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The Tripoli Citadel

In Brief

The Tripoli Citadel is the largest and oldest archeological and historical site in Tripoli.  The citadel overlooks the city with its walls gazing down on the Abou Ali River. The citadel has been renovated and modified many times during its history. Today, the citadel's main features are an octagonal Fatimid structure converted to a church by the Crusaders, some Crusader structures of the 12th-13th centuries, a number of 14th century Mamluke elements, as well as additions made by the Ottomans in the 16th century CE.

At present, the Tripoli Citadel is made up of four floors and is 130 meters long and 70 meters wide. The citadel includes an old hammam (Turkish bath), three prayer houses, a jail, a stable for horses, halls for the commanders and important officials, large halls (for the soldiers, ammunition, and artillery), wells, water reservoirs, basins, graveyards, large open spaces for military exercises and parades, and more than 100 rooms of different dimensions. The Tripoli Citadel also includes 10 gates down in its walls, some of which open towards the Abou Ali River while others lead to the bazaars in the old city. The towers of the citadel are 15-20 meters high and include several cannon windows.

Walls of the citadel are about two meters thick. The western facade overlooks Tripoli, AlMina, the islands, and the route to Lebanon's capital city of Beirut as well as the one going to the city of Homs in Syria. The eastern facade overlooks a charming natural amphitheater of grand dimensions composed of the Cedars Mountains, the Qadisha Valley, and the nearby Takiyyat AlDaraweesh AlMawlawiyah.

Date of Construction

The Tripoli Citadel is one of the largest and oldest military fortresses in Lebanon. It was founded by the Arab commander Sufyan ben Mujib AlAzdi in 636 CE. Later on, the Fatimids constructed a mosque inside the fortress during the 11th century CE. The commander and Count of Toulouse Raymond of Saint-Gilles enlarged the fortress in 1103 CE. When the Mameluke Prince Sayfeddeen Asandamor Kourji ruled the State of Tripoli (698-709 H/1299-1309 CE) prosperous constructions emerged in all directions of the city. He widened the fortress and turned it to a large citadel in 707 H/1307CE by building some towers inside the structure.

In 1516 CE, the region fell to the Ottoman Sultan Selim I. Soon after the accession, his son and successor Suleiman I - better known as the Magnificent (1520-1566 CE) - made an inspection tour of his newly conquered lands. In Damascus, he made a gathering with all his provincial governors and on this occasion took the decision to rebuild the great Tripoli Citadel. Over the entrance portal, the sultan commemorated this important restoration work with an inscription: "In the name of Allah, it has been decreed by the royal sultan’s order, AlMalek AlMuzaffar Sultan Suleiman Shah, son of Sultan Selim Shah, may his orders never cease to be obeyed by the emirs, that this blessed citadel be restored so as to be a fortified stronghold for all time. Its construction was completed in the blessed month of Shaaban of the year 927 H/July 1521 CE."

In the years that followed, various Ottoman governors of Tripoli did restoration work on the citadel to suit their needs and with time the medieval crenelated battlements were destroyed in order to open sally ports for cannons. In the early 19th century, the citadel was extensively restored by the Ottoman Governor of Tripoli Mustafa Agha Barbar (1767-1835 CE).

Nouwairi, the historian, noted in his book that: "The Prince Saif Eldeen Asandamor Kourji Mansouri was appointed as the representative of the Sultan till 709 H/1309 CE. ... He ...built part of the citadel and constructed few towers. The citadel was near the Sultan's house in Tripoli. Asandamor became a powerful ruler and many of his Mamelukes were appointed as princes."

Additional Notes

A structure known as Dar Saadeh was constructed inside the Tripoli Citadel. Later on, it was moved to the district of Bab AlHadeed at the beginning of the road leading to the citadel at the eastern side of the Ouwaysieh Mosque.

Citizens of Tripoli claim that an underground tunnel connects the citadel and the Barsbay Tower at the coastal town of AlMina, some three kilometers away. These speculations were never assured in the written historical sources. Yet, many secret tunnels may exist and link the citadel with the inner markets in the districts of Mahatra, Aattareen, Bab AlHadeed and Taht Sibat, and the Samak ascent. Some of these tunnels were discovered accidentally.

Bani Aammar Mosque

Location: Within the Tripoli Citadel.
Commissioned by: One of the Princes of Bani Aammar AlKetamiyyin.
Date of Construction: Sometime in the 5th century H/11th century CE.
Historical Period: Fatimid.
Characteristics: It is the oldest Islamic monument in Tripoli and is one of two other mosques present in the fortress. It is characterized by its octagonal shape with traces of a minaret at the side. The Crusades destroyed the mihrab (sanctuary) and converted the mosque to a church. The ceiling is demolished. 

AlFat'h AlOthmani Mosque

Location: Within the Tripoli Citadel.
Commissioned by: The Minister Mustafa ben Iskender Pasha AlKhenjarli.
Date of Construction: 924 H/1518 CE.
Historical Period: Ottoman.
Characteristics: The features of AlFat’h AlOthmani Mosque changed with time. Prior to its demolition, the mosque's minaret stood taller than the towers of the citadel. 

Barbar Agha Mosque

Location: Within the Tripoli Citadel.
Commissioned by: The Minister Mustafa ben Iskender Pasha AlKhenjarli.
Date of Construction: 924 H/1518 CE.
Historical Period: Ottoman.
Characteristics: The ceiling and walls of the mosque are demolished. The marble blocks of the mihrab (sanctuary) were stolen as well as the marble tile on which there was the inscription commemorating the date of the mosque's construction. 

The Tripoli Citadel Museum

The Tripoli Citadel comprises two small museums; a Site Museum and Museum of North Lebanon and Akkar displaying artifacts from all of northern Lebanon from stone age till middle ages.

There’s a small fee to enter the Tripoli Citadel. Additionally, this fee also grants access to the Site Museum and the Museum of North Lebanon and Akkar.

Site Museum and Museum of North Lebanon and Akkar

Views from the Tripoli Citadel Site Museum and Museum of North Lebanon and Akkar displaying artifacts from the Stone Age till the Middle Ages.

Stamps and Banknotes featuring the Tripoli Citadel

Historical Views of the Tripoli Citadel

Panoramic Views from/of the Tripoli Citadel

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