Former province of southwest Libya, with an area of about 213,000 square miles (340,800 sq km).
Fezzan was located south of the former province of Tripolitania, which bordered it approximately along the 30th parallel. The southern part of the former province of Cyrenaica lay to the east. Fezzan had international frontiers with Algeria to the west and with Chad and Niger to the south. The region's chief town and administrative center is Sebha, largely a twentieth-century creation; most other settlements have developed around small but long-established oasis villages. Fezzan is now divided into Sebha, alShati, Awbari, Murzuq, Ghat, and al-Jufrah; combined population (1984 census) is some 214,000.
Fezzan is characterized by a series of east-west depressions over artesian waters and oases, some extensive. Widely scattered in the surrounding desert, these oases are the only settled areas. Along the southern and southwestern borders, the land rises toward the Ahaggar and Tibesti massifs of the central Sahara.
Fezzan is approximately one-third the distance from Tripoli to Lake Chad and, historically, has been a main artery for caravans between the Mediterranean Sea and central Africa. It has always had a certain Sudanic ethnic and cultural character. Its oases have traditionally provided shade, water, camels, and dates for caravans and, in the past—despite intermittent domination by Tripoli—derived modest prosperity as transshipment centers of the northbound slave trade and the southbound traffic in manufactured goods. In the mid-nineteenth century, the Ottoman Empire imposed direct rule from Tripoli, and the Saharan trade prospered intermittently until its terminal decline at the century's end. In the second half of the nineteenth century, Fezzan became one of several centers of the Sanusi order.
Italy invaded Libya in 1911 and in 1914 briefly occupied Fezzan's main oases. The province was re-conquered by Italy in 1929 and 1930 and was designated Territorio Militare del Sud (Southern Military Territory), administered from Hon. It had by then become a social and economic backwater, cut off from most traditional trade contacts. During World War II, Free French forces advancing from Chad in 1942 and 1943 expelled the Italians and set up a military administration closely linked with Algeria and Tunisia. Fezzan became one of the three constituent provinces of the United Kingdom of Libya declared independent in December 1951.
Although the poorest and least populous of Libya's three regions, Fezzan gained a certain cachet after the 1969 revolution, because the Libyan leader, Colonel Muammar al-Qaddafi, had been educated and conceived his revolution there. Since 1969, the infrastructure has been developed and attempts made to promote agriculture with abundant newly discovered water reserves, which are also being piped to northwest Libya. Crude oil has been found in the Murzuq Basin and large quantities of iron ore in the Wadi Shati, but commercial exploitation has been slow. The region still relies on northern Libya for most of its economic and social needs.
See also Qaddafi, Muammar al-; Sanusi Order.
Ahmida, Ali Abdullatif. The Making of Modern Libya: State Formation, Colonization, and Resistance, 1830–1932. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994.
Wright, John. Libya, Chad and the Central Sahara. Totowa, NJ: Barnes and Noble Books, 1989.
John L. Wright
Fezzan: see Fazzan, historic region, Libya.