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Geography of Libya


Libya extends over 1,759,540 square kilometres (679,362 sq mi), making it the 17th largest nation in the world by size. Libya is somewhat smaller than Indonesia in land area, and roughly the size of the US state of Alaska. It is bound to the north by the Mediterranean Sea, the west by Tunisia and Algeria, the southwest by Niger, the south by Chad and Sudan and to the east by Egypt. Libya lies between latitudes 19° and 34°N, and longitudes 9° and 26°E.


The Mediterranean coast and the Sahara Desert are the country's most prominent natural features. There are several highlands but no true mountain ranges except in the largely empty southern desert near the Chadian border, where the Tibesti Massif rises to over 2,200 meters. A relatively narrow coastal strip and highland steppes immediately south of it are the most productive agricultural regions. Still farther south a pastoral zone of sparse grassland gives way to the vast Sahara Desert, a barren wasteland of rocky plateaus and sand. It supports minimal human habitation, and agriculture is possible only in a few scattered oases.

Between the productive lowland agricultural zones lies the Gulf of Sidra, where along the coast a stretch of 500 kilometers of wasteland desert extends northward to the sea. This barren zone, known as the Sirtica, has great historical significance. To its west, the area known as Tripolitania has characteristics and a history similar to those of nearby Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco. It is considered with these states to constitute a supranational region called the Maghrib. To the east, the area known historically as Cyrenaica has been closely associated with the Arab states of the Middle East. In this sense, the Sirtica marks the dividing point between the Maghrib and the Mashriq.

Along the shore of Tripolitania for more than 300 kilometers, coastal oases alternate with sandy areas and lagoons. Inland from these lies the Jifarah Plain, a triangular area of some 15,000 square kilometers. About 120 kilometers inland the plain terminates in an escarpment that rises to form the Nafusa Mountains, with elevations of up to 1,000 meters, which is the northern edge of the Tripolitanian Plateau.