Tripoli is known as the capital of North Lebanon. From the beginning, Tripoli was an unusual city due to its configuration; for it was not one city but three cities in one – hence the name Tri-Poli.
Its geographical and strategic position was further enhanced by the presence of offshore islands and natural ports. Tripoli thus inevitably played and still plays a predominant role in the political and economical developments in the region and the Middle East for over two millennia.
You can find many churches in Tripoli which are a reminder of the history of the city. These churches also show the diversity of Christians in Lebanon and particularly in Tripoli. Here are some of the churches in Tripoli:
• Beshara Catholic Church
• Evangelical Baptist Church
• Latin Church
• Moutran Church
• Orthodox American Church
• Roum Catholic Church
• St Efram Church for the Assyrian Orthodox
• St. Elie Orthodox Church
• St. John of the Pilgrims Mount church
• St. Jorjios (George) Catholic Church
• St. Jorjios (George) Orthodox Cathedral -
• St. Jorjios (George) Orthodox Church - Mar Jirjis
• St. Joseph Al-Serian Catholic Church
• St. Maroon ( Mar Maroon Church )
• St. Mary Salvador Maronite Church
• St. Mary ( Saydeh ) Maronite Church
• St. Michael Orthodox Church
• St. Michael Maronite Church - Al Koubbeh
• St. Michael Maronite Church
• St. Nicolas Church for the Greek Orthodox
• St. Thomas Church
The Citadel of Tripoli (Crusader Castle of Saint-Gilles)
The citadel of Tripoli was built by Esendernir al-Kurji, governor of Tripoli, in 1308 (A.H.707) on the emplacement of the castle of Saint-Gilles.This Mamluk emir was also responsible for several works of public utility in the city such as a public bath and a large market place.
When the Mont Pèlerin quarter was set ablaze by the Mamluks in 1289, the castle of Saint-Gilles suffered from the holocaust and stood abandoned on the hilltop for the next eighteen years. It was essential to have an adequate stronghold in Tripoli for the sultan’s troops, temporarily garrisoned in Hisnal-Akrád,as the distance was too great in case of enemy attack.
The governor therefore chose the emplacement of the gutted Crusader castle on the hill, incorporating what he could in his citadel, and made use of Roman column shafts and other building material he found nearby. Many of the interior walls, ramps and terraces of the citadel seen today were built in his time.
Abou’l Fidá and Ibn al-Wardi record that, among the important events which took place in the year A.H 746 (1345), was the promulgation of a military decree which was set up by order of the Mamluk Sultan al-Kamil Sha’bân in the citadels of Aleppo, Tripoli, Hisn al-Akrâd and other fortified places.The decree, put over the second entrance way of the citadel of Tripoli, is by far the best preserved. Apparently this sultan, who lived a life of luxury and debauch, was in constant need of extra revenues. In order to fill his depleted treasury, he imposed a heavy registration tax upon all feudal land concessions and appropriations.
This tax was unpopular and was obviously going to stir up discontent among his subjects. To forestall any uprising and gain the support of his troops, upon whom his power was based he issued this military decree. It was the custom that a Mamluk soldier, under contract for a specified number of years, received an annual gratuity which amounted to slightly over eleven days extra pay. If the soldier died before the end of his contract, the sultan had the right to claim the extra sum of money which had accumulated during the soldier’s years of service. Sha’bán abandoned his rights to this claim, once and for all, hoping thus to enlist the support of his troops.
In 1516 Syria and Egypt fell to the Ottoman Sultan Selim I. His son and successor Suleiman I, called the Magnificent (1520-1566), soon after his accession made an inspection tour of his newly-conquered lands. He gathered about him in Damascus all his provincial governors and on this occasion took the decision to rebuild the great citadel of Tripoli .
Over the entrance portal, the sultan commemorated this important restoration work with an inscription:
"In the name of Allah, it has been decreed by the royal sultan’s order, al Malik al-Muzuffar Sultan Suleiman Shah, son of Sultan Selim Shah, may his orders never cease to be obeyed by the emirs, that this blessed citadel be restored so as to be a fortified stronghold for all time.
Its construction was completed in the blessed month of Sha’bân of the year 927 (July 1521) In the years that followed, various Ottoman governors of Tripoli did restoration work on the citadel to suit their needs and with time the medieval crenelated battlements were destroyed in order to open sally ports for cannons. Very little of the original Crusader structure has survived until this day.
The graves of a number of nameless Frankish knights, here and there, are the only bits of evidence today evocative of their presence on the heights of Tripoli’s "Pilgrim’s Mountain" many centuries ago.
The Clock Tower
The Clock tower is one of the most popular monuments in Tripoli. The tower is located in Al-Tell square and was constructed by the Ottomans as a gift to the city of Tripoli.
The Clock tower has undergone a complete renovation recently with funding from the Turkish government and now the clock tower is again operational. Next to the Clock Tower, you will find “Al Mashieh” which is the oldest and most beautiful park in Tripoli.
When Tripoli was visited by Ibn Batutah in 1355, he described the newly founded Mamluk city. "Traversed by water-channels and full of’ gardens", he writes, "the houses are newly built. The sea lies two leagues distant, and the ruins of the old town ate seen on the sea-shore.
It was taken by the Franks, but al-Malik ath-Tháhir (Qala’un) retook it from them, and then laid the place in ruins and built the present town. There are fine baths here.’’ Indeed, the hammams built in Tripoli by the early Mamluk governors were splendid edifices and many of them are still present until today. Some of the more known are:
• Izz El-Din
Tripoli is a very rich city containing many mosques that are spread all over the city. In every district of the city you will find a mosque. During the Mamluk era, a lot of mosques were built and many still remain until today.
When visiting the Mosque, please make sure that you remember the Islamic rules and traditions. Shoes should be taken off and left at the entrance of the mosque and women should make sure they wear something conservative (covering arms and legs) and make sure to cover their hair.
Some of the more known mosques are:
• Abou Bakr Al Siddeeq
• Arghoun Shah
• Kabir al Aali
• Mahmoud Beik the Sanjak
• Mansouri Great Mosque
• Omar Ibn El-Khattab Mosque
• Sidi Abdel Wahed
• Tawbah Mosque
The Offshore Islands
Tripoli has many offshore islands. The largest is called today the "Island of Palm Trees" by some, and by others "Rabbits’ Island".
• Palm Island or Rabbits’ Island
This is the largest of the islands with an area of 20 hectares. The name "Araneb" or Rabbits comes from the great numbers of rabbits that were grown on the island during the time of the French mandate early in the 20th century. It is now a nature reserve for green turtles, rare birds and rabbits. Declared as a protected area by UNESCO in 1992, camping, fire building or other depredation is forbidden. In addition to its scenic landscape, the Palm Island is also a cultural heritage site. Evidence for human occupation, dated back to the Crusader period, was uncovered during 1973 excavations by the General Directorate of Antiquities.
• The Bakar Islands (Cow Island)
It was also known as St Thomas Island during the Crusades. It is the closest to the shore and can be accessed via a bridge that was built in 1998.
• The Bellan Island
The Island’s name comes from a plant found on the island and used to make brooms. Some people claim that the name comes from the word “blue whale” (Baleine in French) that appeared next to the island in early 20th century.
• Fanar (Lantern) Island
The Island is 1600 meters long and it is the home for an old light-house built during the 1960's.
The Soap Khan
At the end of the 15th century, the governor of Tripoli (Lebanon) Youssef Bek Sayfa established Khan Al Saboun (the hotel of soap traders). This market was finished at the beginning of the 16th century, the last days of the Mamlouks ruling. The manufacture of soap was very popular in Tripoli. There, the market became a trade center where soap was produced and sold. Afterwards, traders of Tripoli began to export their soap to Europe.
At first, those perfumed soaps were offered as gifts in Europe. Therefore, handiwork developed in Tripoli. Due to the ongoing increase of the demand, craftsmen started to consider this job as a real art and wanted to satisfy their product amateurs by manufacturing various forms of more effective good-quality soap. That’s how the Arab and occidental countries began to import the soap of Tripoli. Nowadays, we find all kinds of soaps in Tripoli: slimming soaps, anti-acne soaps, moisturizing soaps… Some producers are even turning to exportation more than ever.
The raw material used for these kinds of soap is olive oil. The Tripoli soap is also composed of: honey, essential oils, natural aromatic raw materials like: flowers, petals, herbs… The soaps are dried in the sun, in a dry atmosphere: this allows the evaporation of water that served to mix the different ingredients.
The drying operation lasts for almost three months. As water evaporates, a thin white layer appears on the soap surface: it is the soda that comes from the sea salts. The craftsman brushes the soap very carefully with his hand until the powder trace is entirely eliminated.