Habitation of the site of Tripoli goes back to at least the 14th century BC, but
it wasn't until about the 9th century BC that the Phoenicians established a
small trading station there. Later, under the Persians, it was home to a
confederation of the Phoenician city states of Sidon, Tyre and Arados Island.
Built on the trade and invasion route near the Abu Ali river (Qadisha river),
Tripoli's strategic position was enhanced by offshore islands, natural ports and
access to the interior. Tripolitan Craftsmen were renowned throughout the
Mediterranean for their skills at glass making and fabric weaving; and a
thriving intellectual class dwelt on poetry, art and philosophy.
Under Roman rule, starting with the take-over of the area by Pompey in 64-63 BC,
the city flourished. During this period the Romans built several monuments in
the city. The Byzantine city of Tripolis, which by then extended to the south,
was destroyed, along with other Mediterranean coastal cities, by an earthquake
and tidal wave in 551.
After 635 Tripoli became a commercial and shipbuilding center under the Omayyads.
It achieved semi-independence under the Fatimid Dynasty when it developed into a
center of learning.
At the beginning of the 12th century, the Crusaders lais siege to the city,
finally entering it in 1109. The conquest caused extensive destruction,
including the burning of Tripoli's famous library, the Dar Il-Ilm, with its
thousands of volumes.
During the Crusader’s 180 years rule, the city was the capital of the County of
Tripoli. But the Crusader Tripoli fell in 1289 to the victorious Mamluk Sultan
Qalaoun, who ordered the old port city (today Al-Mina) destroyed and a new city
built inland near the old Castle. It was this time that the numerous religious
and secular buildings were erected, many of which still survive today.
During the long Turkish Ottoman rule 1516-1918, Tripoli retained its property
and commercial importance and in these years more buildings were added to the
city’s architectural wealth. The absence of fountains can be explained by the
abundance of water flowing into the city from the mountains, an advantage that
greatly impressed chroniclers and travelers to Tripoli in the 14th century. The
absence of free-standing mausoleums can also be explained: Tripoli was neither a
capital like Cairo, nor was it a holy city like Jerusalem. It was a provincial
town, where members of the ruling elite or the middle class seem to have
preferred to immortalize themselves by endowing religious buildings, and placing
their tombs inside them.
Tripoli became a part of Lebanon in 1920.
Modern Tripoli, which has a population of about 500’000, is divided into two
parts: El-Mina (the port area and site of the ancient city) and the town of
Tripoli proper. The medieval city at the foot of the Crusader Castle is where
most of the historical sites are located. Surrounding this is a modern
metropolis which is occupied with commerce, banking and recreation. The area
known as Al-Tall, dominated by an Ottoman clock tower (built in 1901-1902) in
the heart of downtown Tripoli, is the transportation center and terminus for
most taxi routes. When shopping in the old Souks or downtown, remember that gold
is a good buy, other popular items are Tripoli's famous sweets and traditional
olive oil based soap, waterpipes and brasswork.
At the southern part of Tripoli lies the International Fair Ground extending
over an area of 1 million m2, with its unique architecture and huge
possibilities. Designed by the famous Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer.
Tripoli remains prosperous. It is the second largest city in Lebanon and still
an important port. Agriculture and small industries play a big role in the
economy of Tripoli. It’s fertile soil was put to good work since the Mamluks.
Presses extract oil from the olives harvested from the groves surrounding the
city, and small factories make soap for export from the extracted oil. Sugar is
extracted from the cane that Tripoli raised, sugar refining continued
uninterrupted from the first Arab occupation through the Mamluks till today.
Citrus, olive oil,and wool are the cities major exports.
offshore is a string of small islands. The largest, known as the island of Palm
trees or Rabbit’s island, is now a nature reserve for green turtles and rare
birds. Declared a protected area by UNESCO in 1992, camping, fire building or
other depredation is forbidden. This island also holds Roman and Crusader
Tripoli, the village of Qalmoun is known for its brass industry. The roadside is
lined with small workshops and showrooms where brass bowls, candlesticks and
other objects are hammered out in the old tradition.