The history of Tolmeita, generally know as Ptolemais goes back to the middle of 6th century BC, and the name Ptolemaiswas probably given by Ptolemy III Euergetes, the grandson of Ptolemy I who in 322 BC added the port city to his realm after becoming the ruler of Egypt as successor to Alexander the Great. When the Romans annexed Egypt in the first century BC, they granted Ptolemais the status of a separate province. Since the city had no local water supply, it were the Roman architects who managed to bring in water from the surrounding hills and store it in seventeen huge cisterns under the Forum. It was a flourishing city until it was hit by the destructive earthquake of 365 AD that caused the entire North African coast to drop about four meters. The invasion of the Vandals in 428 probably gave the final blow. The Byzantines moved their military governor to Apollonia?and the Arabs made sure the city was entirely abandoned.
The village is located in a beautiful area between the Green Mountain and the sea, about 30 km east of Almerj (Breqa). It was founded as port to serve Almerj, after it became a busy commercial centre during the sixth century BC, with goods arriving from the nearby ports, such as Alexandria port in Egypt, as well as to export the main produce of the region, like silphium, honey, butter and grains. Tolmeitha rose to fame so quickly and became the capital of Cyrenaica during the 4th and 5th centuries AD. Historical records show that the port was originally called “Berqa Port”, which also indicates the existence of the site before the Greek invasions, after which it became known as Ptolemais. It was thought that the city was founded during the reign of Ptolemy III, after his marriage to the local princess Berenice, who gave her name to ancient Berenice (Benghazi).
Places of interest include the two gate towers of Tocra Gate, the theatre, the stadium, the Basilica, the Roman Villa of Columns, and the museum of Tolmeita , which houses a number of statues, stones, and a small collection of mosaics. Also there are several marble tablets showing various records of the main historical events of the town, as well as some price lists.
Ptolemais also provides a unique experience to tourists, namely the descent to a large complex of underground cisterns under the agora. The capacity of this system of cisterns was said to be 6 million litres of water, originally maintained via a 25 kilometre long aqueduct.
The Museum of Tolmeita
The Museum of Tolmeita, also known as Ptolemais Museum, houses a number of archaeological treasures and ruins that were found in the region, such as statues, including those of the Libyan Medusa and Cleopatra, columns, tablets, burial and funerary objects, and several mosaic floors, from the Punic, Greek, Roman and Byzantine periods. One of the most unique exhibits of the museum, and of historical importance, is a price tablet showing prices of goods in the Roman empire, dating to the 301 AD. The finds have attracted nearly 10000 visitors last year.
The museum was originally a store house used during the Italian occupation, in which a number of archaeological artifacts ended up for storage, and most of which still are, to this day, piled up in its store rooms, yet to catalogued and given a place in the museum. The store house was turned into a museum during the 1960s. Some of the finds are actually still outside the museum with no protection from the elements whatsoever.