Tripoli Stories and Tips

Tripoli: Souks and Castles

Tripoli Photo, Tripoli, Libya

Tripoli is the historic main city of Lebanon, the city that, until the French period, was the main port of Lebanon and one of the largest in Greater Syria. That all changed, though, during the French Mandate. The French, wanting to establish a majority Christian state, overlooked Tripoli for Beirut as a candidate for the new capitol because of its majority Sunni Muslim population. Today, though, Tripoli maintains much of its spirit and is the most historically interesting city in Lebanon. With old souks, mosques, a Crusader castle, and a friendly atmosphere, Tripoli is perhaps my favorite city in Lebanon.

Because of its position far to the north and because of its majority Muslim population, Tripoli thankfully escaped most of the ravages of the Civil War. Today, it is divided into the medieval town and the modern town, two towns with completely different atmospheres. The modern town (al-Mina), located out on a peninsula jutting out into the Mediterranean, is a city in the vein of Beirut. It has towering office buildings and apartment complexes, chic restaurants and shops, and a much more modern flare. While there isn’t much in the way of history to see here, al-Mina is worth a visit for its restaurants and because of its lovely Corniche. The Corniche, though not as large as Beirut’s, is equally as interesting and the perfect place for an evening stroll on summer evenings, when local families come out to do the same.

The Medieval city, dating from back to the Crusader era, when the city was a Crusader stronghold, is the far more interesting sight in Tripoli. The city itself is not as large as ones you will find in Aleppo or Damascus, but it is still an impressive sight. Its compactness makes it a little less intimidating than other old cities in the area and makes it so you can see all the sights in a day. There is no real way in which one should approach the old city, and the best thing to do is just wander - eventually you will stumble upon all the things you want to see. The city contains a number of mosques, the most impressive being the Great Mosque, as well as numerous khans, churches, and baths. One khan worth seeking out is khan es-Saboun (the Soap Khan) where you can see traditional soap-making practices and pick up any one of over 100 scented soaps for people back home (the mint and jasmine are my favorites).

Hovering above the old city is the Citadel of Saint Gilles, a Crusader castle named after Raymond Saint Gilles, the Crusader ruler of Tripoli. While the castle itself is not as impressive as those found in Syria, it still is worth a visit and its position above the city makes for great views.

Other than that, there is not much more to do than walk and perhaps stop at the Hallab Bros. sweet shop for the best sweets in the Arab world.

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