Misurata is the second city of Western Libya (Tripolitania) and, with its surrounding farms and villages, had some 83,000 inhabitants in the early nineteen-sixties, but has grown rapidly since then. West of the city is a narrow but fertile plain coming from Zliten between the dune-encumbered coastal ridge and a line of low hills which are the last eastward vestiges of the Tripolitanian Jebel and which come to an end shortly before Misurata. Twelve kilometres to the east, at Gasr Ahmed, the coast turns south-eastwards to form the western side of the Greater Syrtis, or Gulf of Sidra. Between Misurata and Gasr Ahmed the cultivated area narrows to become a kind of peninsula between the coast and the marshes of the Sebkha Taworga which are extensively flooded during the winter. South of Misurata, along the main road to Fezzan and Cyrenaica, the country becomes increasingly arid. East of the road cultivation soon gives place to mud flats and salt marshes, the successive sebkhas Taworga, Hishah and Al Awenat, which together cover an area some hundred kilometres long and twenty broad.
The name Misurata (Misratah) is Berber and did not come into the district until the tribal movements in late antiquity, when the Hawara spread into Eastern Tripolitania. According to tradition the Berber hero Aurigh had four sons, Calden, Meld, Hawar and Maggher. All their descendants came to be designated collectively as the children of Hawar, and among these were Wurfel and Misratah, sons of Meld. The sons of Wurfel have dwelt ever since in and to the south of Beni Ulid, and the Misratah have occupied the coastlands to the northeast. Ibn Batuta mentions passing through the country of the Misratah in 1326. Ibn Khaldun says that in his days (14th century) the Misratah were very powerful and only paid a very small tribute to the Arabs, ‘tribute which they have the air of handing over by condescension.’ He says ‘they occupy themselves by commerce, and travel frequently to Egypt and Alexandria, to southern Tunisia and to Fezzan.’ The inhabitants of the Misurata area to-day include groups of Berber origin mixed with the descendants of the first Arabs who came into Tripolitania; others, descended from Turkish immigrants; and yet others claiming Sherifian origin, that is, descent from the Prophet Mohamed himself.