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Gebran Tueni

Gebran Tueni

About Lebanon


Tripoli, 85 kilometers north of Beirut, is Lebanon's second largest city, and known as the capital of the North.

Tripoli is a city where modern and medieval blend, with a number of historical sights including 12 mosques from Mamluke and Ottoman periods and a Crusader Church along with an equal number of madrassas or theological schools. Amongst numerous other structures one of the most interesting attractions are the old Khans and Souks which were established close to 500 years ago and continue their trade until today. Tripoli is also famous for its Hammams - public baths - which date back as far as the 13th century and can still be seen throughout the city today.
Forty - five buildings in the city, many dating from the 14th century, have been registered as historical sites. The souks, together with the khan, form 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. Modern Tripoli is divided into two parts: El - Mina ( the port area and site of the ancient city ) and the town of Tripoli proper.

The medieval 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. 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, this island also holds Roman and Crusader remains.

Habitation 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 Roman rule, starting with the take-over of the area by Pompey in 64 - 63 B.C., the city flourished. During this period the Romans built several monuments in the city. 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.

After 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 learning. 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 the Tripoli's famous library, the Dar Il- Ilm, with its thousands of volumes. During the Crusader's 180 - years rule the city was the capital of the "County of Tripoli." But crusader Tripoli fell in 1289 to the victorious Mamluke Sultan Qalaoun, who ordered the old port city (today Al - Mina) destroyed and a new city built inland near the old castle. It was at this time that the 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.

The Citadel (St Gilles Citadel)
In 698 AD. Prince Seyfedeen Asandamor Kourji underwent major constructions in the city of Tripoli, and built part of the St Gilles Citadel towering above Tripoli. Many secret tunnels exist between the castle and inner market, with some of them discovered only lately. The Citadel contains a Fatimid mosque, the oldest Islamic monument in Tripoli characterized by its octagonal shape with traces of a minaret nearby. But the Crusaders destroyed the sanctuary and converted it to a church.

Tower of Barsbay
The Tower of Barsbay is an example of the Mamlukes military architecture rising at the edge of the water, in the second part of the town. While 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 Barsbay is still remarkably preserved. The tower is characterized by a rectangular base; 28.5 meters long and 20.5 meters wide. It is actually a fortress of two storeys high with laufty vaulted ceilings. The west portal is in the typical Mamluke black and white (Ablaq) stone pattern. From the outside you can see how the builders placed Roman columns horizontally in the wall as reinforcements.
Located in the area of el-Mina, this fortress with walls two meters thick and an imposing entrance, is well worth a visit.

The Great Mosque
The Great Mosque was built on the 12th century Crusader Cathedral of St Mary of the Tower. It has a large courtyard surrounded by porticos and a vaulted prayer hall. The mosque dates back to the Mamluke period and has elements of Western architecture.

Old Quarter
The old quarter is a honeycomb of narrow streets and alleys, souks, khans, mosques, islamic schools and shops, and an example of Islamic architecture. Some of the souks, notably the tailors' souk, are as many as 600 years old. Craftsmen sit in narrow alcoves along the sides of the streets, hardly bothering to look up from their work as tourists and passersby move along. From the tailors' souk, one can walk to the soap market, where the perfume of the vendors' wares mingles with that of flowers in the garden courtyard; the jewelers' souk backs onto the spice market, and so on.. The most important thing to note here is that all these people are working in surroundings that have changed very little over the last 500 years. Many khans lie within the urban periphery of the old city. The Khan al-Misriyyin (caravansary of the Egyptians), probably built in the first half of the 14th century, is in the traditional arcaded two-story style. It has an open courtyard with a fountain in the center.
Khan al-Khayyatin or Tailors' Khan is one of the oldest and dates to the first half of the 14th century. It is said that it was built on the remains of a Byzantine and Crusader structure. This Khan has a different plan from the others. It consists of a long passageway with tall arches on each side and ten transverse arches. Just at its western entrance stands a granite column marble Corinthian capital. One of the oldest in Tripoli, the, dates to the first half of the 14th century and was probably built on the remains.

Khan es-Saboun (soap warehouse), built in the second half of the 16th century or the beginning of the 17th century, was originally a caravansary for European merchants. During the first half of the 20th century it was converted into a warehouse. A large, rectangular structure, it has two stories of arcaded corridors around a courtyard.

Khan al-Askar, or soldiers' khan. Consisting of two main buildings joined by a vaulted passage, it was probably erected in the late 13th or early 14th century for Mamluke troops. The two courtyards are surrounded by two stories of rooms behind arcaded corridors.

Souk Al-Haraj, a 14th century covered bazaar supported by 14 classical granite columns.


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