Tripoli Citadel

On Top of Tripoli

Especially first time visitors to Tripoli, Lebanon’s second city should start their exploration of the old town at the Citadel, also known as the Castle of Raymond de Saint Gilles. It offers breath-taking views over the entire city: the historical old town that has survived wars and occupation right below and the new city further in the back, close to the Mediterranean, en route to Mina. On the other side are the neighbourhoods of Abou Samra and Koubbe, rising high up above the Abou Ali River below. The contrast between the 12th century edifice and the modern architecture couldn’t be starker.

The Crusaders occupied the hill on which the Citadel is situated as early as 1102. The fortress they built was destroyed a number of times-what remains today are indeed the foundations of the original. Various rulers, each making changes and additions, rebuilt it. Changes made by Suleiman the Magnificent are deemed the most significant. Make sure not to miss the marvellous inscription above the Ottoman gateway that reads: “In the name of Allah, it has been decreed by the royal sultan’s order, al Malik al-Muzuffar Sultan Suleiman Shah, son of Sultan Selim Shah, may his order never cease to be obeyed by the emirs, that this blessed citadel be restored so as to be a fortified stronghold for all time.”

The view down towards the old town reveals: dozens of mosques, many that actually date back to the Mamluk era, large banners featuring the images of local politicians mounted on roof tops, and an overall homogenous built environment. Hidden underneath the roofs near the fortress are Tripoli’s old souks, caravanserais, and hammams (public baths).

The Citadel itself is made up of four floors and is 130 metres long and 70 metres wide – like a massive ocean liner, anchored in Tripoli. It includes an old hammam, three prayer houses, a jail, a stable for horses, halls reserved for commanders and important officials, wells, water reservoirs, basins, graveyards, large open spaces for military exercises and parades, large halls (for the soldiers, ammunition and artillery) as well as 100 rooms of different dimensions. A total of 10 gates are situated along its walls, some facing the river below, and some leading into the souks.

The towers rise up 15-20 metres high and feature a number of cannon windows. The wall – built to fend off invaders – is 2 metres thick. While to the West it overlooks Tripoli, including Mina, its eastern side is facing Homs in Syria, a city historically close to Tripoli and only 12km further than the journey between Beirut and Tripoli. Furthermore visible on this side is the Cedars range and Qadisha, the Holy Valley. Below the Citadel, upstream the Abou Ali is the renovated dervish lodge, which bears witness to a Sufi tradition in Tripoli and dates back to the early 17th century.

Don’t be surprised to see soldiers around – the Citadel is an army base.  

The Citadel is an impressive site-you should set aside at least 1 hour to see everything. The only other comparable and also highly recommendable one is the Beaufort Castle south of Nabatieh in south Lebanon.

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