November 22, 2009

Trip to Tripoli

Skyline of Tripoli (northern part).
You can see the crusader castle on the right (yes, I'll provide a microscope), and the old souqs in the middle.

We have this very old, trice-removed aunt in the family, that recently moved from Zghorta to Tripoli. We went to say ‘mabrouk’ (congratulations) for the new house.

Whenever I go to Tripoli, I am reminded that I live in the Middle East. This may be obvious to you, but when you hang around Beirut and surroundings, it’s all very western. Even in the south it is pretty much familiar. So you tend to forget at times at times that you in fact live in a totally different culture. But whenever I go Tripoli, I am surprised by the ‘Arab’ness of the place. It reminds me of Cairo, which is a #10 on the ‘Arab’ scale, whereas Beirut would rank as a #1. Damascus is somewhere around a #6.
Abu Samra, a popular neighborhood, which is a bit of a hotbed now and then for sunni fundamentalistsThree girls reading a book on the steps

So Tripoli is (for me) the only city in Lebanon where I get reminded of the Arabs as a culture. I find that quite intriguing. It is almost like traveling abroad when I go there. Maybe it is because Beirut got partially destroyed by both the Israelis and the Lebanese themselves. Tripoli – although it has seen its share of fighting – was left pretty much intact, and as such is original.
Tripoli is dustier. Simpler. More men on the streets than women. More pious maybe. More real. And definitely poorer than Beirut..

The Saint-Gilles Citadel

From this old aunt’s (new) balcony, you have an incredibly view; all the way from the cliffs of Shikka to Syria, and right over the old town.
The old town is interesting. Tripoli is known for its traditional souqs, and the one in Tripoli remind me of medieval cities.
But what I find (from a European point of view) much more interesting is the crusader castle. There’s a crusader castle right on her street! The Saint-Gilles Citadel (Qal’at Sinjil in Arabic).

Castle entrance

It’s close to 900 years ago that Raymond de Saint-Gilles – originally from Toulouse – came with the first wave of Crusaders in 1099, occupied Jerusalem, and then besieged this exact hill, overlooking the old town and the sea. He called it Mount Pellerin, and wanted to turn it into a fortress. He died there 3 years later, still laying in siege. They finally got it in 1109, and had a citadel built. The original castle burnt down some 180 years later, in 1289, when the Mamlukes threw them out again.

With a little imagination, you could assume that these cobblestones have been here for about 1,000 years. The steps into the castle are very similar the ones in Crac des Chevaliers; they’re low enough for horses to climb them.

It is so weird to look at a monument that less than 1,000 years was part of a massive movement of Europeans, mainly Franks, moving into the Middle East and occupying large parts of current Israel, Syria and Lebanon. Apparently Tripoli thrived quite well under the ‘Franks’.Wooden doors covered with sheet iron, and nailed tight

From Wikipedia: ‘Tripoli was home to a busy port and was a major center of silk weaving, with as many as 4,000 looms. Important products of the time included lemons, oranges, and sugar cane. It is curious to reflect that for 180 years, during the French rule, Langue d'Oc, the language of Provence, was spoken in Tripoli and a neighboring village, owing to the influence of a number of Provencal nobles and courtiers who came here.'

When you speak to Palestinians here in Lebanon, at least the ones that know their history, you sometimes discuss the fact that it has been so incredibly long since they’ve lost their land, 60 years for most, so aren’t they about to give up on this dream of returning? I mean, 60 years; the fourth generation is announcing itself already!
And then sometimes they answer that in retrospect, 60 years is nothing. The crusaders were here for more than 200 years, and what’s left of them? Indicating that Israel may have been around for some 60 years now, but who says they’ll still be there in 140 years from now?
It is an odd thought, but nothing ever stays the way it is, and so for them, this is not permanent.

I’m from a generation where the only thing that ever changes was the Berlin Wall. Other than that, everything has been as it was since I was born. Well, and we got Internet.

The castle had maybe 8 visitors while we were roaming around. Keep an eye on your small children though. They do not believe in fences in this one.

The surroundings of the castle have ‘urbanized’ slightly since 1099, I imagine. All the orchards have gone, and there’s not much green in sight anymore. The Abu Ali River, which runs in the valley under the castle, has become a bit of a sewer canal.

The castle is not very well maintained. Another 100 year and there will be nothing left of it if they don’t take care of it. From the castle, you get a good view of the ‘other’ side of the Abu Ali River. It seems there was a crusader castle in Beirut as well at some point; a print shows the ruins. The stones have been re-cycled into other building projects since then. Just like the crusaders probably picked them up from earlier civilizations.

The 'other'' side of the Abou Ali River. Apparantly kind of a 'wrong side of the track' neighborhood (I've been told, don't quote me on that).

Well, that’s enough history for today, which happened to be the Lebanese Day of Independence. And which I chose to ignore. Quite wisely I might add. Tripoli was much more fun.

Meet the old -trice removed - aunt from Tripoli. I was trying to explain my daughter how humans ‘evolved’; every generation grew just a little taller than the generation before. I’m afraid she’s going to have a ‘skewed’ understanding of this concept, after meeting this old aunt. The 70-something year old lady is as tall as my 6 year old, and half as tall as my 15-year old.


Anonymous said...

Ygo Joukes Galama sneuvelde in 1099 tijdens de eerste kruistocht en werd in Antochiƫ begraven

angie nader said...

ive only ever driven through tripoli...thanks for the history lesson!

Francine said...

It is curious to reflect that for 180 years, during the French rule, Langue d'Oc, the language of Provence, was spoken in Tripoli and a neighboring village, owing to the influence of a number of Provencal nobles and courtiers who came here.'

You made me curious about the (one?) village that spoke old french.

viagra online said...

excellent photos, I have never been in Tripoli, but you have taken me there for a while, thank you so much for sharing...