After having a drink at a cafe where we could almost believe Tripoli is a liberal, modern and peaceful city, we head to the old part of town. We enter the medina through the arch of Marcus Aurelius, the only remaining Roman structure in this city that was inhabited by the Romans for centuries. In fact, Tripoli was founded by the Greeks in the 7th century BCE, its name meaning Three Cities in Greek, and was subsequently inhabited by the Phoenicians, the Romans, the Berbers, Hafsids, Spaniards, Ottomans, Italians and British. It has been continuously inhabited, and much of the city has been built on the remains of former civilisations, unlike the stellar ruins of Leptis Magna we had seen the day before, which have been partly excavated. We see a minaret behind the Roman arch, and start our exploration of narrow streets and alleys of Tripoli.
While there are no other remaining Roman buildings, we frequently see Roman columns integrated in a much never building, often at corners. The Tripolitans clearly have used whatever they could find to build their own houses, a form of historic recycling. It actually gives character to otherwise bland walls. We see many small mosques, we see quiet streets, often spanned by arches. We meet youngsters, some of whom invite us to a human rights meeting a few blocks away. We see what according to our guide is the oldest embassy on the African continent. When we enter the old building where the meeting is, we are pleasantly surprised to find many enthusiastic young people, discussing about human rights, with a small exhibition of cartoons. After the gloom and lack of authority in the streets, finally a glimmer of hope for the future of the country.
Continuing our exploration of the old city of Tripoli, we walk through many more streets, find a Libyan flag painted on the wall. Most houses are dilapidated and in urgent need of repairs. We get closer to the nucleus of the old town. The streets are not quiet anymore, and we pass shopping streets and souqs. Several shops even selling the ornaments used to top minarets. We see black market currency traders, their pockets stuffed with money. Most people smile at us, but according to our guide, some make comments about the fact that tourists are walking the old city. Inside An-Naga mosque, we see that all columns are in fact of Roman origin, once again reminding us of the rich and long history of the Libyan capital. A little further on, we see an Ottoman-era clock tower. The streets are wider here, and after leaving the medina, we walk around to Martyr's Square to head to the Italian quarter. Tripoli has a completely different feel here.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Old Tripoli (Libya). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Old Tripoli. Read more about this site.