Tripoli (Republic of Lebanon): 2013 Islamic Culture Capital for the Arab Region


Tripoli is the second largest city in the Republic of Lebanon, after Beirut. It has always been known for its strategic location, connecting the eastern shore of the Mediterranean with the Arab land, which has made it an important commercial center in the Arab region.


Tripoli is located on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean, and it connects the coastal cities with Syria’s midland and with Iraqi and Gulf cities through the Tripoli-Homs Natural passage, which has played an important role over the ages. Tripoli is considered as the second capital of Lebanon after Beirut. Situated 85 km north of the capital Beirut, and 30 km south of Syria-Lebanon’s northern borders, its total area is estimated at 15 km², including its port. Tripoli overlooks a 3000 meter-high mountain range, and a forest of cedars. A river, known locally as “River Abu Ali”, in reference to “Abu Ali Ibn Ammar”, one of the city’s governors from the family of Banu Ammar that ruled Tripoli at the end of the 11th century A.D., runs through the city and flows from the Qadisha Cave, on top of al-Makmal Mountain.



Tripoli is derived from the Greek word “Tripolis”, which means “three cities”. The name refers to the first union of three Phoenician cities, namely Tyre, Sidon and Arados, which led to the establishment of a Phoenician city with three neighborhoods, namely Mahlata, Mayza, and Kayza. That city formed the basis upon which Tripoli was founded.
The city was also known by other names. In the Amarna letters the name Derbly was mentioned, and in other places Ahlia or Wahlia are mentioned. In an engraving concerning the Assyrian invasion of the city, it is called Mahallata or Mahlata, Mayza, and Kayza. Also, between the 6th and 4th century B.C. the city became the capital of the Phoenician Union and was called Athar, as revealed by the coins stricken in it in 189-188 B.C. Likewise, the city was called Tripolis, meaning “Triple city”, in the 4th century B.C., and it held that name until the 7th century A.D. when the Arabs called it “Atrabulus”, adding the “A” to “Tarabulus” (Tripoli) to distinguish it from Tripoli of the West, the capital-city of Libya , but the “A” was later deleted to become “Tarabulus” (Tripoli). Nowadays, the city is called Tarablus al-Sham or Tarablus al-Sharq (Tripoli of the East), to distinguish it from the Libyan Tripoli.

Overview of the history of Tripoli:

The coast of Tripoli contains geographical formations that were used as ports. Also, the city was used as a major naval base under the rule of Alexander the Great. The city was greatly developed in the Roman age, during which a lot of historical monuments were built in the city. However, the city was gravely destroyed by an earthquake during the Byzantine age, in 551 A.D.


Under the rule of the Umayyad, Tripoli played an important role as a military base, while under the Fatimid rule, it enjoyed autonomy and became a leading knowledge center in the region. In 1109 A.D., the city was seized by the Crusaders, and most of its landmarks were seriously ruined, including its library “Darul al-ilm” or “The Hub of Knowledge”, which contained about three million manuscripts, and was as rich as Baghdad’s library.

Tripoli was conquered in 1289 by Sultan al-Mansour Qalawun, the Sultan of Egypt and the Levant, who ordered that the old city be demolished and rebuilt on the plains under Tripoli Castle. Also, for over two centuries, the Mamluk Sultans made it the provincial capital of their kingdom, and established several gates for it in the different directions. Likewise, its alleys were further sprung under the houses, making them safer and turning them into mazes and corridors known only to their people. Equally, military towers were established along its coast.

After the war of “Marj Dabiq” (the Prairie of Dabiq) in 922 A.H./1516 A.D., Tripoli came under the Ottoman rule. The Ottomans maintained the same system applied in the city by appointing deputies for several years. Also, they constructed a lot of new residential areas around the city of the Mamluk; hence, the city grew bigger, and the number of its mosques, schools, zawaya, baths and khans (hotels) was doubled.

The Ottomans ruled Tripoli the longest, i.e. more than 400 years, except 8 years (1832-1840), during which Ibrahim Pacha Ibn Muhammad Ali Al-Kabir, the ruler of Egypt, entered the city and turned it into a military base during his war against al-Sham (the Levant). However, in 1840, the Ottomans regained the city and it remained under their rule until 1918, when the city fell under the French Mandate. Nevertheless, Tripoli remained the leading coastal city until it gained its independence in 1943, and became the second capital after Beirut, and the capital of Northern Lebanon Governorate.

The Main Islamic Civilization Landmarks in Tripoli:

Tripoli is considered as the richest city in the Eastern Mediterranean in terms of heritage, and it contains the most Mamluk landmarks, after Cairo. It is also an open museum of the archeological landmarks of the Romans, Byzantines, Fatimid and Crusaders, and joins the Mamluk and Ottoman architectures.

The city also includes a large number of historical structures, including neighborhoods, souks, houses, alleys and landmarks. Equally, it harbors more than 160 archeological landmarks, including mosques, schools, khans, hammams, souks, etc. Similarly, Tripoli includes a number of ancient mosques from the Mamluk era mostly, including:

Mansouri Great Mosque

Taynal Mosque

It is considered as one of the greatest mosques in Tripoli. It was established by Sultan al-Ashraf Khaleel Ibn Qalawun in 1294 A.D., and it is one of the biggest and oldest Mamluk mosques in the city.

Tripoli also includes other ancient mosques, such as Aattar Mosque, which is one of the biggest mosques in Tripoli, and it is the city’s third most important mosque. It was built in the Mamluk era by Badr Eddine Ibn Al-Attar, one of Tripoli’s richest druggists ‘after whom it was named), in 1325 A.D. on his own money.

The Bertasi Mosque or the Bertasi School is one of the most beautiful mosques of Tripoli. It was built in 1310 A.D. by Issa Ibn Omar Al-Bertasi, after whom it was named. The city has other mosques, namely the Uwayssi Mosque, named after Mohyi Eddine Al-Uwayssi, who built it in 856 A.H. The mosque contains the mausoleum of Mahmoud Bey Al-Sanjak, the one that built the famous mosque that holds his name in al-Tabbaneh. Other mosques in the city include Tawbah Mosque, built by the Mamluk Sultan al-Nasser Muhammad Ibn Qlawun in 1315 A.D. and restored in the Ottoman period in 1612 A.D.; and Taynal Mosque, built by Prince Saif Eddine Taynal Al-Ashrafi Al-Hajib in 1336 A.D. This Mosque resembles the beautiful mosques of Cairo and Damascus. In addition to the aforementioned mosques, Tripoli contains tens of historical mosques. It also includes many schools that date back to the Mamluk era. Some of these schools include the School of Sheikh Al-Hindi, known as al-Mashehad, decorated in beautiful colorful ornaments both in the inside and the outside; al-Shamsiya school, the oldest school of Mamluk in Lebanon,; al-Nassiriya school, built by Sultan Al-Nasser Hassan Bin Muhammad Bin Qalawun; Prince Shihab Eddine Qartay School, which resembles the beautiful mosques of Cairo and Damascus; al-Ajamiya school; al-Dhahiriya school, al-Nouriya school, which contains a beautiful niche (mihrab), etc.

Tripoli Castle

Tripoli also contains a lot of towers and military castles built along its coast, such as Tripoli Castle, Prince Aytmash Tower, Prince Julbane Tower, Tarabay (Sheikh Affan), Prince Al-Ahmadi (al-Fakhura), Prince Brisbay (known as Assabaa), and Sultan Qaytbay Tower (known as the Upstream Tower).

Tripoli Castle is considered as one of the greatest and oldest castles in Lebanon. It was built by the Arab leader Soufian Ibn Mujeeb Al-Azadi in 636 A.D. and in the 11th century A.D., the Fatimid built a mosque inside it, and in 1103 A.D., Captain Raymond de Saint-Gilles built a fortress above it. In 1307A.D. the Mamluk Prince Asatudamur Al-Kurji turned the fortress into a castle, in which he built several towers. Then in 1521 A.D., the Ottoman Sultan, Suleiman Ibn Selim I, added the northern tower which includes the Castle’s gate.

The castle is located above a rocky hill, and contains an old hammam, three mosques; a prison; a stable; rooms for the leaders; huge rooms for the soldiers, ammunition and the artillery; wells; water reservoirs; basins of drinking water; a graveyard; courtyards for military trainings and parades; rooms; gates at the bottom of its fences leading to the river or to the internal markets; and windows for the artillery.

Tripoli also contains many palaces, old houses, hammams, khans (hotels) and souks (markets), which are considered as tourist destinations in Lebanon. Likewise, the central square, known as al-Tell Square, contains the Ottoman, five-stories-high Clock Tower, presented to Tripoli by Sultan Abdulhamid II. Next to the Clock Tower, surrounded by residential buildings, shops and hotels, built in the Ottoman era, we find al-Manshieh Park.

Al-Tell Clock Tower, gift by Sultan Abdulhamid II to Tripoli