Tripoli's Railway Station

The Tripoli end of the Orient Express 

A sharp whistle used to be heard along the road that connects the Shira’a Circle in Mina with the port. It emanated from trains approaching Tripoli’s railway station, which is now partly hidden behind high reeds. Walking through the gate, following the rails that at times barely stick out of the overgrown ground, leads through the 104-year old station and directly to old locomotives that came to a stop.

Thorny and small pink flowers-bearing shrubs that conceal the rust cover French-manufactured Cail G-series locomotives. One of the locomotives in the hangar is a Prussian G7.1 dating back to 1895; the other is of the Prussian G8 type, built between 1901 and 1906.

Trees grow through the rooftop of one of the weather and war-beaten derelict buildings that houses two more old German locomotives. The once powerful, turquoise coloured, loud fuming steam locomotives have gone silent. Belonging to another era all together, they are nostalgic reminders that Lebanon was once part of the Ottoman Empire, then French Mandate and a country with trains. Today, Lebanon’s trains feature prominently in the country’s collective memory and not surprisingly, a number of documentary films have been made on the subject and initiatives such as Train Train, aim to bring back trains to Lebanon.

While Riyak became Lebanon’s first train station in 1891, Tripoli once was the end of the famed single track Orient Express line. The city became connected to Homs in 1911, before it was linked up with Beirut during World War II. It would take just under 10 hours to get from Aleppo to Tripoli, the journey between Tripoli, Beirut and Haifa was done by “motor car along coastal track”, up until the line was completed.

“At that time the trains were driven by steam, whistling and panting, while the children ran to clamber on their steps from which they jumped down further on in the station,” Joseph Mater recalls. “The train would carry petrol, machinery, vehicles, flocks of cows and sheep, corn and trade goods, with one carriage reserved for passengers. There was also a shuttle railcar running between Beirut and Aleppo in Syria.”

On the last stretch before entering the Tripoli station, trains would pass in view of the sea, then before approaching the port, they would pass right next to the Barsbay Tower, a 15th century Mamluke fortress, that as many Tripolitans believe, is connected to the Citadel through an approximately 3km long underground tunnel. From the roof one can see the sea, the horizon and the Mina port but also the mighty ruins of the once grand Orient-Express.

The Homs-Tripoli line and the station near the port with access to the port/loading facilities, were both undertaken due to a private Tripolitan initiative dating back to the late 19th, early 20th century. This was in fact, according to Elias Khlat, the first public limited company in the region, registered under the name of “Chaussée” at Tripoli’s Chamber of Commerce.

After having been destroyed during World War I, the station subsequently was nationalized during the French Mandate and after Independence, became state property. The port infrastructure was upgraded and the station and port were fully operational until the civil war in 1975.

During the years of the civil war, Tripoli’s station was badly damaged – the traces of combat are omnipresent. In recent years, “The Friends of Tripoli Railway Station” tried to revive the train lines and the station complex. Launched in 2002, the association was hoping that such a revival would be a veritable catalyst for Tripoli’s economy, given the nearby port, the airport in Kolayaat and the Rachid Karame International Fair, known as the Maarad.

The group also put forward the restoration and preservation of the site, to showcase Lebanon’s railway heritage and to establish an Orient Express museum.

Access: At the time of visit, the site was open and easily accessible though closed shoes would be recommendable, given some holes in the ground and a fair amount of rubbish lying around.

Credit: additional info obtained via Jospeh Matar and Elias Khlat, Coordinator “Friends of Tripoli Railway Station”

Art Historical Attractions

Words By Nathalie Rosa | Photography Images courtesy of Nathalie Rosa


Other venues nearby

AlKindy

AlKindy

1460m - Like most days, the door is open. A Ziad Rahbani tune wafts through the...

Timmy's

Timmy's

1467m - Timmy’s Bistro was originally set up in 2012, as a small, family-owned...

Beit el Nessim

Beit el Nessim

1473m - Beit el Nessim is a short meandering walk through Mina’s narrow alleys...

Kahwatee

Kahwatee

1474m - Tripoli’s café culture differs from Beirut’s mostly in...

Minos

Minos

1514m - After sailing the seven seas, Captain, as locals and regulars call him, has...

Via Mina

Via Mina

1744m - Situated in El Mina, Tripoli’s port district, a few minutes walk from...

Get updates on what's happening in Beirut, customise and review the content you want.
Sign up now! It's free!