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Panoramic Views > North > Tripoli

Visiting Tripoli

The Saint Giles Citadel

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 the river.


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.

Abu Elias

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 Shmeisseh.

For 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.

Translation from the French: Kenneth Mortimer

For the addresses of Tripoli restaurants click here and just spoil yourself!



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