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
include the “hammam” or the bathing-
house, which followed the
classical pattern of Roman-Byzantine baths, and the
caravansary. The souks, together with the “khans”,
| 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.
Tripoli in History
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
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.
The octagonal Fatimid
in the Citadel
|| 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 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
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
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 remains.
E L E C T E D S I T E S O F T R
I P O L
The Citadel of
1 - The Citadel
Overlooking the 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
(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 century.
|2 - Church of St. John of the
Significant 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.
|3 - 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 Tower.
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 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.
The Great Mosque
4 - Taynâl Mosque
This 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 era.
5 - Al-Muallaq Mosque
The 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.
|6 - Burtasiyat Madrassa-Mosque
The 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
The 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
Built 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
This 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
This 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 under restoration.
11 - Hammam el-Abed (near
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, is one
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
14 - Khân Al-Misriyyîn
Al-Misriyyîn (Caravansary of
Khan Al Khayyatin
| Egyptians) 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
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 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
Modern 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.
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 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
Tripoli 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 remains.
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
from a nearby shop.
- JEITA GROTTO - SIDON -
(THE CEDARS - TYRE - BEITEDDINE)
EGYPT - SYRIA - JORDAN