History of Tripoli, Mamluk masterpiece in Lebanon

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One of the most beautiful and historic cities of Lebanon, Tripoli among all, is certainly the one that most tied itself to the “Islamic world”, so much so that, right here, the Mamluks gave a taste of their art.

The words of Ibn Battuta

“Resumed the trip I arrived in Tripoli, a capital of Syria and among its most important cities, with rivers of water that cross it and trees and gardens around it. On one side it flanks the sea and on the other the countryside, which it guarantees considerable resources, has excellent markets and fertile land.The new city is located 2 miles from the sea, while old Tripoli was on the coast.

Ancient Tripoli

The city, like all its Lebanese sisters, boasts ancient origins that are lost even in 30’000 BC, however, as for Beirut, the city did not begin to become famous under the Phoenicians, who however inhabited it permanently from the 8th century century BC . However, its particularly strategic position soon made it one of the most important cities in the region, so much so that under the Seleucids the city was able to mint money and enjoyed great autonomy for a long time.


With the arrival of the Romans, Tripoli underwent several structural changes, one of which is highlighted in its own name. For a long time, in fact, 3 different communities lived in the city: one linked to the island of Arwad, in Syria, one to Tire and one to Sidon; under the Romans, the latter were given full autonomy and real portions of the city, so much so that they were called “Tripoli” or “Three cities”.

Arabs, crusades, Mamluks and Ottomans

With the arrival of the Arabs, the city turned into the port of Damascus, becoming one of the most important realities of present-day Lebanon and, above all, the first to have become one thanks to the Arabs. It will then be conquered by the Crusaders in 1109 who will also place Byblos and Latakia, two of the most important settlements in the Near East, under its dominion. In 1289 the County of Tripoli will finally be reconquered by the Mamluks, who here will show all their artistic and engineering talent, making it second only to Aleppo and Damascus.


In addition to embellishing it with extraordinary mosques, madrasas and public and private structures of incredible artistic charm, the Mamluks will create a very original defense system that certainly set the scene. Unlike in the past, in which the main defenses were represented by the walls, in Tripoli the latter were replaced by new buildings with particularly solid walls and many loopholes; moreover, each building was designed to have its own guard, in order to make the city always ready for “home” battles. Under the Ottomans it became “the port of Aleppo” and, until the incredible growth of Beirut, it remained the most important city in Lebanon, so much so that Suleiman the Magnificent had the ancient Crusader citadel renovated.

Civil war

During the Civil War, the city was devoured by the ancient rivalry between Sunnis and Alawites, an issue that never arose and that, with the rise to power of Alawite Hafez al Assad, they had particularly sharpened. The latter are a sort of esoteric sect of Shiite origin, which lived heavy conflicts with the Mamluks and the Ottoman Empire because of what, until the coup d’etat of Assad, was judged by most Muslims as heresy. Nonetheless, this community settled in Tripoli for a long time, so as to represent about one tenth of the total population, for the rest mainly Sunni, so much so as to be considered a “stronghold”.


Precisely by virtue of his strong belonging to the Sunni world, shortly before the war poverty led to the formation of various Salafist groups, strongly linked to Saudi Arabia and the Muslim Brotherhood, allies at that time. This, combined with the bitter rivalry between the latter and the Ba’athists, represented by Hafez al Assad, will lead to an inevitable clash that will split the city in two, previously used to bringing together several different faiths. From 1984 to 1986 Tripoli will be involved in continuous armed clashes between the two factions, then forcibly stopped by the Syrian army which captured and killed many Salafists, including their “general” Samir al Hassan. Of course, this only put a temporary halt to the violence between the two factions which has continued in bursts since 2008, only to undergo an evolution with the Syrian Civil War.

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