al-Fayha deserves its name. Stretching between the
Mediterranean shore and the hill with its citadel
dominating the Old City, and with the scent of the
soap which is its specialty wafting across it, Tripoli
is a fragrant as it is large.
As Tripoli is on the way to becoming a “must”
for cultural tourism in Lebanon and the region, the
Cultural Agenda is taking the form this spring of
an invitation to travel. It provides an opportunity
to behold with new eyes a city holding treasures of
heritage, of craftsmanship and, yes! gastronomy for
anyone who knows where to find them.
It was the Madinati Association and the enthusiastic
members of this dynamic Tripoli group, notably Dr.
Rawya Majzoub and Dr. Maha Kayal, who guided us through
the streets penetrating a city which though only an
hour from Beirut remains insufficiently known.
This special number would not have seen the light
of day but for the support of the Ministry of Tourism
and the announcers, and particularly the precious
aid of Madinati; we thank them warmly for the time
and energy they have put into this project and for
the enthusiasm with which they have inspired us.
The Cultural Agenda - L'Agenda
The Old City: twenty stops
To begin with, the very name bears witness to the
veritable kaleidoscope of cultures that makes up Tripoli.
If the Greeks called it Tripoli, the Three Cities,
it was precisely because the town was founded by the
three cities of Sidon, Tyre and Arwad. Its history
is told in its stones. No less than 164 of Tripoli’s
historical monuments, most of them dating from the
14th century, have been officially classed as Historic
Monuments. Among these are as many mosques of the
Mameluke and Ottoman periods built as Madrassa (schools).
A visit to the Old City therefore offers a formidable
field of exploration for the lovers of architecture
and the enthusiasts of history. Unlike Beirut, which
has lost its traditional urban thread, Tripoli has
preserved its casbar, its souqs or bazaars and its
mosques, whose charm recalls for us the alleys of
Damascus or Aleppo. One has only to raise one’s
head to see above the stalls the musharabieh several
centuries old, the Mameluke inscriptions chiseled
in the stone or the sculptured decorations. The Old
City is a labyrinth which one can easily imagine still
haunted by ghosts of the past, while it is at the
same time a place bustling with a lively and colorful
commerce, from which it is hard to extricate oneself
without having bought and tasted at least one of the
The very structure of Tripoli shows its particularity.
The medieval town, still easily recognizable on account
of its imposing citadel, is surrounded by the Ottoman
quarter, itself surrounded by the modern districts.
Al-Mina, contiguous with Tripoli, is on the whole
quite a modern town, with fine, wide avenues and also
a downtown area near the actual port, which itself
is as old and picturesque as the oriental bazaars
Between the two urban areas stretches the International
Fair, a masterpiece of the architect Niemeyer, and
immense island of verdure which seeks its vocation
but remains a treasure for the capital of the North.
1- The Taynal Mosque
The first stop of our tour is at the Taynal Mosque,
named after Prince Seif Ed-dine Taynal, once governor
of Tripoli. It is recognizable thanks to its dark
green domes, which from a distance seem covered with
velvet. From the domes of the first hall of pure Islamic
tradition to the monumental doorway which separates
the two prayer halls, the architecture is as rich
as it is complex. Its various facets bear witness
to the layers of time; the Taynal Mosque was built
in the 14th century on the site of a Crusader church,
itself erected over the remains of a Roman temple,
as is indicated by the columns of classical granite
visible in the first area of prayer. The floor and
the superstructure on the other hand were the work
of the Mamelukes.
2- The Café Moussa
Go past the cemetery then turn left along the main
axis of the bazaar, and you will find yourself crossing
the little quarter of cafés known as Café
Moussa. Only men can be seen on the terraces, which
does not mean that women are forbidden to enter! During
the month of Ramadan in particular the crowd is mixed.
Have no hesitation about venturing into the neighboring
streets of the working district of Bab er-Ramel, through
which runs the old road to Beirut and where one may
seen craftsmen engaged in their art, blacksmiths working
in frangi (European) or Arab style, sculptors of grave
stones, bakers and so on. Any of them will take pleasure
in explaining to you the working of their craft.
The blacksmith: The small workshop facing the cemetery
is lighted by nothing other than the glare of the
flames in the center. The blacksmith does all his
work by hand. If he is alone at his task, it is because,
of his two sons, one is a doctor and the other is
an officer. His work is principally that of making
tools used by the other craftsmen. He produces his
tools by the “Arab” method, that is to
say without soldering.
In a small alley at right angles is El-Ouzeh, the
temple of ashta, as well as a bakery famous for its
wood-burning oven a hundred years old. During the
holy month of Ramadan, everyone comes here to buy
kaak sprinkled with sesame seeds. Four traditional
ovens are disseminated in the streets of Café
Moussa, the latest of which is quite recent.
Now you have only to go along the main axis of the
souq after Café Moussa and you will come to
the third stage of our itinerary, and Al-Hammam al-Jadeed
will be one hundred yards further on your left.
3- Al-Hammam al-Jadeed
Ten minutes’ walk from the Taynal Mosque is
enough to take you to Al-Hammam al-Jadeed, of the
18th century. Its lofty vaults, its spacious halls
and its Mameluke fountain are well worth a visit,
even though the hammam is no longer used as a public
bathhouse since its restoration early in the nineteen-seventies.
Today in fact it belongs to the Al-‘Azm family
from Syria. Do not forget to have a look at the part
of its doorway where there is an ornamental chain,
which one could swear is of metal, hewn in fact out
of one block of stone. Do not hesitate to ask the
guardian of the place to tell you the history of the
subways dug out between the hammam and the citadel.
4- The Al-Moallaq Mosque
On leaving the hammam, glance upwards and you will
see the mosque Al-Moallaq (the Suspended) rising above
a row of shops. A singular feature is that it was
built over a roofed passageway! Alongside is a garden
in which one may see the tomb of its creator, Mahmoud
Backing the bathhouse and perpendicular to the main
axis of the souq, you will see before you the beginning
of an alleyway. Follow it through the arc of a circle
that it forms among the residential houses. The basements
of these houses are older than the upper stories,
sometimes pre-dating the 15th century. The children
of the neighborhood will be delighted to welcome you!
Tucked into one of the old buildings in the residential
quarter bordering the commercial axis, this monument,
unique in Lebanon, is today a lodging for widows and
destitute women. Originally intended as a residence
for sufis, Al-Kanqah was built during the second half
of the 15th century. At present there are twelve families
living there in the rooms surrounding a courtyard
open to the sky with a central water basin.
6- The Tahham Mosque
Of Mameluke origin, the Tahham Mosque is built over
shops and is distinguished by a richly sculptured
7- Al-Madrassa al-Saqraqiya and Al-Madrasaa
After the Tahham Mosque, turn left and carry straight
on to Saf al-Blat Street, recently re-named Abdel-Kader
Kabbarah. This road going from the cemetery to the
Great Mosque used to be paved in order to facilitate
the passage of funeral processions.
The entrance to the Khatouniya may be recognized by
the two vertical marble panels on which a wakif, a
religious decree, is engraved. As for the Saqraqiya,
an inscription runs along its façade. Twenty
meters further on is the Arghoun-Shah Mosque, characterized
by its cylindrical ornamented minaret.
As everywhere in the old city of Tripoli, the small
streets hide some useful addresses. The surroundings
of these madrassa (schools) are a good haunt for gourmets,
particularly that of Fadi al-Mabsout, specialist of
the traditional pounded ice cream.
8- Dbebseh Street
Look out for Dbebseh Street, where you will be able
to watch the cabinet-makers at work. Here also you
may find the Azm and Saad Center, as well as a vocational
trading school and its store founded by the association.
Here we may hear the purring of the circular saws.
Legs for tables are piled up on the floor of the workshops.
Different molds of wood are hung up on the walls which
allow the craftsmen to execute a number of different
patterns. One can well understand here how it is that
Tripoli came to reputed as the capital of the furniture
industry! Showing off the vitality of the furniture-makers
of Tripoli, its artisans can execute any model submitted
by a client. In particular you may place an order
for a musharabiyeh made to measure. Now once again
take the Saf al-Blat in the direction of the Great
9- The Great Mosque
Something about its architecture holds your attention.
Perhaps it is the minaret tower, former church belfry
converted, whose Lombard style in the middle of a
mosque may well cause surprise. Or the north portal,
which also reminds one of a church doorway. It is
in fact likely that the Great Mosque was built towards
the end of the 13th century on top of the Crusaders’
Saint Mary of the Tower Cathedral. The madrassa surrounding
the Great Mosque have themselves mostly become small
mosques. Each one contains the tomb of its founder,
with the exception of Al-Nasiriyat madrassa, whose
founder was the Sultan himself, Al-Nasser Hassan ben-Qalauon.
Historically speaking, the surrounding markets were
only of the kind called “noble”, that
is to say clean and noiseless, typically for gold,
jewelry, perfumes and sweets, and this is still the
case. Now go round the Mosque towards Al-Madrassat
10- Al-Madrassat al-Qartawiyat
In the main street, you will find the place of the
madrassa with its four windows with inscriptions dating
from Mameluke times with the mark of the governor.
Just below, one may see under the glass the inscriptions
of the diary of the governor, precious witnesses to
the daily life of the Mameluke period. Alongside,
you may see “Beit esh-Sheikh”, the house
of the chief, with its fine 19th-century staircase,
as well as one of the doors of the Great Mosque.
To find the main entrance to the madrassa, once again
follow the main axis of the bazaar for fifty meters
(yards) and then turn left facing the Ar-Rez confectioner’s.
This madrassa is one of the most ornamented monuments
of Tripoli. In particular its entrance is decorated
with the stalactite motif and panels of polychrome
marble. There is a window which is the oldest in Tripoli,
dating back to the 14th century. Something which is
not to be missed, just opposite the Islamic bookshop,
is the most ancient bakery oven in the city, still
working, and turning out excellent bread, which should
be eaten with sumac when still warm!
Turn back towards the Great Mosque and take the direction
of the As-Siyaghine souq, which goes from the extreme
right of the square along to the Al-Bazarken souq,
which in turn ascends to the ‘Ezz ed-Dine Hammam
11- Hammam an-Nouri
Before entering this bazaar, you should visit the
splendid Hammam an-Nouri, no longer being used and
unfortunately in an advanced state of decay. Not easy
to find straight away, it hides behind the back of
a workshop just before the first jeweler in the street.
If you ask the traders nearby, they will tell you
which place to go to. The bathhouse is in fact invisible
from outside and its entrance may be mistaken for
the back of the shop.
Completed in 1333, this hammam is without doubt the
most impressive in Tripoli. Its fountain, domes and
multicolored slabs give the modern visitor an idea
of its past splendor. Today its spacious rooms are
completely abandoned, but fortunately there is in
preparation a project for its restoration.
Let us go back to the bazaar As-Siyaghine. The souq
of the jewelers is one of those bazaars in Tripoli
the names of which correspond to the items on sale.
Restored during the nineteen-nineties, the main artery
of the bazaar is noteworthy for the fine wooden door
canopies though one may well regret that the work
involved meant exposing the stone without any covering
layer, so it has begun to crumble.
Fifty meters from the beginning of the bazaar, at
the end of a small cul-de-sac on the right, you may
admire buildings dating from the Ottoman period, of
which the basements are Mameluke. A little further
along on the left you may pause at the Hammam al-Abed.
12- Hammam al-Abed
This hammam has two claims to distinction; it is the
only bathhouse still in use in Tripoli today and it
is the least elegant. The old central basin in the
court has disappeared, following remodeling by the
proprietors. However, the interior is quite comfortable,
with cushions and traditional ornaments at one’s
disposal, and it is easy to forget that one is in
the heart of the souq! Only men have right of entry,
every day between eight in the morning and ten in
On leaving the hammam, at the right of the entrance
cast your eye on the magnificent semi-cylindrical
musharabiyeh, which in Tripoli typically embellishes
the façade of any old dwelling.
at the end of Jewelers’ Bazaar, on the left,
what is called “the Soap Caravansary”
was in Ottoman times a military arsenal. So this courtyard
surrounded by two-story buildings has never been devoted
to the actual fabrication of soap, a specialty of
Tripoli reputed in particular for colored soaps made
with olive oil. But here is the sales outlet for soap
After the Jewelers, turn right, and twenty yards further
on you will find the main artery and here you turn
left. You might take a turning for Souq as-Samak,
the Fish Bazaar. Fish are no longer on sale here,
but instead you will perceive the Al-Uwaysiya Mosque,
easily recognizable on account of its large sand-colored
dome. Facing its entrance, in a little sloping street,
is the Nouh al-Haddad & Sons Confectionery, known
for its haléwet Shmeisseh. The name comes from
its creator, the Shmeissem family. You could not do
better than tuck into these pastries of loukoum (Turkish
delight) with cream filling. The confectioner’s
closes at four in the afternoon.
Before turning to Souq as-Samak, you might also go
towards Souq al-Attarine, the Perfume Bazaar, and
stop at Dabboussi’s, where the best moghrabieh
in Tripoli are prepared. You may eat on the premises
or take away, for Dabboussi’s proposes an original
formula, moghrabieh sandwiches without meat!
Before carrying on down Souq Bezerken into Hammam
‘Ezz ed-Dine Square, stop at the sellers of
wooden molds for kaak and maamoul.
14- Hammam ‘Ezz ed-Dine
One of the most pretentious bathhouses in Tripoli
and Lebanon, Hammam ‘Ezz ed-Dine has recently
been restored, with a covering layer to ensure the
preservation of the stone. Built on the remains of
a Crusader hospice, as is shown by the Latin inscriptions
over its doors, the hammam was offered to the city
of Tripoli by the Mameluke governor ‘Ezz ed-Dine
Aybak in the 14th century. It is intended to make
of it a museum bathhouse.
On the right of the square outside is the Tailors’
Caravansary, Khan al-Khayateen.
15- Khan al-Khayateen
Easily recognizable by its high white glazed arches
with wooden hoods, Khan al-Khayateen is different
to the other caravansaries in the city. In point of
fact it does not have an open yard, but is rather
a long passage that reminds one of the arteries of
the bazaar. Restored in 1974, the Tailors’ Caravansary
is one of the most ancient in Tripoli, dating from
the first half of the 14th century. It is still possible
to find here abaya, the square-shouldered Arab cloak,
Here also they make theatrical costumes, notably for
the dance troupe Caracalla.
16- Khan al-Misriyeen
The Egyptians’ Caravansary is just opposite
the previous one, the other side of the main axis.
Built during the same period as Khan al-Khayateen,
its structure is more traditional. Now this khan is
composed of two-story buildings around a square court
in the center of which is a fountain.
It is in this particular caravansary that you can
visit one of the last traditional soap-makers of Tripoli,
Mahmoud Sharkass. In the yard, go up the stairs to
the first floor to see Sharkass deftly molding the
balls of soap or polishing the tablets after they
have been baked and cut up. Musk, amber, in the form
of ball, tablet or rose, you have a wide choice! The
kilo of soap (nearly two-and-a-half pounds) costs
L.p. 10,000. The place is well worth the visit; hanging
on the wall of the little factory, is the photo of
the founder, the grandfather of Mahmoud, with the
old-fashioned tools he used.
Sharkass will explain with enthusiasm the different
techniques of his craft. But a certain nostalgia hangs
over the place. The sector is in fact losing momentum,
for there are now few buyers of the traditional soap.
However, by taking advantage of the present tendency
to demand natural “bio” products for the
body, this skill may yet survive.
Another option we strongly recommend for anyone wishing
to buy soap is the shop Almasbana, situated in the
premises of the former soap factory, with its wide
range going from the traditional jefti olive-oil soap
to the vegetal soap perfumed with mint, rose, violet,
amber or camomile, not forgetting the house specialty,
its transparent glycerin soap. Other accessories for
the bathroom are there, as authentic as they are refined.
The shop is outside the old Mameluke city in the Zahrieh
quarter. The owners of the soap works, the oldest
(1880) and largest in Lebanon, the Awaida family,
have in mind the transformation of the place into
a soap museum.
Go across the Khan to the opposite side, leave behind
you the main artery of the bazaar, you will find a
cul-de-sac with the horse-boxes that once used to
hold the horses of the traders coming to the caravansary,
converted now into small cheese dairies. By going
some twenty yards along the textile bazaar, you reach
the Al-Attar Mosque on your right.
17- The Al-Attar Mosque
Easily recognizable by its monumental doorway decorated
with in scriptions, ablaq, muqarna and muzarrar, the
Mameluke Attar Mosque was built by Badr ed-Dine al-Attar.
One may go round the mosque and see on its northern
side its imposing minaret.
Backing on to the mosque, just opposite you, is a
narrow street that will lead you to the cobblers’
bazaar. Go down on the left past the countless shoe-shops
and at Berket al-Mallaha turn right along the alleyway
leading to Souq Haraj
18- Souq al-Haraj
Souk Haraj is the commercial street, the only roofed
souq in Tripoli and without doubt one of the most
particular places in the Old City. Now occupied by
dealers in mattresses, pillows and carpets, this bazaar
has recently been restored. It is lined by two-story
buildings held up by fourteen granite columns. Two
of these columns stand in the middle of the street
and one can easily find the two basins going back
to different periods. For those who feel that they
must buy a mattress made to meausure, here is the
place for a modest outlay of $200, kindly note.
You can take advantage of the view of this street
from the small terrace of the Café Haraj, one
opportunity to take a rest in the calm of the Old
19- Al-Tawba Mosque
Follow the souq to the end of the street. There you
will find the Tawba Mosque. Do not hesitate to go
down the few steps into the interior court. There
you will be charmed. Further on, to your left, starts
Churches Street. While passing, take at look at Khan
al-Askar, a khan with two courtyards, to which the
eastern entrance is visible from the street. There
is some question of converting it soon into a hotel.
20- Church Street
There are not many Christian monuments remaining in
Tripoli. In fact most were destroyed in 1279 when
the Mameluke sultan took the town from the Crusaders.
However, there are some to be found, of course in
the Street of the Churches. These were built in the
19th century. The oldest church in the street is St.
Nicholas’s, Greek Orthodox, one of the most
beautiful and imposing in Lebanon. Turned into a church
early in the 19th century, it was built on the site
of a soap works! St. George’s, also Greek Orthodox,
was built in the second half of the 19th century.
Further on is St. Michael’s Church, the oldest
Maronite church in Tripoli, built in 1889. It faces
a small Latin church, which today belongs to the Italian
school of Tripoli.
But the oldest church in Tripoli, Saydet al-Hara,
Our Lady of the Quarter, is in one of the parts of
Tabbaneh and dates from the 13th century. It was recently
restored after having been badly damaged during the
So now we have come to our journey’s end! If
you want to get back to your starting-point, take
one of the many Tripoli taxis and you will be back
at the Taynal mosque in ten minutes.