The sprawling palace compounds from which Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi ruled for four decades have been reduced to garbage dumps and pet markets by the 2011 revolution which toppled him.
In the heart of Tripoli, the once feared but now humbled Bab al-Aziziya compound resembles a wasteland.
During his rule, Libyans would be nervous just walking anywhere near the fortress-like seat of the Gaddafi regime.
“People were afraid even to look at the walls, for fear of being arrested,” said Hassan, a Tripoli taxi driver.
All that remains of the compound, which had been hit in a 1986 US air strike before being pounded by NATO four years ago, are a few ruined buildings, the green flooring of Gaddafi’s home and a dug-up network of underground tunnels.
The monument of a gold-coloured fist clenching a US fighter plane was vandalised and sent off to Misrata, a rebel bastion during the revolt which ousted and killed Gaddafi.
At a safe distance from his people, Gaddafi lived behind fortified walls with his wife, their children, close advisers and guards.
Apart from the bedouin tents on which Gaddafi prided himself and which accommodated him on travels abroad, the compound once showcased a zoo, an indoor pool, countless murals and a fairground in its gardens.
Gaddafi had expanded the grounds by knocking down adjacent neighbourhoods.
Bab al-Aziziya “was a symbol of the Gaddafi era. Today, we have destroyed this symbol, we have demolished and razed it to the ground,” said Adel Mohammed Farina, tourism ministry spokesman of a Tripoli-based government.
“He (Gaddafi) will be mentioned briefly in history books and documentaries but nothing of his will remain as it is,” said Farina.
Rebels hastily bulldozed much of the compound when they captured it in August 2011.
Homeless families moved into the few buildings left standing, and initial plans to turn Bab al-Aziziya into a national park have not materialised.
Another of Gaddafi’s homes in Sabha in the south of the country has suffered the same fate.
In the eastern city of Benghazi, birthplace of the revolution and which has since become an Islamist stronghold, traders have converted his more than 10-hectare (25-acre) palace grounds and barracks into a marketplace to sell birds, dogs and other pets.
“We dreamt of a better life after the fall of Gaddafi, but here we are in his ruins,” sighed Mohammed Suleiman, 43, surrounded by children.
“This is a powerful message to the new rulers of Libya. If Gadafi had given us freedom and treated us with dignity, with a decent standard of living, he would still have been here.”
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