Tripoli, Lebanon

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

45 buildings in Tripoli, many dating from the 14th century, have been registered as historical sites. 12 mosques from Mamluk and Ottoman times have survived, along with an equal number of madrassas or theological schools. Secular buildings include the hammams or bathing-houses, which followed the classical pattern of Roman-Byzantine baths, and the khan or caravansary. The souqs, 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.

Habitation of the site of Tripoli goes back to at least the 14th century BC, but it wasn't until about the 9th century BC 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. 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 the Seleucid era. Under Roman rule, starting with the takeover of the area by Pompey in 64-63 BC, the city flourished, and during this period the Romans built several monuments here. The Byzantine city of Tripoli, which by then extended further to the south, was destroyed, along with other Mediterranean coastal cities, by an earthquake and tidal wave in 551 AD.

After 635 AD, Tripoli became a commercial and shipbuilding center under the Umayyads. It achieved semi-independence under the Fatimid Dynasty, when it developed into a center of learning. At 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, Dar Al-Elm, with its thousands of volumes.

During the Crusaders' 180-year rule, the city was the capital of the County of Tripoli. However, Crusader Tripoli fell in 1289 to the victorious Mamluk Sultan Qalaoun, who ordered the destruction of the old port city (today Al-Mina) and the construction of a new inland city 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.

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. Today, the castle's main features are the Ottoman main gate, an octagonal Fatimid construction converted to a church by the Crusaders, some Crusader structures of the 12th-13th centuries, a number of 14th century Mamluk additions, as well as additions made by the Ottomans in the 16th century.

In the center of the inner court stands a structure that was used as a jail during the end of the 19th century. It also has large halls, water reservoirs, and many rooms of different dimensions. The citadel is 140 meters long and 70 meters wide, and its towers are 15 to 20 meters high and include many canon windows, where you can enjoy the city from above.

The Great Mosque

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 Crusader architecture from the old church, including the northern entrance and the Lombard style bell tower, which was transformed into the minaret. Three madrassas (theological schools) were built around the mosque. The largest is Al-Madrassa Al-Qartawiya, which was built during the first quarter of the 14th century AD, is known for the fine workmanship of its ceilings decorated with honeycomb patterns and stalactites, and its elegant façade of alternate black and white facings. This madrassa is Tripoli's most ornate building and the only one with a prayer hall covered by an oval dome.