Benghazi is the second most populous city in Libya and the largest in Cyrenaica.
A port on the Mediterranean Sea in the Kingdom of Libya, Benghazi had joint-capital status alongside Tripoli, possibly because the King and the Senussi royal family were associated with Cyrenaica rather than Tripolitania.
The city was also provisional capital of the National Transitional Council. Benghazi continues to hold institutions and organizations normally associated with a national capital city, such as the country's parliament, national library, and the headquarters of Libyan Airlines, the national airline, and of the National Oil Corporation.
This creates a constant atmosphere of rivalry and sensitivities between Benghazi and Tripoli, and between Cyrenaica and Tripolitania. The population was 670,797 at the 2006 census.
On 15 February 2011, an uprising against the government of Muammar Gaddafi occurred in the city. The revolts spread by 17 February to Bayda, Tobruk, Ajdabya, Al Marj in the East and Zintan, Zawiya in the West, calling for the end of the Gaddafi Regime. Benghazi was taken by Gaddafi opponents on 21 February, who founded the National Transitional Council.
On 19 March, the city was the site of the turning point of the Libyan Civil War, when the Libyan Army attempted to score a decisive victory against the NTC by attacking Benghazi, but was forced back by local resistance and intervention from the French Air Force authorized by UNSC Resolution 1973 to protect civilians, allowing the rebellion to continue.
On 11 September 2012, the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi was attacked by a heavily armed group of 125-150 gunmen, whose trucks bore the logo of Ansar al-Sharia, a group of Islamist militants, also known as Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula,working with the local government to manage security in Benghazi.
U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, Foreign Service Information Management Officer (IMO) Sean Smith, and CIA contractors and former Navy SEALS Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty were killed during a series of raids, commencing at nightfall and continuing into the next morning. Ten others were injured.
As with other cities in Libya, there is a reasonable amount of ethnic diversity in Benghazi. The people of eastern Libya, Benghazi included, have in the past always been of predominantly Arab descent. In recent times, however, there has been an influx of African immigrants into Benghazi.
There are also many Egyptian immigrants in Benghazi. A small Greek community also exists in Benghazi. The Greek island of Crete is a short distance from Benghazi and many families in Benghazi today bear Cretan surnames. There are even a few Italian-related families, left from the colonial times before World War II.
The overwhelming majority of Libyans in Benghazi are of Arab descent, though there is a minority of Berber descent. In the 11th century, the Sa'ada tribe from the Bani Salim migrated to Cyrenaica; each sub tribe from the Sa'adi historically controlled a section of Cyrenaica.
Benghazi and its surrounding areas were controlled by Barghathi tribe. In modern times, Benghazi has seen a lot of Libyans from different parts of the country move into the city, especially since the Kingdom era.
Many came to Benghazi from Misrata. Thus Benghazi has always been seen as a welcoming city, a city which the local Bedouins refer to as 'Benghazi rabayit al thayih' which can be translated as, 'Benghazi raises the lost' as many immigrants who arrived from the Western Maghreb or the former Al Andalus came with little money, clothes or food and were looked after very generously by the local Bedouin population as well as those arriving following the Italian war from western Libya.
The predominant religion in Benghazi is Islam. Practically all of the city's inhabitants are Sunni Muslims. During Islamic holidays such as Ramadan, most abstain from food; restaurants are usually empty during the day, with the exception of some expatriates and tourists.
Alcohol is banned by law in Benghazi and throughout Libya in accordance with Islamic principles. The conservative Islamic nature of Benghazi creates a strong sense of family life in the city – practically all teenagers and young adults live at home until they get married.
Many Muslims in Benghazi adhere to the traditional Maliki school of religious law, however much less so than in decades past. In recent years, more people are beginning to practice Salafism with the spread of literalist inclined Islamic television channels.
It is not uncommon therefore to see woman wearing black niqabs and men with full beards in Benghazi because of the existence of such schools, although not exclusively for that purpose.
The Senussi order from which the royal dynasty sprang has traditionally enjoyed strong support in Benghazi and the Cyrenaica.
For Muslims, there are many mosques throughout Benghazi; the oldest and best known such as the Atiq and Osman mosques are located in and around the medina.
There is also a small Christian community in the city. The Roman Catholic Apostolic Vicariate of Benghazi's Franciscan Church of the Immaculate Conception serves Benghazi's Latin Catholic community of roughly 4,000; there is also a decommossioned cathedral church,1929-1939; closed 1977; under restoration since 2009. For Egyptian Copts, there is a Coptic Orthodox church which was formerly the grand synagogue with two serving priests.
Jews lived in Benghazi as they did elsewhere in Libya, from Roman times until 1967 when most were airlifted out after a series of riots in the years after the 1948 Arab–Israeli War. There are no Jews remaining in Libya today.
The oldest university in Libya is the University of Libya, founded by royal decree in 1955. It was initially housed in the royal Al Manar Palace before receiving its own campus in 1968. It was later split and became known as University of Benghazi. There are some private universities such as Libyan International Medical University.
Education in Benghazi, as is throughout Libya, is compulsory and free. Compulsory education continues up until ninth grade. There are many public primary and secondary schools scattered throughout the city as well as some private schools.
University education is also free for all Libyan citizens in Benghazi. There are many other foreign schools such as Benghazi European School & private schools but G.International is the best for the wards.
The country's largest library containing over 300,000 volumes is affiliated with the university.
International schools include:
International School Benghazi
Benghazi European School
British School in Benghazi
Although Benghazi does not have a high percentage of green space per resident, there are a few public parks and green recreational areas in the city. Perhaps the most famous is the zoological garden and theme park in Al-Fuwayhat; the park is referred to locally as al-Bosco, a colloquial Italian name for zoo/forest.
The park is a combination of a zoo full of trees built during Italian rule which contains wild cats, primates, elephants, birds and other animals and a small theme park of electric rides, added later in the 1980s as part of a redevelopment of the entire site.
It is one of the most popular parks in Benghazi, and is very busy on public holidays, as well as amongst school children and scouts on outings.
On Gamal Abdel Nasser Street is 23 July Park, another large green space which faces the Tibesti Hotel and borders the waterfront. The park is popular amongst teenagers, and families on Thursday nights (as Friday is a day off work throughout Libya).
Another large and popular park is al-Buduzira in North Benghazi on the al-'Uruba Road in al-Kwayfiya. The park surrounds a natural lake, and is more rugged in nature than the city parks. A section of al-Buduzira is also a water park with large slides, whilst the southern part of the park has picnic areas which are popular in the summers.
The city is divided into many neighbourhoods, some of which were founded during Italian Colonial rule and many which have developed as a result of modern urban sprawl. The different neighbourhoods vary in their levels of economic prosperity, as well as their cultural, historic and social atmosphere.
Generally, the city is roughly divided into the following areas: Central Benghazi (colloquially referred to as al-Blaad by locals) – includes the medina, and the old quarter, Central Districts which circle the downtown – Al-Sabri, Sidi Abayd, Sidi Hsayn, Al-Berka, Al-Salmani, Al-Hadaa'ik, Al-Fuwayhat and Al-Keesh, Central Suburbs – Al-Laythi, Bu Atni, Al-Quwarsha, Al-Hawari, Coastal Districts – Al-Kwayfiya (North), Garyounis, Bu-Fakhra and Jarrutha (South), and the Distant Suburbs – Gimeenis, Benina and Sidi Khalifa.
Central Benghazi is where the majority of Benghazi's historical monuments are located, and has the city's most popular tourist attractions. Virtually all of Benghazi's theatres, libraries, best clothing stores, markets and old mosques can be found there. The Italian quarter is also located in the centre. The central districts are mostly residential and commercial areas such as Sidi Hsayn.
The central suburbs are almost entirely residential and more like little towns in their own right; Al-Quwarsha is a good example of this. The coastal districts (especially the southern districts) are where Benghazi's beaches can be found. Some sections have become more popular as residential areas in recent years (such as Qanfuda).
These areas are still primarily recreational however, and many beach condominium resorts (known locally as chalets) have been built in previous years such as those at al-Nakheel beach, and the Nayrouz condominiums.
Benghazi is one of the cultural centres of Libya and is a base for tourists, visitors and academics in the region. Throughout its history, Benghazi has developed with a certain level of independence from the more Maghreb oriented capital Tripoli. This has influenced the city, and as such, the cultural atmosphere in Benghazi is more Arab in nature than that in Tripoli.
An influx immigrants including Egyptian, Iraqi, Palestinian, Sudanese and Syrian immigrants have also influenced the city's culture to a certain extent in recent years.
The city centre contains a few local theatres, as well as the Dar al-Kutub National Library in Al-Funduq, where the works of popular local novelists like Sadeq Naihoum and Khalifa al-Fakhri can be found.
Different architectural styles attest to the different empires that have controlled the city throughout history. Sport is also important in the city; two of Libya's most successful football clubs are based in Benghazi.
Food and drink is very important to the culture of the people of Benghazi, as it is in the rest of Libya. Many of the dishes and ingredients used are passed down as tradition from generation to generation. The main ingredients that are used in their cuisine are olive oil, garlic, palm dates, grains, and milk.
These products are natural to this area, and these ingredients are very common to much of North Africa and the Mediterranean. Another tradition of Libyan culinary culture is tea. Tea from Benghazi has a uniquely thick, bitter taste.
Tea drinking is a social activity that close friends and relatives usually take part in.
Benghazi is home to many distinctive dishes that can be prepared in the home. Bazin is one of the most well known of these dishes. Bazin is a dish consisting of a small loaf of heated dough and a meat or vegetable sauce. The dough can be ripped into bite-sized pieces and dipped into the sauce.
This dish uses essential ingredients such as garlic and oil. Other dishes like Couscous are more well known around the world and adopted by other cultures. One common dessert that can be found in Benghazi is deep fried dates. These are often served with milk.
Benghazi is a transport hub in Eastern Libya and is an important city on the northern coastal road that crosses the country. An efficiently designed system of roads, bridges and underpasses cover Benghazi, however traffic jams and poorly maintained streets are not uncommon.
A microbus system covers many areas of the city and has its base in Al-Funduq. National and international bus services also leave from Al-Fudnuq from the central bus station. As of 2010, earthworks were underway in the city for a rail network which will traverse northern Libya.
Benina International Airport serves national and international flights.
The Benghazi port is a vital terminal for the region, and allows for the import and export of national and international goods and food products.
The city's road network is generally well designed. An efficient system of highways, flyovers, ringroads and underpasses serve the city, and allow for the transport of goods and vehicles. The roads are not always well-maintained however, and often have incorrect, poorly visible or no road markings, as well as potholes in some roads and inner-city streets.
In recent years, a rapid increase in car ownership has meant that traffic jams, lack of parking spaces and overcrowding are also not uncommon, especially on smaller streets. Road accidents are also on the rise because of the increase in vehicles and the subsequent lax in attention given by authorities to dangerous driving.
In a rare RTA conflict health study, road traffic accidents were studied during the period of the 2011 armed conflict, in which Benghazi was a focal point of events. It was found that while the number of road traffic accidents had decreased during the period of the war, the morbidity and mortality of the injured had increased significantly.
There is no systemised public transport system in Benghazi despite the city's size and significance. A popular system of microbuses has developed in recent years; bus journeys run on fixed routes and passengers can embark and disembark anywhere on the route. Most microbuses stop at Al-Funduq or have the end of Souq Al-Jarid in Al-Funduq as their final destination.
National and international coach services depart and arrive at Benghazi's coach station at Al-Funduq with regular journeys to Tripoli, as well as international services to Cairo, Amman and Damascus.