The Ancient Greek city that existed within the modern day boundaries of Benghazi was founded around 525 BC; at the time, it was called Euesperides. Euesperides was most likely founded by people from Cyrene or Barce, which was located on the edge of a lagoon which opened from the sea. At the time, this area may have been deep enough to receive small sailing vessels. The name was attributed to the fertility of the neighborhood, which gave rise to the mythological associations of the garden of the Hesperides The ancient city existed on a raised piece of land opposite of what is now the Sidi-Abayd graveyard in the Northern Benghazi suburb of Sbikhat al-Salmani (al-Salmani Marsh).
The city is first mentioned by ancient sources in Herodotus' account of the revolt of Barca and the Persian expedition to Cyrenaica in c. 515 BC, where it is stated that the punitive force sent by the satrap of Egypt conquered Cyrenaica as far west as Euesperides. The oldest coins minted in the city date back to 480 BC. One side of those coins has an engraving of Delphi. The other side is an engraving of a silphium plant, once the symbol of trade from Cyrenaica because of its use as a rich seasoning and as a medicine. The coinage suggests that the city must have enjoyed some autonomy from Cyrene in the early 5th century BC, when the issues of Euesperides had their own types with the legend EU(ES), distinct from those of Cyrene.
The city was in hostile territory and was surrounded by inhospitable tribes. The Greek historian Thucydides mentions a siege of the city in 414 BC, by Libyans who were probably the Nasamones: Euesperides was saved by the unexpected arrival of the Spartan general Gylippus and his fleet, who were blown to Libya by contrary winds on their way to Sicily.
One of the Cyrenean kings whose fate is connected with the city is Arcesilaus IV. The king used his chariot victory at the Pythian Games of 462 BC to attract new settlers to Euesperides, where Arcesilaus hoped to create a safe refuge for himself against the resentment of the people of Cyrene. This proved ineffective, since when the King fled to Euesperides during the anticipated revolution (around 440 BC), he was assassinated, thus terminating the almost 200-year rule of the Battiad dynasty.
An inscription found there and dated around the middle of the 4th century BC states that the city had a constitution similar to that of Cyrene, with a board of chief magistrates (ephors) and a council of elders (gerontes). Later in the 4th century BC, during the unsettled period which followed Alexander's death, the city backed the losing side in a revolt by the Spartan adventurer Thibron; trying to create an empire for himself, he was defeated by the Cyreneans and their Libyan allies.
After the marriage around the middle of the 3rd century BC of Ptolemy III to Berenice, daughter of the Cyrenean Governor Magas, many Cyrenaican cities were renamed to mark the occasion. Euesperides became Berenice and the change of name also involved a relocation. Its desertion was probably due to the silting up of the lagoons; Berenice, the place they moved to, lies underneath Benghazi's modern city centre. The Greek colony had lasted from the 6th to the mid-3rd centuries BC
Benghazi is one of the cultural centres of Libya and is a base for tourists, visitors and academics in the region. Throughout its history, Benghazi has developed with a certain level of independence from the more Maghreb oriented capital Tripoli. This has influenced the city, and as such, the cultural atmosphere in Benghazi is more Arab in nature than that in Tripoli. An influx immigrants including Egyptian, Iraqi, Palestinian, Sudanese and Syrian immigrants have also influenced the city's culture to a certain extent in recent years.
The city centre contains a few local theatres, as well as the Dar al-Kutub National Library in Al-Funduq, where the works of popular local novelists like Sadeq Naihoum and Khalifa al-Fakhri can be found. Different architectural styles attest to the different empires that have controlled the city throughout history. Sport is also important in the city; two of Libya's most successful football clubs are based in Benghazi.
Benghazi, as the principal city of eastern Libya, is one of Libya's major economic centres. The city has an important port which is vital to the economy, as Libya imports many foodstuffs and manufactured products. Benghazi is also an industrial and commercial centre in Libya. Major manufactured goods include processed food, textiles, tanning, processed salt and construction materials, particularly cement; a large cement factory is located in al-Hawari. Food processing is based on local fish, imported goods, and the produce of irrigated coastal lowlands and the nearby Jabal al-Akdhar Mountains, including cereal, dates, olives, wool and meat.
Finance is also important to the city's economy, with the Libyan Bank of Commerce and Development maintaining branches in Benghazi; the Bank's headquarters is a high office tower on Gamal Abdel Nasser Street in el-Berka. Other large banks include the Central Bank of Libya office in the city centre.
The oil industry drives the city's commerce. Large national companies such as the Al-Brega Oil Marketing Company and the Arabian Gulf Oil Company are important to the city's economy and employ many people. An increase in consumer prices has been coupled with an increase in the importance of the retail sector to the city's economy.[when?] In recent years, international franchises such as United Colors of Benetton, H&M and Nike have opened in Benghazi.
Tourism is still in its very early stages in Libya. The industry is however growing in importance in Benghazi. The majority of tourists that visit Eastern Libya use Benghazi as a base for which to explore the Greek ruins in Cyrene or to make desert excursions south in Kufra. The two main hotels in the city are the Tibesti Hotel and Uzu Hotel, and several other hotels have opened in recent years[when?] to cater for increased demand. Handicrafts are found in the many souks in the city, but are of little significance to the economy.
The city is divided into many neighbourhoods, some of which were founded during Italian Colonial rule and many which have developed as a result of modern urban sprawl. The different neighbourhoods vary in their levels of economic prosperity, as well as their cultural, historic and social atmosphere. Generally, the city is roughly divided into the following areas: Central Benghazi (colloquially referred to as al-Blaad by locals) – includes the medina, and the old quarter, Central Districts which circle the downtown – Al-Sabri, Sidi Abayd, Sidi Hsayn, Al-Berka, Al-Salmani, Al-Hadaa'ik, Al-Fuwayhat and Al-Keesh, Central Suburbs – Al-Laythi, Bu Atni, Al-Quwarsha, Al-Hawari, Coastal Districts – Al-Kwayfiya (North), Garyounis, Bu-Fakhra and Jarrutha (South), and the Distant Suburbs – Gimeenis, Benina and Sidi Khalifa.
Central Benghazi is where the majority of Benghazi's historical monuments are located, and has the city's most popular tourist attractions. Virtually all of Benghazi's theatres, libraries, best clothing stores, markets and old mosques can be found there. The Italian quarter is also located in the centre. The central districts are mostly residential and commercial areas such as Sidi Hsayn. The central suburbs are almost entirely residential and more like little towns in their own right; Al-Quwarsha is a good example of this. The coastal districts (especially the southern districts) are where Benghazi's beaches can be found. Some sections have become more popular as residential areas in recent years (such as Qanfuda). These areas are still primarily recreational however, and many beach condominium resorts (known locally as chalets) have been built in previous years such as those at al-Nakheel beach, and the Nayrouz condominiums.
Tripoli and its surrounding suburbs all lie within the Tripoli sha'biyah (district). In accordance with Libya's former Jamahiriya political system, Tripoli comprises Local People's Congresses where, in theory, the city's population discuss different matters and elect their own people's committee; at present[when?] there are 29 Local People's Congresses. In reality, the former revolutionary committees severely limited the democratic process by closely supervising committee and congress elections at the branch and district levels of governments, Tripoli being no exception.
Tripoli is sometimes referred to as "the de jure capital of Libya" because none of the country's ministries are actually located in the capital. Even the former National General People's Congress was held annually in the city of Sirte rather than in Tripoli. As part of a radical decentralization programme undertaken by Gaddafi in September 1988, all General People's Committee secretariats (ministries), except those responsible for foreign liaison (foreign policy and international relations) and information, were moved outside Tripoli. According to diplomatic sources, the former Secretariat for Economy and Trade was moved to Benghazi; the Secretariat for Health to Kufra; and the remainder, excepting one, to Sirte, Muammar Gaddafi's birthplace. In early 1993 it was announced that the Secretariat for Foreign Liaison and International Co-operation was to be moved to Ra's Lanuf. In October 2011, Libya fell to The National Transitional Council (N.T.C.), which took full control, abolishing the Gaddafi-era system of national and local government.