South from Barbary

Published by HarperCollins on 8th May 2001

“In one of Tripoli’s few English-language bookshops I picked up the book that for the first time thrust the desert before me in all its guises. Here was silence and loneliness, the glory of wide African skies, unbroken plains of sand and rock, loyalty and companionship, adventure, treachery and betrayal.”

For six years after reading the account of the British North African expedition of 1818-20, Justin Marozzi had longed to cross the Libyan Sahara by camel. Captivated by the beauty of this little-known country in his first visit to Tripoli, he vowed to return to explore its vast desert along the old slave trade routes. South from Barbary – as nineteenth-century Europeans knew North Africa – is the compelling story of his 1,500-mile journey.

Setting off from Tripoli, Marozzi and his travelling companion headed first to the ancient oasis and former slave market of Ghadames on an improbable mission to purchase five camels and find a guide willing to forgo the comfort of a four-wheel drive for the privations of an extended camel trek.

The caravan of two explorers, five faithful camels and a series of idiosyncratic Touareg and Tubbu guides undertook a gruelling journey across some of the most inhospitable territory on earth, overcoming threats from Libyan officialdom and enduring the ancient, natural hardships of the desert.

More than a travelogue, South from Barbary is a fascinating history of Saharan exploration and efforts by early British explorers to supress the African slave trade, which many regarded as “the most gigantic system of wickedness the world ever saw”. It evokes the poetry and solitude of the desert, the misery of the slave trade in action, the companionship of man and beast, the plight of a benighted nation and the humour and generosity of its resilient people.