Tripoli is the largest city in northern Lebanon and the second-largest city in the country. Situated 85 kilometers (53 miles) north of the capital Beirut, it is the capital of the North Governorate and the Tripoli District. Tripoli overlooks the eastern Mediterranean Sea, and it is the northernmost seaport in Lebanon. It holds offshore a string of four small islands, the only surviving islands of Lebanon. The Palm Islands were declared a protected area because of their status of haven for endangered loggerhead turtles (Chelona mydas), rare monk seals and migratory birds.
Even though the history of Tripoli dates back at least to the 14th century BCE, the city is famous for the largest Crusader fortress in Lebanon (the Citadel of Raymond de Saint-Gilles), and it is the second largest city (behind Cairo) in terms of Mamluk architectural heritage.
With the formation of Lebanon and the 1948 breakup of the Syrian-Lebanese customs union, Tripoli, once on par in economic and commercial importance to Beirut, was cut off from its traditional trade relations with the Syrian hinterland and declined in relative prosperity.
Tripoli borders the city of El Mina, the port of the Tripoli District, which it is geographically conjoined with to form the greater Tripoli conurbation.
The Old City is mainly a Mamluk city. The urban form of Mamluk Tripoli was dictated mainly by climate, site configuration, defense, and urban aesthetics. The layout of major thoroughfares was set according to prevailing winds and topography. The city had no fortifications, but heavy building construction characterized by compact urban forms, narrow and winding streets for difficult city penetration. Residential areas were bridged over streets at strategic points for surveillance and defense. The city also included many loopholes and narrow slits at street junctions. There are old souqs (markets) and khans (caravanserai), hammams (Turkish baths), citadels, great Mamluk mosques and madrassas. A vibrant area of the city, visitors will find an agglomeration of jewelers, perfumers, tanners, soap-makers and tailors within the narrow streets. The city is known for its production of soap,copper and brass trays, engraved wooden boxes, furniture, and oriental sweets..
Palm Islands Nature Reserve
Located about a 30 minute boat ride off the coast of Tripoli, the Palm Islands Reserve is composed of three small islands. Established as a national nature reserve in 1992, the site is recognized as an Important Bird Area by Birdlife International. It is also an important egg-laying site for endangered sea turtles.
- Al Muallaq Mosque. is translated as “the Hanging Mosque,” named so because of its location on the second floor. It was established in the 16th century by the Ottoman governor of Tripoli, Mahmud ibn Lufti, during the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent. Note: According to Islamic tradition, non-Muslims are typically not allowed to enter mosques or sacred sites. However, non-Muslim visitors may be able to visit the courtyard gardens and may find someone they can ask for permission to enter. Visitors should be appropriately attired and remove their shoes before entering. Entry is not permitted during prayer hours and not permitted at any time during the month of Ramadan
- Al Mansouri (Great Mosque). Built between 1294 and 1315, the mosque is named after Al Mansouri Qala’un who liberated Tripoli from the Crusaders in 1289. This was the first monument built in the new Mamluk Tripoli. The mosque was erected on the site of a former Crusader church, St. Mary’s of the Tower. Outside of these elements, it is a traditional Mamluk-style mosque. Note: According to Islamic tradition, non-Muslims are typically not allowed to enter mosques or sacred sites. However, non-Muslim visitors may be able to visit the courtyard gardens and may find someone they can ask for permission to enter. Visitors should be appropriately attired and remove their shoes before entering. Entry is not permitted during prayer hours and not permitted at any time during the month of Ramadan.
- Al Attar Mosque. The mosque is named after a prosperous perfume merchant, Badr al Din ibn al Attar, who donated money for the construction of the mosque in the mid-14th century. Located in the souk area of Tripoli, the Al Attar Mosque is one of the most important mosques in the city. Its sandstone minaret is a distinguished landmark of Mamluk Tripoli. Note: According to Islamic tradition, non-Muslims are typically not allowed to enter mosques or sacred sites. However, non-Muslim visitors may be able to visit the courtyard gardens and may find someone they can ask for permission to enter. Visitors should be appropriately attired and remove their shoes before entering. Entry is not permitted during prayer hours and not permitted any time during the month of Ramadan.
- Taynal Mosque. This is the second most important mosque in Tripoli after the Great Mosque. It was constructed in 1336 under the patronage of Amir Taynal, the governor of Mamluk Tripoli. This beautiful example of Islamic religious architecture is noteworthy for its large size, lavish decoration and architectural peculiarities (elements of a Crusader church incorporated into the mosque architecture). Note: According to Islamic tradition, non-Muslims are typically not allowed to enter mosques or sacred sites. However, non-Muslim visitors may be able to visit the courtyard gardens and may find someone they can ask for permission to enter. Visitors should be appropriately attired and remove their shoes before entering. Entry is not permitted during prayer hours and not permitted at any time during the month of Ramadan.
- Citadel of Raymond de Saint Gilles. A massive and impressive fortress, 140m long and 70m wide, which began as a much smaller fort and encampment used by Raymond and the Crusaders to lay siege to Tripoli beginning in 1101. Following the reconquest of Tripoli by the Mamluks in 1289, the fortress was destroyed. In 1308, Esendemir al-Kurji, then governor of Tripoli, constructed a citadel to house troops on this site. Under Ottoman rule, significant restoration work and additions were made to the citadel. The present state of the citadel is largely the result of work undertaken by Mustafa Barbar Agha, governor of Tripoli at the beginning of the 19th century. LL7500.
- Al Burtasiyat Madrassa-Mosque. This is one of the most beautiful mosques and Islamic schools, or madrassas, from Tripoli’s Mamluk period. Designed by an Andalusian architect, Prince Issa Bin Omar Al Bertasi Al Kerdi had the mosque and school constructed in the early 14th century. It is in the Bab El Hadid area of Tripoli on the west bank of the river. The mosque is a 5 minute walk from the Citadel of Raymond de Saint-Gilles. Note: According to Islamic tradition, non-Muslims are typically not allowed to enter mosques or sacred sites. However, non-Muslim visitors may be able to visit the courtyard gardens and may find someone they can ask for permission to enter. Visitors should be appropriately attired and remove their shoes before entering. Entry is not permitted during prayer hours and not permitted at any time during the month of Ramadan.
- Mosque of Sayedi Abel El Wahid. The smallest of the Mamluk mosques in Tripoli, this mosque is located east of the Al Aatarien Souk (market). Characterized by its short minaret, it was built by Abed El Wahid El Maknasi in 1305. The shrine of Abed El Salam El Meshishi is located to the right of the mosque. Note: According to Islamic tradition, non-Muslims are typically not allowed to enter mosques or sacred sites. However, non-Muslim visitors may be able to visit the courtyard gardens and may find someone they can ask for permission to enter. Visitors should be appropriately attired and remove their shoes before entering. Entry is not permitted during prayer hours and not permitted at any time during the month of Ramadan
- Soap Khan (Khan EssSaboun) was built at the beginning of the seventeenth century by Yusuf al-Saifi, pasha of Tripoli . Originally it was intended to serve as a military barracks to garrison Ottoman troops and it was purposely built in the center of the city to enable the pasha to control any uprising. It is a large imposing rectangular structure with two story arcaded corridors running around a fountain courtyard. The outer walls had a number of loopholes and arrow slits for defense purposes. In front of the building was an arched portal, flanked by stone benches for the pasha’s guards. A white marble plaque commemorates the building of this splendid military barracks of Tripoli. During the battle of Anjar, Yusuf Pasha was taken prisoner. When Tripoli fell to Fakhr-ed-Din, the Ottoman garrison fled to join his routed forces in Syria. The army of Fakhr-ed-Din occupied the barracks briefly but in the years that followed the building stood empty and useless. To the inhabitants of Tripoli this seemed to be a great waste so a petition was sent to Deir al-Qamar, the residence of Fakhr-ed-Din, with the request to turn the building into a soap factory and warehouse. From that day until the present time the Ottoman barracks have served as Tripoli’s flourishing Soap Khan or Khãn as-Sáboun.
- Tailor's Khan (Khan Al Khayyatin). In the neighborhood of the Ezzedin baths there are two fourteenth century Mamluk khans facing each other. The Tailor’ khan which adjoins the baths on the north., built in 1341. Its street stalls and storehouses until this day house the dry goods merchants and tailors of modern Tripoli. The Tailor’ khan is a sixty- yard long passageway with tall graceful arches on each side and ten transverse arches open to the sky. At the entrance an engaged Corinthian column is built in the brown sandstone wall and may be a Crusader Church pilaster with a re-used marble capital. There are other Roman granite column sections built into the walls in the vicinity
There is evidence of settlement in Tripoli that dates back as early as 1400 BCE. In the 9th century BCE, the Phoenicians established a trading station in Tripoli and later, under Persian rule, the city became the center of a confederation of the Phoenician city states of Sidon,Tyre, and Arados Island. UnderHellenistic rule, Tripoli was used as a naval shipyard and the city enjoyed a period of autonomy. It came under Roman rule around 64 BCE. In 551, an earthquake and tidal wave destroyed the Byzantine city of Tripoli along with other Mediterranean coastal cities.
During Umayyad rule, Tripoli became a commercial and shipbuilding center. It achieved semi-independence under Fatimid rule, when it developed into a center of learning. The Crusaders laid siege to the city at the beginning of the 12th century and were able finally to enter it in 1109. This caused extensive destruction, including the burning of Tripoli's famous library, Dar al-Ilm (House of Knowledge), with its thousands of volumes. During the Crusaders' rule the city became the capital of the County of Tripoli. In 1289, it fell to the Mamluks and the old port part of the city was destroyed. A new inland city was then built near the old castle. DuringOttoman rule from 1516 to 1918, it retained its prosperity and commercial importance. Tripoli and all of Lebanon was under French mandate from 1920 until 1943, when Lebanon achieved independence.
Many historians reject the presence of any Phoenician civilization in Tripoli before the 8th (or sometimes 4th) century BCE. Others argue that the north-south gradient of Phoenician port establishments on the Lebanese coast indicates an earlier age for the Phoenician Tripoli.
Tripoli has not been extensively excavated because the ancient site lies buried beneath the modern city of El Mina. However, a few accidental finds are now in museums. Excavations in El Mina revealed skeletal remains of ancient wolves, eels, and gazelles, part of the ancient southern port quay,grinding mills, different types of columns, wheels, Bows, and a necropolisfrom the end of the Hellenistic period. A sounding made in the Crusader castle uncovered Late Bronze Age, Iron Age, in addition to Roman,Byzantine, and Fatimid remains. At the Abou Halka area (at the southern entrance of Tripoli) refuges dating to the early (30,000 years old) and middle Stone Age were uncovered.
Persian Tripoli (from the 6th to the 4th century BCE)
Tripoli became a financial center and main port of northern Phoenicia with sea trade (East Mediterranean and the West), and caravan trade (North Syria and hinterland).
Hellenic Tripoli (312/311–64 BCE)
Under the Seleucids, Tripoli gained the right to mint its own coins (112 BCE); it was granted autonomy between 104 and 105, which it retained until 64 BCE. At the time, Tripoli was a center of shipbuilding and cedar timber trade (like other Phoenician cities).
Roman and Byzantine Tripoli (from 64 BCE to the 7th century CE)
During this period, Tripoli witnessed the construction of important public buildings including municipal stadium or gymnasium due to strategic position of the city midway on the imperial coastal highway leading from Antioch to Ptolemais. In addition, Tripoli retained the same configuration of three distinct and administratively independent quarters (Aradians,Sidonians, and Tyrians). The territory outside the city was divided between the three quarters.
Arab Tripoli (645/646–1109)
Tripoli gained in importance as a trading centre for the whole Mediterranean after it was inhabited by the Arabs. Tripoli was the port city of Damascus; the second military port of the Arab Navy, followingAlexandria; a prosperous commercial and shipbuilding center; a wealthy principality under the Kutama Ismaili Shia Banu Ammar emirs.= During a visit by the traveler Nasir-i-Khusrau in 1047, he estimated the size of the population in Tripoli to be around 20,000 and the majority were Alevists. Legally, Tripoli was part of the jurisdiction of the military province of Damascus (Jund Dimashq).
Crusader Tripoli (1109–1289)
The city became the chief town of theCounty of Tripoli (Latin Crusader state of the Levant) extending from Jubayl to Latakia and including the plain of Akkar with the famous Krak des Chevaliers. Tripoli was also the seat of a bishopric. Tripoli was home to a busy port and was a major center of silk weaving, with as many as 4,000 looms. Important products of the time included lemons, oranges, and sugar cane. It is curious to reflect that for 180 years, during the Frenchrule, Langue d'Oc, the language of Provence, was spoken in Tripoli and a neighbouring village, owing to the influence of a number of Provençal nobles and courtiers who came here. At that time, Tripoli had a heterogeneous population including Western Europeans, Greeks,Armenians, Maronites, Nestorians, Jews, and Muslims. During the Crusadeperiod, Tripoli witnessed the growth of the inland settlement surrounding the "Pilgrim's Mountain" (the citadel) into a built-up suburb including the main religious monuments of the city such as: The "Church of the Holy Sepulchre of Pilgrim's Mountain" (incorporating the Shiite shrine), theChurch of Saint Mary's of the Tower, and the Carmelite Church. The state was a major base of operations for the military order of the Knights Hospitaller, who occupied the famous castle Krak Des Chevaliers (today aUNESCO world heritage site). The state ceased to exist in 1289, when it was captured by the Egyptian Mamluk sultan Qalawun.
Mamluk Tripoli (14th century)
During the Mamluk period, Tripoli became a central city and provincial capital of the Mamlakah or kingdom (one of six in Mamluk Syria). Tripoli ranked third after Aleppo andDamascus. The kingdom was subdivided into six willayahs or provinces and extended from Jubayl and Aqra mountains south, to Latakia and al Alawiyyin mountains north. It also included al-Hermel, the plain of Akkar, and Hosn al-Akrad (Krak des Chevaliers).
Tripoli became a major trading port of Syria supplying Europe with candy, loaf and powdered sugar (especially during the latter part of the 14th century). The main products from agriculture and small industry included citrus fruits, olive oil, soap, and textiles (cotton and silk, especially velvet).
The Mamluks formed the ruling class holding main political, military and administrative functions. Arabs formed the population base (religious, industrial, and commercial functions) and the general population included the original inhabitants of the city, immigrants from different parts of Syria,North Africans who accompanied Qalawun's army during the liberation of Tripoli, Eastern Orthodox Christians, some Western families, and a minority of Jews. The population size of Mamluk Tripoli is estimated at 20,000-40,000; against 100,000 in each of Damascus and Aleppo.
Mamluk Tripoli witnessed a high rate of urban growth and a fast city development (according to traveler's accounts). It also had poles of growth including the fortress, the Grand Mosque, and the river banks. The city had seven guard towers on the harbor site to defend the inland city. During the period the castle of Saint Gilles was expanded as the Citadel of Mamluk Tripoli. The "Aqueduct of the Prince" was reused to bring water from the Rash'in spring. Several bridges were constructed and the surrounding orchards expanded through marsh drainage. Fresh water was supplied to houses from their roofs.
The urban form of Mamluk Tripoli was dictated mainly by climate, site configuration, defense, and urban aesthetics. The layout of major thoroughfares was set according to prevailing winds and topography. The city had no fortifications, but heavy building construction characterized by compact urban forms, narrow and winding streets for difficult city penetration. Residential areas were bridged over streets at strategic points for surveillance and defense. The city also included many loopholes and narrow slits at street junctions.
The religious and secular buildings of Mamluk Tripoli comprise a fine example of the architecture of that time. The oldest among them were built with stones taken from 12th and 13th-century churches; the characteristics of the architecture of the period are best seen in the mosques and madrassas, the Islamic schools. It is the madrassas which most attract attention, for they include highly original structures as well as decoration: here a honeycombed ceiling, there a curiously shaped corniche, doorway or moulded window frame. Among the finest is the madrassa al-Burtasiyah, with an elegant façade picked out in black and white stones and a highly decorated lintel over the main door.
Public buildings in Mamluk Tripoli were emphasized through sitting, façade treatment, and street alignment. Well-cut and well-dressed stones (local sandstone) were used as media of construction and for decorative effects on elevations and around openings (the ablaq technique of alternating light and dark stone courses). Bearing walls were used as vertical supports. Cross vaults covered most spaces from prayer halls to closed rectangular rooms, to galleries around courtyards. Domes were constructed over conspicuous and important spaces like tomb chambers, mihrab, and covered courtyards. Typical construction details in Mamluk Tripoli included cross vaults with concave grooves meeting in octagonal openings or concave rosettes as well as simple cupolas or ribbed domes. The use of double drums and corner squinches was commonly used to make transition from square rooms to round domes.
Decorations in Mamluk buildings concentrated on the most conspicuous areas of buildings: minarets, portals, windows, on the outside, and mihrab,qiblah wall, and floor on the inside. Decorations at the time may be subdivided into structural decoration (found outside the buildings and incorporate the medium of construction itself such as ablaq walls, plain or zigzag moldings, fishscale motifs, joggled lintels or voussoirs, inscriptions, and muqarnas) and applied decoration (found inside the buildings and include the use of marble marquetry, stucco, and glass mosaic).
Mosques evenly spread with major concentration of madrasas around the Grand Mosque. All khans were located in the northern part of the city for easy accessibility from roads to Syria. Hammams (public baths) were carefully located to serve major population concentrations: one next to the Grand Mosque, the other in the center of the commercial district, and the third in the right-bank settlement.
Major buildings in Mamluk Tripoli included six congregational mosques (The Mansouri Great Mosque, al-Aattar, Taynal, al-Uwaysiyat, al-Burtasi, and al-Tawbat Mosques). In addition, there were two quarter masjids (Abd al-Wahed and Arghoun Shah), and two mosques that were built on empty land (al-Burtasiah and al-Uwaysiyah). Other mosques incorporated earlier structures (churches, khans, shops, ...). One of the most beautiful mosques is the Taynal mosque, whose quiet design, splendid minaret and differentcupolas make it one of the most interesting sights in the city. Mamluk Tripoli also included 16 madrasas of which four no longer exist (al-Zurayqiyat, al-Aattar, al-Rifaiyah, and al-Umariyat). Six of the madrasas concentrated around the Grand Mosque. Tripoli also included a Khanqah, many secular buildings, five Khans, three hammams (Turkish baths) that are noted for their cupolas. Hammams were luxuriously decorated and the light streaming down from their domes enhances the inner atmosphere of the place.
Early Ottoman Tripoli
During the Ottoman period, Tripoli became the provincial capital and chief town of the Eyalet of Tripoli, encompassing the coastal territory from Jubayl to Tarsus and the inland Syrian towns of Homs andHama; the two other eyalets wereAleppo Eyalet, and Şam Eyalet. Until 1612, Tripoli was considered as the port of Aleppo. It also depended on Syrian interior trade and tax collection from mountainous hinterland. Tripoli witnessed a strong presence of French merchants during the 17th and 18th centuries and became under intense inter-European competition for trade. Tripoli was reduced to a sanjak centre in the Vilayet of Beirut in 19th century and retained her status until 1918, when was captured by British forces.
Public works in Ottoman Tripoli included the restoration of the Citadel of Tripoli by Suleiman I, the Magnificent. Later governors brought further modifications to the original Crusader structure used as garrison center and prison. Khan al-Saboun (originally a military barrack) was constructed in the center of the city to control any uprising. Ottoman Tripoli also witnessed the development of the southern entrance of the city and many buildings, such as the al-Muallaq or "hanging" Mosque (1559), al-Tahhan Mosque (early 17th century), and al-Tawbah mosque (Mamluk construction, destroyed by 1612 flood and restored during early Ottoman Period). It also included several secular buildings, such as Khan al-Saboun (early 17th century) and Hammam al-Jadid (1740).
Tripoli has a Mediterranean Climate (Csa) with mild winters and moderately hot summers. Temperatures are moderated throughout the year due to the warm Mediterranean Current coming from Western Europe. Therefore, temperatures are warmer in the winter by around 10 °C (50 °F) and a bit cooler in the summer by around 7 °C (45 °F) compared to most of Lebanon. Although snow is an extremely rare event that only occurs around once every 5 years, hail and sleet are very common and occur fairly regularly in the winter. Rainfall is concentrated in the winter months, with the summer typically being very dry.
Climate data for Tripoli, Lebanon
|Average high °C (°F)||17|
|Daily mean °C (°F)||12.0|
|Average low °C (°F)||10|
|Source: Arab Meteorology Book|