Our first stop on a tour of Tripoli is a cemetery in the city. Our guide for the day opens a door in a wall, and we immediately leave the city behind and step into an area of peace when we walk inside. We are greeted by caretakers who are from Burkina Faso and happy to speak French with us, and surprised that we have both been to their country. We will find a large number of West Africans working in Tripoli, saving up money to finance their hoped escape to Europe. Our guide tells us that Tripoli was an important base for the Axis powers in the Second World War, until it was taken by Montgomery in 1943. The battles fought in North Africa between 1940 and 1943 with German general Rommel are legendary. Here, at this cemetery in Tripoli, lie 1369 servicemen, most of whom died in hospitals in Tripoli.
This section is well kept: it turns out that the Commonwealth War Graves Commission still funds the maintenance. The grass is cut, the lines of tombstones are still intact. In the central area, a group of palm trees towers above the graves. We start exploring the tombstones, reading the inscriptions. These were young men who died in the North African theatre of the Second World War, some not even twenty years old. Every tombstone has its own inscription, most with a name, and a personal dedication by the parents, some already with a wife and children. There are several without a name. At the far end, we see a section with foreign fighters, many from Sudan: their tombs are facing a different direction. We are surrounded by silence, the noise of the city seems far away, even though the cemetery is surrounded on all sides by modern buildings.
We walk to the next section, the Italian municipal christian cemetery which has a completely different look. Here, grass is growing over many tombs, we find several vandalised graves: there clearly is no maintenance here. We meet a couple of foreigners living in Tripoli who are here to see how they can restore the tomb of their recently friend who died just two years before. Shockingly, his grave has been vandalised as well: another sign that the situation in Libya is still very insecure, and that there is a lack of authority, or even respect for the dead. Close by, we see old monuments and mausolea, all in need of repair. The main entrance is actually on this side of the cemetery, but currently closed. The war situation in Libya is not only detrimental to the living, but also has its effect on those who died long ago.
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