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Benghazi, Libya (CNN) — Walking along the tree-lined gravel track towards one of the Roman Empire’s greatest architectural legacies, little can prepare you for what you are about to experience.

As you emerge from the shade of the tall poplars the towering stone edifice that guards Leptis Magna’s approaches appears. It is simultaneously stunning and evocative. Like a blow to the sternum, it quickens the heart.

Septimus Severus’s gate, a tribute to the Roman emperor responsible for much of what remains today, stands astride great Roman roadways.

Severus, like the country’s most recent modern day ruler Moammar Gadhafi, spent lavishly on his hometown transforming it reputedly into the third greatest city in Africa, rivaling Carthage and Alexandria.

Here that empire feels real. The roads east and west marched alongside Africa’s coast, and the roads south to the desert deeper in to African continent and the road north to the harbor, the Mediterranean sea and the wealth of the Roman empire beyond. Read more.

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