Tripoli (Trablos), 85
kilometers north of Beirut, has a special character all its
own. Thanks to its historical wealth, relaxed lifestyle and
thriving business climate, this is a city where modern and
medieval blend easily into a lively and hospitable
metropolis. Known as the capital of the North, Tripoli is
Lebanon’s second largest city.
Forty-five buildings in the city, many
dating from the 14th century, have been registered as
historical sites. Twelve mosques from Mamluke and Ottoman
times have survived along with an equal number of “madrassas”
or theological schools. Secular buildings include the “hammam”
or the bathing-
house, which followed the classical pattern of
Roman-Byzantine baths, and the “khan” or
caravansary. The souks, together with the “khans”,
an agglomeration of various trades where tailors, jewelers,
perfumers, tanners and soap-makers work in surroundings
that have changed very little over the last 500 years.
Tripoli in History
of the site of Tripoli goes back to at least the 14th century
B.C., but it wasn't until about the 9th century B.C. that the
Phoenicians established a small trading station there. Later,
under the Persians, it was home to a confederation of the
Phoenician city states of Sidon, Tyre and Arados Island. Built
on the trade and invasion route near the Abu Ali River,
Tripoli's strategic position was enhanced by offshore islands,
natural ports and access to the interior.
Under the successors of Alexander the Great
during the Hellenistic period, Tripoli was used as a naval
shipyard. There is also evidence that it enjoyed a period of
autonomy at the end of Seleucid era.
Under Roman rule, starting with the
takeover of the area by Pompey in 64-63 B.C.,
the Romans built several monuments here. The Byzantine city of
Tripolis, which by then extended to the south, was destroyed,
along with other Mediterranean coastal cities, by an
earthquake and tidal wave in 551.
octagonal Fatimid construction
in the Citadel
635, Tripoli became a commercial and shipbuilding center
under the Omayyads. It achieved semi-independence under
the Fatimid Dynasty when it developed into a center of
At the beginning of the 12th century
the Crusaders laid siege to the city, finally entering
it in 1109. The conquest caused extensive destruction,
including the burning of Tripoli's famous library, the Dar
il-'ilm, with its thousands of volumes.
During the Crusaders' 180-year rule
the city was the capital of the
"County of Tripoli". But Crusader Tripoli fell
in 1289 to the victorious Mamluke Sultan
who ordered the old port city (today Al-Mina) destroyed
and a new built inland near the old castle. It was at
this time that numerous religious and secular buildings
were erected, many of which still survive today.
During the long Turkish Ottoman rule
(1516 - 1918) Tripoli retained its prosperity and
commercial importance and in these years more buildings
were added to the city's architectural wealth.
Tripoli has not
been extensively excavated because the ancient site lies
buried beneath the modern city of Al-Mina. However, a
few accidental finds are now in museums. Excavations in
Al-Mina revealed part of the ancient southern port quay
and a necropolis from the end of the Hellenistic period.
A sounding made in the Crusader castle uncover Late
Bronze Age, Iron Age, Roman, Byzantine and Fatimid
E L E C T E D S I T E S O F
T R I P O L I
Citadel of Tripoli
- The Citadel
city is the imposing Citadel of Tripoli known as
Qal’at Sinjil (Saint Gilles) which has been renovated
and changed many times during its history.
Today the castle’s main features are an octagonal
Fatimid constructions converted to a church by the
Crusaders, some Crusader structures of the 12th-13th
centuries, a number of 14th century Mamluke additions,
as well as additions
by the Ottomans in the 16th century. The present state
of this huge fortress
(140 meters long and 70 meters wide) is largely the
result of extensive restoration work by Mustafa Barbar
Agha, governor of Tripoli at the beginning of the 19th
Church of St. John of the Pilgrims Mount
remains of this Crusader church were found in the Maronite
Cemetery of Saint John about 200 meters south of the Castle on
Abu Samra hill There are two joined chapels, the larger of
which has a semi-circular apse. the smaller one, with a
rectangular apse, was reserved for funerary use. The church
was surrounded by a large Crusader cemetery.
The Great Mosque
in 1294 and completed in 1315, the Great Mosque was built on
the ruined 12th century Crusader cathedral of St. Mary of the
Its large courtyard is surrounded by porticos and a domed and
vaulted prayer hall. Inside, one can still see elements of
Western architecture from the old church, including the
northern entrance and the Lombard style bell tower which was
transformed into the minaret.
The many foundation plaques and decrees
inscribed in the great Mosque and its surrounding madrassas
not only inform us about the building but reveal details
of the daily life of the Mamluke period.
4 - Taynâl Mosque
important mosque was built in 1336 by Saif ed-Dine Taynâl on
the site of a ruined Crusader Carmelite church. The adjoining
domed mausoleum holds the tomb of the founder. Some elements
of the original structure were re-used in the mosque, for
example, the two rows of granite columns with late Roman
capitals which stand in the middle of the first prayer hall.
The entrance of the second prayer hall is a unique example of
the architectural decoration in Tripoli during the Mamluke
5 - Al-Muallaq Mosque
name means "hanging mosque", possibly because it is
on the second floor.
This small mosque, built in the middle of the 16th century,
has a plain whitewashed interior with steps leading down to an
attractive courtyard garden.
The minaret is octagonal and unadorned.
beautiful Burtasiyat Madrassa-Mosque was built during
the first quarter of the 14th century A.D.
This domed structure has a square minaret erected above
the entrance arch and is ornamented with double windows
which have black and white stone arches.
The dark stone portal is decorated with stalactites and
the mihrab is covered with an ornate golden mosaic.
7 - Al-Qartâwiyat Madrassa
is known for the fine workmanship of its ceilings
decorated with honey-comb patterns and stalactites, and its
elegant façade of alternate black and white facings. Built
during the first quarter of the 14th century A.D., Al-Qartâwiyat
is probably Tripoli's most ornate building and the only one
with a prayer hall covered by an oval dome.
8 - Madrassa al Tuwashiyat
during the second half of the 15th century, this structure and
its elaborate mausoleum are constructed of sandstone in
decorative black and white patterns.
The portal is higher than the façade of the building and
decorated with shell motifs embellished by radiating zigzag
motif, stalactites and twisted colonettes.
9 - Khanqash
unique building in Lebanon was constructed during the second
half of the 15th century to house Muslim mystics or Sufis. It
is designed with an open courtyard and pool. The courtyard is
surrounded by small rooms and a raised platform, or iwan,
behind an arch of alternating black and white stones. The arch
is supported by granite columns.
10 - Hammam 'Izz ed-Dîne
public bathing-house was given to the city by its Mam-luke
governor 'Izz ed-Dîne Aybak. The governor, who died in 1298,
is buried in a mausoleum beside the hammam. In building
these baths, he used choice remains from the Crusader church
and hospice of Saint James. The front portal is decorated with
an inscribed fragment between two Saint-James shells, and the
inner door is surmounted by the pas-chal lamb. The Hammam 'Izz
ed-Dîne was in continual use until recently and it is now
11 - Hammam el-Abed
(near Khan es-Saboun)
Tripoli's only functioning hammam is
Hammam el-Abed, probably built at the end of the 17th century.
It has the typical pierced domes of Mamluke and Ottoman era
public baths. The interior, with its cushions, central
fountain and traditional fittings, is a living museum.
The interior of
Hammam Al Jadid
- Hammam Al Jadid:
Built around 1740, and called the “New Bath”, this
is by far the largest “hammam” in the city,
although it has not been in operation since the
1970’s, its faded grandeur still stirs the
13 - Khân Al-Khayyatin
The Khân Al-Khayyatin or Tailors’ Khan,
of the oldest in Tripoli, dating to the first half of the 14th
century. It was probably built on the remains
of a Byzantine and Crusader monument in the center of the
ancient commercial suburb which controlled passage over the
Abu ‘Ali river.
Thus, this “khan” has a different plan
than the others in the city. The restored structure consists
of a long passageway with tall arches on each side and ten
transverse arches. Just at its western entrance stands a
granite column surmounted by a marble Corinthian capital.
14 - Khân Al-Misriyyîn
Khân Al-Misriyyîn (Caravansary of the
Khan Al Khayyatin
was probably built in the first half of the 14th century. The
traditional arcaded two-story khan has an open
courtyard with a fountain in the center.
15 - Souk Al-Haraj
A unique sight, this covered 14th century
bazaar has a high vaulted ceiling supported by granite columns
which may have originally been part of Roman or Crusader
structures. A total of 14 granite shafts can be seen along the
north, south and east sides. Today this space is occupied by
sellers of floor mats, pillows and mattresses.
16 - Lions' Tower
most of the numerous coastal towers and fortifications which
protected Tripoli during Mamluke times have disappeared or
been encroached upon by modern buildings, the mid-15th century
Tower of the Lions is still remarkably preserved. It was given
this name in the 19th century because of the lions carved in
relief that once stood above the entrance. The tower is
actually a fortress two stories high with lofty vaulted
ceilings. the west portal is in the typical Mamluke black and
white stone pattern. From the outside you can see how the
builders placed Roman columns horizontally in the wall
Tripoli, which has a population of about 500,00, is divided
into two parts: El-Mina, (the port area and site of the
ancient city) and the town of Tripoli proper.
city at the foot of the Crusader castle is where most of the
historical sites are located. Surrounding this is a modern
metropolis which is occupied with commerce, banking and
recreation. The area known as "at-Tall", dominated
by an Ottoman clock tower (built in 1901/2) in the heart of
downtown Tripoli, is the transportation center and terminus
for most taxi routes.
shopping in the old souks or downtown area, remember that gold
is a good buy. Other popular items are Tripoli’s famous
sweets and traditional olive-oil based soap, water pipes and
brass work. Al Mina, the port area, is a good place to find
sea food restaurants and fish markets. The city’s most
comfortable hotels and Western-style restaurants can be found
in the beach resorts south of the city.
Tripoli International Fair
has a permanent fairground designed by the famous brazilian
architect, Oscar Niemeyer. Here important exhibitions, trade
fairs and other events regularly take place.
If You Have Time
Offshore Islands: Just
offshore is a string of small islands. the largest, known as
the Island of Palm Trees or Rabbit's Island, is now a nature
reserve for green turtles and rare birds. Declared a protected
area by UNESCO in 1992, camping, fire building or depredation
is forbidden. This island also holds Roman and Crusader
Qalamoun, south of Tripoli,
is known for its brass industry. The roadside is lined with
small workshops and showrooms where brass bowls, candlesticks
and other objects are hammered out in the old tradition.
Notes for Visitors
- A tourism information
Office is located on Abdel Hamid Karami Square.
- Wear comfortable sturdy shoes for walking around the old
town and the souks.
Women should be prepared with head scarves if they wish
to visit mosques.
- Although some of the monuments are kept locked, keys can
usually be obtained
from a nearby shop.