy against the Libyan people during colonial rule, stating: "In this historic document, Italy apologizes for its killing, destruction and repression of the Libyan people during the period of colonial rule." and went on to say that this was a "complete and moral acknowledgement of the damage inflicted on Libya by Italy during the colonial era". [24]

On 26 September 2011, Italian energy company Eni announced it had restarted oil production in Libya for the first time since the start of the 2011 Libyan civil war. The quick return of Eni to Libyan oilfields reflected the positive relations between Rome and Tripoli. [25]

The Italian embassy in Tripoli is one of the few Western embassies still active in Libya during the Post-civil war violence in Libya, due the fact that Italy is the most important trade partner for Libya. [26] [27]

Colonial administration

Provinces of Italian Libya in 1938. Administrative subdivision of Italian Libya.jpg
Provinces of Italian Libya in 1938.

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). The colony was subdivided into four provincial governatores (Commissariato Generale Provinciale) and a southern military territory (Territorio Militare del Sud or Territorio del Sahara Libico): [28]

The general provincial commissionerhips were further divided into wards (circondari). [28] On 9 January 1939, a decree law transformed the commissariats into provinces within the metropolitan territory of the Kingdom of Italy. [28] Libya was thus formally annexed to Italy and the coastal area was nicknamed the "Fourth Shore" (Quarta Sponda). Key towns and wards of the colony became Italian municipalities ( comune ) governed by a podestà . [28]

Governors-General of Libya


Arrival of the first Italian locomotive in the harbour of Tripoli, 1912 The first Locomotive arrived in Tripoli Harbor.jpg
Arrival of the first Italian locomotive in the harbour of Tripoli, 1912

In 1939, key population figures for Italian Libya were as follows: [2]

Ethnic groupPopulation% of total

Population of the main urban centres:

Tripoli 47,44247,12318,467113,212
Benghazi 23,07540,3313,39566,801
Misrata 1,73544,38797747,099
Derna 3,56213,55539117,508

Settler colonialism

Villaggio Oberdan (now Battah) in Cyrenaica Battah, Libya.jpg
Villaggio Oberdan (now Battah) in Cyrenaica

Many Italians were encouraged to settle in Libya during the Fascist period, notably in the coastal areas. [29] The annexation of Libya's coastal provinces in 1939 brought them to be an integral part of metropolitan Italy that were the focus of Italian settlement. [30]

The population of Italian settlers in Libya increased rapidly after the Great Depression: in 1927, they were just about 26,000 of them, by 1931 they were 44,600, 66,525 in 1936 and eventually, in 1939, they numbered 119,139, or 13% of the total population. [2]

They were concentrated on the Mediterranean coast, especially in the main urban centres and in the farmlands around the city of Tripoli (constituting 41% of the city's population) and Benghazi (35% of the city's population) where they found jobs in the construction boom fuelled by Fascist interventionist policies.

In 1938, Governor Italo Balbo brought 20,000 Italian farmers to settle in Libya, and 27 new villages were founded, mainly in Cyrenaica. [31]

Attitudes and behaviour towards the Libyan indigenous population

Inmates at the El Agheila concentration camp during the Pacification of Libya. The camp was recorded as having a population of 10,900 people. Al-Magroon Concentration Camp.jpg
Inmates at the El Agheila concentration camp during the Pacification of Libya. The camp was recorded as having a population of 10,900 people.

With the pacification of Libya initiated in response to a major rebellion by indigenous Libyans against Italian colonial rule, there were mass deaths of indigenous people in Cyrenaica - one quarter of Cyrenaica's population of 225,000 people died during the conflict. [33] Italy committed major war crimes during the conflict, including the use of illegal chemical weapons, episodes of refusing to take prisoners of war and instead executing surrendering combatants, and mass executions of civilians. [34] Italian authorities committed ethnic cleansing by forcibly expelling 100,000 Bedouin Cyrenaicans, almost half the population of Cyrenaica, from their settlements, slated to be given to Italian settlers. [35] [36]

The Italian occupation also reduced the number of livestock by killing, confiscation or driving the animals from their pastoral land to inhospitable land near the concentration camps. [37] Number of sheep fell from 810,000 in 1926 to 98,000 in 1933, goats from 70,000 to 25,000 and camels from 75,000 to 2,000. [37]

Arab Lictor Youth (GAL) members. GAL-Arab Lictor Youth in uniforms.PNG
Arab Lictor Youth (GAL) members.

From 1930 to 1931 during the Pacification, 12,000 Cyrenaicans were executed and all the nomadic peoples of northern Cyrenaica were forcefully removed from the region and relocated to huge concentration camps in the Cyrenaican lowlands. [38] Propaganda by the Fascist regime declared the camps to be oases of modern civilization that were hygienic and efficiently run - however in reality the camps had poor sanitary conditions as the camps had an average of about 20,000 Beduoins together with their camels and other animals, crowded into an area of one square kilometre. [39] The camps held only rudimentary medical services, with the camps of Soluch and Sisi Ahmed el Magrun with an estimated 33,000 internees having only one doctor between them. [39] Typhus and other diseases spread rapidly in the camps as the people were physically weakened by meagre food rations provided to them and forced labour. [39] By the time the camps closed in September 1933, 40,000 of the 100,000 total internees had died in the camps. [39]

Ascari del Cielo, Libyan paratroopers of the Italian Army Parafromitalianlibya.jpg
Ascari del Cielo, Libyan paratroopers of the Italian Army

After the full Libya pacification, the Italian government changed policy toward the local population: in December 1934, individual freedom, inviolability of home and property, the right to join the military or civil administrations, and the right to freely pursue a career or employment were guaranteed to Libyans. [40]

In a famous trip by Mussolini to Libya in 1937, a propaganda event was created where Mussolini met with Muslim Arab dignitaries, who gave him an honorary sword (that had actually been made in Florence) which was to symbolize Mussolini as a protector of the Muslim Arab peoples there. [41]

In January 1939, Italy annexed territories in Libya that it considered Italy's Fourth Shore, with Libya's four coastal provinces of Tripoli, Misurata, Bengasi, and Derna becoming an integral part of metropolitan Italy. [30] At the same time indigenous Libyans were granted "Special Italian Citizenship" which required such people to be literate and confined this type of citizenship to be valid in Libya only. [30]

In 1939, laws were passed that allowed Muslims to be permitted to join the National Fascist Party and in particular the Muslim Association of the Lictor (Associazione Musulmana del Littorio). This allowed the creation of Libyan military units within the Italian army. [42] In March 1940, two divisions of Libyan colonial troops (for a total of 30,090 native Muslim soldiers) were created and in summer 1940 the first and second Divisions of Fanteria Libica (Libyan infantry) participated in the Italian offensive against the British Empire's Egypt: [43] 1 Libyan Division Sibelle and 2 Libyan Division Pescatori.


In 1936, the main sectors of economic activity in Italian Libya (by number of employees) were industry (30.4%), public administration (29.8%), agriculture and fishing (16.7%), commerce (10.7%), transports (5.8%), domestic work (3.8%), legal profession and private teaching (1.3%), banking and insurance (1.1%). [2]

Infrastructure improvements

The Via Balbia at the Marble Arch in 1937 Arch of the Philaeni 01.jpg
The Via Balbia at the Marble Arch in 1937

Italians greatly developed the two main cities of Libya, Tripoli and Benghazi [44] , with new ports and airports, new hospitals and schools and many new roads & buildings.

The famous Berenice Albergo Berenice Hotel, Benghazi.jpg
The famous Berenice Albergo

Also tourism was improved and a huge & modern "Grand Hotel" was built in Tripoli and in Bengasi.

The Fascist regime, especially during Depression years, emphasized infrastructure improvements and public works. In particular, Governor Italo Balbo hugely expanded Libyan railway and road networks from 1934 to 1940, building hundreds of kilometers of new roads and railways and encouraging the establishment of new industries and dozen of new agricultural villages [45] The massive Italian investment did little to improve Libyan quality of life, as the purpose was to develop the economy for the benefit of Italy and Italian settlers. [37]

The Italian aim was to drive the local population to the marginal land in the interior and to resettle the Italian population in the most fertile lands of Libya. [37] The Italians did provide the Libyans with some initial education but minimally improved native administration. The Italian population (about 10% of the total population) had 81 elementary schools in 1939-1940, while the Libyans (more than 85% of total population) had 97. [37] There were only three secondary schools for Libyans by 1940, two in Tripoli and one in Benghazi. [46]

The Libyan economy substantially grew in the late 1930s, mainly in the agricultural sector. Even some manufacturing activities were developed, mostly related to the food industry. Building construction increased immensely. Furthermore, the Italians made modern medical care available for the first time in Libya and improved sanitary conditions in the towns.

The Italians started numerous and diverse businesses in Tripolitania and Cyrenaica. These included an explosives factory, railway workshops, Fiat Motor works, various food processing plants, electrical engineering workshops, ironworks, water plants, agricultural machinery factories, breweries, distilleries, biscuit factories, a tobacco factory, tanneries, bakeries, lime, brick and cement works, Esparto grass industry, mechanical saw mills, and the Petrolibya Society (Trye 1998). Italian investment in her colony was to take advantage of new colonists and to make it more self-sufficient. (General Staff War Office 1939, 165/b). [47]

By 1939, the Italians had built 400 kilometres (250 mi) of new railroads and 4,000 kilometres (2,500 mi) of new roads. The most important and largest highway project was the Via Balbo, an east-west coastal route connecting Tripoli in western Italian Tripolitania to Tobruk in eastern Italian Cyrenaica. Most of these projects and achievements were completed between 1934 and 1940 when Italo Balbo was governor of Italian Libya, as it became the Fourth Shore. [48]

The last railway development in Libya done by the Italians was the Tripoli-Benghazi line that was started in 1941 and was never completed because of the Italian defeat during World War II. [49]

Archaeology and tourism

1937 Tripoli Grand Prix TripoliGrandPrix1937.jpg
1937 Tripoli Grand Prix
Part of a series on the
History of Libya
The emblem on the passport of Libya.svg
Ancient history pre-146 BC
Roman era to 640 AD
Islamic rule 6401510
Spanish rule 15101530
Order of Saint John 15301551
Ottoman Tripolitania 15511911
Italian colonization 19111934
Italian Libya 19341947
Allied occupation 19471951
Kingdom of Libya 19511969
Libya under Muammar Gaddafi 19692011
First Civil War 2011
National Transitional Council 20112012
General National Congress 20122014
House of Representatives 2014present
Second Civil War 2014present
Government of National Accord 2016present
Flag of Libya.svg Libyaportal

Classical archaeology was used by the Italian authorities as a propaganda tool to justify their presence in the region. Before 1911, no archeological research was done in Tripolitania and Cyrenaica. By the late 1920s the Italian government had started funding excavations in the main Roman cities of Leptis Magna and Sabratha (Cyrenaica was left for later excavations because of the ongoing colonial war against Muslim rebels in that province). A result of the fascist takeover was that all foreign archaeological expeditions were forced out of Libya, and all archeological work was consolidated under a centralised Italian excavation policy, which exclusively benefitted Italian museums and journals. [50]

After Cyrenaica's full 'pacification', the Italian archaeological efforts in the 1930s were more focused on the former Greek colony of Cyrenaica than in Tripolitania, which was a Punic colony during the Greek period. [50] The rejection of Phoenician research was partly because of anti-Semitic reasons (the Phoenicians were a Semitic people, distantly related to the Arabs and Jews). [50] Of special interest were the Roman colonies of Leptis Magna and Sabratha, and the preparation of these sites for archaeological tourism. [50]

Tourism was further promoted by the creation of the Tripoli Grand Prix, a racing car event of international importance. [51]

See also


  1. The territory was under dispute of ownership between Italy and the United Kingdom, and it was officially conquered by Italy in 1931

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Cyrenaica Place

Cyrenaica is the eastern coastal region of Libya. Also known as Pentapolis in antiquity, it formed part of the Roman province of Crete and Cyrenaica, later divided into Libya Pentapolis and Libya Sicca. During the Islamic period, the area came to be known as Barqa, after the city of Barca.

Subdivisions of Libya

Subdivisions of Libya have varied significantly over the last two centuries. Initially Libya under Ottoman and Italian control was organized into three to four provinces, then into three governorates (muhafazah) and after World War II into twenty-five districts (baladiyah). Successively into thirty-two districts (shabiyat) with three administrative regions, and then into twenty-two districts (shabiyat). In 2012 the ruling General National Congress divided the country into governorates (muhafazat) and districts (baladiyat). While the districts have been created, the governorates have not.

Provinces of Libya

The Provinces of Libya were prescribed in 1934, during the last period of colonial Italian Libya, and continued through post-independence Libya until 1963 when the Governorates system was instituted.

The history of Libya as an Italian colony began in the 1910s and lasted until February 1947, when Italy officially lost all the colonies of the former Italian Empire. It can be divided in two periods: the first from 1911 to 1934 called "Italian colonization" and the second from 1934 called "Italian Libya".

The military history of Libya covers the period from the ancient era to the modern age.

Italian imperialism under Fascism

Imperialism, colonialism and irredentism played an important role in the foreign policy of Fascist Italy. Among the regime's goals were the acquisition of territory considered historically Italian in France and Yugoslavia, the expansion of Italy's sphere of influence into the Balkans and the acquisition of more colonies in Africa. The pacification of Libya (1923–32), the invasion of Ethiopia (1935–36), the invasion of Albania (1939), the invasion of France (1940), the invasion of Greece (1940–41) and the invasion of Yugoslavia (1941) were all undertaken in part to add to Italy's national space.

Italian Tripolitania 1927-1934 Italian possession in North Africa

Italian Tripolitania was an Italian colony, located in present-day western Libya, that existed from 1912 to 1934. It was part of the Italian North African territory conquered from the Ottoman Empire in 1911. Italian Tripolitania included the western northern half of Libya, with Tripoli as its main city.

Italian Cyrenaica 1927-1934 Italian possession in North Africa

Italian Cyrenaica was an Italian colony, located in present-day eastern Libya, that existed from 1912 to 1934. It was part of the Italian North African territory conquered from the Ottoman Empire in 1911. The administrative capital was Benghazi.

Libyan Coastal Highway road in Libya

The Libyan Coastal Highway, formerly the Litoranea Balbo, is a highway that is the only major road that runs along the entire east-west length of the Libyan Mediterranean coastline. It is a section in the Cairo–Dakar Highway #1 in the Trans-African Highway system of the African Union, Arab Maghreb Union and others.

Postage stamps and postal history of Libya

This is a survey of the postage stamps and postal history of Libya. Libya is a country located 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.

Tripoli Province

Tripoli Province was one of the provinces of Libya under Italian rule. It was established in 1937, with the official name: Commissariato Generale Provinciale di Tripoli. It lasted until 1947.

Allied administration of Libya

The Allied administration of Libya was the control of the ex-Italian colony of Libya by the Allies from 1947 until Libyan independence was granted in 1951. It was divided into the following:

Southern Military Territory

The Southern Military Territory refers to the jurisdictional territory within the colony of Italian Libya (1911–1947), administered by the Italian military in the Libyan Sahara.

Jews of Libya during the Holocaust

Conditions worsened for the Jews of Libya after the passage of Italy's Manifesto of Race in 1938. Following the German intervention in 1941, some of the Jews of Libya were sent to camps in continental Europe, where those who survived stayed until the end of World War II.

4th Shore

The 4th Shore, in Italian Quarta Sponda, was the name created by Benito Mussolini to refer to the Mediterranean shore of coastal colonial Italian Libya and WW II Italian Tunisia in the fascist era Kingdom of Italy, during the late Italian Colonial Empire period of Libya and the Maghreb.

Postage stamps of Italian Libya

Postage stamps of Italian Libya were stamps issued by the Kingdom of Italy for use in Italian Libya, between 1912 and 1943.


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