The Saint Giles Citadel rises above the town. It may
be reached by car, but by those who have the courage
for a hard steep climb it may be reached on foot from
Souk as-Samak, the Fish Market, in the old town.
Known in Arabic as Qa’lat Sanjil, the citadel
is one of the most important fortresses built by the
Crusaders in Lebanon. It has undergone a number of
modifications over the centuries at the whim of the
successive Fatemite, Mameluke and Ottoman occupiers,
and it has been repaired as often as it has been burnt
or partially demolished. From its position four hundred
feet high, the citadel was first of all a fortified
vantage point from which one could follow the path
of the caravans alongside the mighty rock on which
it stood. This road has now become the main axis of
the bazaars in the historic part of the city. Inside
the citadel its rich past seems to come to life, with
its prayer halls, its great rooms once serving as
quarters for the soldiers, over one hundred smaller
chambers serving different purposes, a prison, and
stables for the horses.
A short visit to the part of the old Seraglio
It would be a shame to visit the Old City without
going round the charming area of the Old Seraglio,
where in Nahasseen Street of the copper beaters a
number of craftsmen are still at work. In particular
you may see the creations of the two young Tartoussi
sisters, who have taken the unusual step of joining
their male counterparts. This must be seen as a real
challenge when one considers that it is said to take
thirty years of hard work and apprenticeship to become
a master copper worker. There was so much respect
for this fine metal that there was a whole bazaar
devoted to the craft in Tripoli of old.
At the end of Nahasseen Street, you will come across
the street of old clothes. For anyone who still has
money to spare after buying their way through the
bazaars, here is an opportunity not to be wasted.
Oddments of every kind are available if only one has
the patience to rummage in the drawers!
Do not miss, in an alley at right angles on the right,
one of the oddest secret corners of Old Tripoli, Saeh
Books, the Pilgrim’s Bookshop, whose obscure
shelves form a maze full of books protected by plastic
sheets from the dust of centuries. An astounding collection
of classics, from Nabokov through Balzac to Plato,
is jealously hoarded there. The very garden is filled
with boxes of books, so crammed are the premises from
the floor to the ceiling!
Abu Ali District
This may easily be reached by crossing Khan al-Khayateen
(Tailors) to the Abu Ali River. You are confronted
directly by the Bortassi mosque, whose minaret rises
directly over the archway of the entrance.
It is in the northern part of the Old City that you
may find the dervish houses of Tripoli. The main one
stand on Abu Samra Hill; now being restores, it enjoys
the support of the Turkish town of Konya.
When the weather is fine, it is well worth taking
a stroll to look around the permanent vegetable and
fruit market, overflowing with fresh food. Here on
Sundays there is Souk al-Ahad, the Sunday Market,
offering wares of every kind to those on the lookout
for a good bargain. The vegetable market will soon
move to the platform now under construction just above
Al-Mina is the seaward side of the city, known in
particular for its cabinet-making industry, and here
the main suppliers of superior wood are installed.
Here also there is boat-building and in fact Tripoli
is known for its specialized craftsmen who move according
to demands between Tripoli and Sidon.
Still on the subject of the artisans, we remark that
it is at Al-Mina that the pottery workers are to be
found. Three are still engaged in the art but as none
of them has any successors it is to be feared that
this industry is doomed to extinction.
It is well worthwhile paying a visit to the workshop
of Abu Elias, whose wrinkles and welcoming smile encourage
you to listen to his technical explanations on how
his products are treated in the oven.
As for the various monuments, the Lion Tower is worthy
of attention, being one of the towers built by the
Mamelukes on the seafront which are still standing.
It is still in good condition although it dates back
to the 15th century.
If you pass by at four in the evening, the man in
charge will light up the ceiling lamps of the main
hall and let you climb up to the roof. From there
you will have a better view of the Tripoli railway
station, now out of use and invaded by weeds, though
there is some question of it being renovated.
At Al-Mina you will also find Beit el-Fann, the Arts
House, a dynamic little center which regularly puts
on concerts and exhibitions.
One should consider prolonging one’s walk round
Al-Mina, Mino Street and the adjacent alleyways. These
are known for their lively nightlife, as is made clear
by the number of bordering pubs. However, by day Mino
Street is perfectly calm and one may stroll around
at leisure among the old houses with their orange
trees. It is here that one may find the Via Mina Hotel
with its smart but traditional charm. Open in 2006,
it has since unfortunately been closed, to become
a private residential hotel.
Food lovers will not fail to turn aside at the famous
ice cream shops Ish Ish and Hadla, situated a few
steps from the Port. The vendors offer a delicious
citrus ice made by an old technique of refrigeration
from lemon and orange juice. For a lunch break there
is nothing like a samkeh harra spiced fish sandwich
from Abu Fadl, facing the public garden, or a fatteh
from Abu Saïd next to Sleep Comfort, or a proper
meal at Papa Kozma’s, where the small courtyard
surrounded by greenery is most relaxing.
To the right of Ish Ish, a covered passageway leads
you to the commercial artery of the historic center
of Al-Mina, where you find three mosques, El-‘Ali,
Ghazi and Al-Hamidi, and a bath house of the Ottoman
period as well as a Mameluke madrassa, Al-Mardaniya.
Turning back to the ice cream vendors, after some
150 yards you come to a Mameluke caravansary, Khan
Tamassili, with its monumental doorway and its high
vaults whose profile indicates the site and characterize
the monument. You may also pause to have a coffee
at the Badih Café near the Gendarmerie.
Do not fail to visit the boatyard a few steps away
where the art has been handed down from father to
son. But work came to a stop during the recent war
and now production is devoted to model ships. The
owner will show you his workshop, his tools, his products,
and his techniques. He will recount his own memories
and even those of his father, a master carpenter in
the glory days of the French Mandate!
At the Port in summer the fishermen will urge you
to go with them on a sea trip in the direction of
the Palm Tree Islands. These islands have been classified
as a nature reserve since 1992. Three in number, they
are rather less than three miles from the Tripoli
coast. An ecosystem on their own, they are one of
the rare places where turtles come to lay their eggs
and are a resting place for migrant birds. On the
shores there are medicinal herbs and in summer the
beaches attract bathers in search of some quiet.
Tripoli International Fair
Tripoli International Fair is one of the major achievements
of Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer, famous also
for his part in the construction of the city of Brasilia
and of the seat of the United Nations in New York.
Started in 1963, the project of the Tripoli Fair was
terminated between 1968 and 1974. However, it is only
since 1990 that it has been in service. Its 250 acres
lie between the Old City of Tripoli and the Mina Port.
Its characteristic oval shape starting from its entry
gates resembles a flattened tent. Beneath this there
are the various international pavilions and the service
areas, a square floating on water for the Lebanese
Pavilion, a theater dome, a museum and a heliport.
Although so far not used, these buildings are still
in good condition and need only some finishing touches
and some interior furnishing. Since 1994, the Fair’s
Board of Administration, semi-public, has fitted up
the show rooms and conference halls. These are used
for the major public events taking place in Tripoli.
In the same area one finds the very active Safadi
Cultural Center, in the immense conference hall of
which public functions are regularly held. In its
ultra-modern premises courses of English, Spanish
and Russian are given. The young people of Tripoli
can also take advantage of the cafeteria floor to
relax or to go over their studies.
Where to eat
At the different halts in the Old City we have already
indicated the stalls where one may buy kaak, pastries
and other delicacies. In one quarter is the Café
Moussa bakery famous for its wood-burning oven a hundred
years old where one may delight in kaak and manakish!
Not far from Al-Madrassat al-Qartawiyat is the oldest
oven in the town still working to produce a kaak to
be eaten hot with summaq! Next to Al-Madrassa Saqragiyat,
Fadi el-Mabsout offers you traditional pounded ice
cream flavored with peanut. At Dabboussi’s,
moghrabieh without meat can be taken in sandwich form.
Facing the Uwaysat Mosque, the Nouh el-Haddad &
Sons pastry-cook’s gives you the best haléweh
foul, fatteh or hommos you have many addresses! We
suggest they should be savored at Abu Saïd’s
at Al-Mina and Dannoun’s downtown.
For fish one must go to Al-Mina, to the Al-Mina Restaurant
and for excellent samakeh harra to the Silver Shore
or to Abu Fadi if you want it in sandwich.
Naturally, one cannot leave Tripoli without dropping
in at the pastry shops Qasr el-Helou Abdul Rahman
Hallab & Sons, and Raffat Haalab, to taste the
famous baklavas, basma and bellawrieh, and to buy
some for friends.
There are also the wonderful Hallab places and many
small, little-known but excellent pastry shops which
have specialties of which only they know the secret.