Tripoli (Arabic: طرابلس Ṭarābulus) is the capital city and the largest city of Libya. As of 2011, the Tripoli
metropolitan area (district area) had a population of 2.2 million people. The city is located in the northwestern part of Libya on the edge of the desert, on a point of rocky land projecting into the
Mediterranean and forming a bay.
Tripoli includes the Port of Tripoli and the country's largest commercial and manufacturing centre. It is also the site of the University of Tripoli. The vast Bab al-Azizia barracks, which includes the former family estate of Muammar Gaddafi, is also located in the city. Colonel Gaddafi largely ruled the country from his residence in this barracks.
Tripoli was founded in the 7th century BC by the Phoenicians, who named it Oea. Due to the city's long history, there are many sites of archaeological significance in Tripoli. "Tripoli" may also refer to the shabiyah (top-level administrative division in the current Libyan system), the Tripoli District.
Tripoli is also known as Tripoli-of-the-West (Arabic: طرابلس الغرب Ṭarābulus al-Gharb), to distinguish it from its older Phoenician sister city Tripoli, Lebanon known in Arabic as Ṭarābulus al-Sham (طرابلس الشام) meaning "Levantine Tripoli". It is affectionately called The Mermaid of the Mediterranean (Arabic: عروسة البحر ʼarūsat el-baḥr; lit: "bride of the sea"), describing its turquoise waters and its whitewashed buildings. Tripoli English pronunciation: /ˈtrɪpɵli/ is a Greek name that means "Three Cities", introduced in Western European languages through the Italian Tripoli. In Arabic: طرابلس it is called Ṭarābulus, Libyan Arabic: Ṭrābləs, Berber: Ṭrables, from Ancient Greek: Τρίπολις Trípolis).
The city was founded in the 7th century BC, by the Phoenicians, who gave it the Libyco-Berber name Oea (or Wy't) suggesting that the city
may have been built upon an existing native town. The Phoenicians were probably attracted to the site by its natural harbour, flanked on the western shore by the small, easily defensible peninsula,
on which they established their colony. The city then passed into the hands of the rulers of Cyrenaica (a Greek colony on the North African shore, east of Tripoli, halfway to Egypt), although the
Carthaginians later wrested it from the Greeks. The Arabic name Tarabulus is derived from the Greek Tripolis meaning three towns, hence Tripoli.
By the later half of the 2nd century BC it belonged to the Romans, who included it in their province of Africa, and gave it the name of Regio Syrtica. Around the beginning of the 3rd century AD, it became known as the Regio Tripolitana, meaning "region of the three cities", namely Oea (i.e., modern Tripoli), Sabratha and Leptis Magna. It was probably raised to the rank of a separate province by Septimius Severus, who was a native of Leptis Magna.
In spite of centuries of Roman habitation, the only visible Roman remains, apart from scattered columns and capitals (usually integrated
in later buildings), is the Arch of Marcus Aurelius from the 2nd century AD. The fact that Tripoli has been continuously inhabited, unlike e.g., Sabratha and Leptis Magna, has meant that the
inhabitants have either quarried material from older buildings (destroying them in the process), or built on top of them, burying them beneath the streets, where they remain largely
There is evidence to suggest that the Tripolitania region was in some economic decline during the 5th and 6th centuries, in part due to the political unrest spreading across the Mediterranean world in the wake of the collapse of the western Roman empire, as well as pressure from the invading Vandals.
According to al-Baladhuri, Tripoli was, unlike Western North Africa, taken by the Muslims very early after Alexandria, in the 22nd year of the Hijra, that is between 30 November 642 and 18 November 643. Following the conquest, Tripoli was ruled by dynasties based in Cairo, Egypt (first the Fatimids, and later the Mamluks). For some time it was a part of the Berber Almohad empire and of the Hafsids kingdom. It was part of the Ottoman Empire between the 16th and 19th centuries.
In 1510, it was taken by Don Pedro Navarro, Count of Oliveto for Spain, and, in 1523, it was assigned to the Knights of St. John, who had
lately been expelled by the Ottoman Turks from their stronghold on the island of Rhodes. Finding themselves in very hostile territory, the Knights enhanced the city's walls and other defenses. Though
built on top of a number of older buildings (possibly including a Roman public bath), much of the earliest defensive structures of the Tripoli castle (or "Assaraya al-Hamra", i.e., the "Red Castle")
are attributed to the Knights of St John.
Having previously combated piracy from their base on Rhodes, the reason that the Knights were given charge of the city was to prevent it from relapsing into the nest of Barbary pirates as it had been prior to the Spanish occupation. The disruption the pirates caused to the Christian shipping lanes in the Mediterranean had been one of the main incentives for the Spanish conquest of the city.
The knights kept the city with some trouble until 1551, when they were compelled to surrender to the Ottomans, led by Muslim Turk Turgut
Reis. Turgut Reis served as pasha of Tripoli, during his rule he adorned and built up the city, making it one of the most impressive cities along the North African Coast. Turgut was also buried in
Tripoli after his death in 1565. His body was taken from Malta, where he had fallen during the Ottoman siege of the island, to a tomb in the mosque he had established close to his palace in Tripoli.
The palace has since disappeared (supposedly it was situated between the so-called "Ottoman prison" and the arch of Marcus Aurelius), but the mosque, along with his tomb, still stands, close to the
Bab Al-Bahr gate.
After the capture by the Ottoman Turks, Tripoli once again became a base of operation for Barbary pirates. One of several Western attempts to dislodge them again was a Royal Navy attack under John Narborough in 1675, of which a vivid eye-witness account has survived. Effective Ottoman rule during this period (1551–1711) was often hampered by the local Janissary corps. Intended to function as enforcers of local administration, the captain of the Janissaries and his cronies were often the de facto rulers.
In 1711, Ahmed Karamanli, a Janissary officer of Turkish origin, killed the Ottoman governor, the "Pasha", and established himself as ruler of the Tripolitania region. By 1714, he had asserted a sort of semi-independence from the Ottoman Sultan, heralding in the Karamanli dynasty. The Pashas of Tripoli were expected to pay a regular tributary tax to the Sultan, but were in all other aspects rulers of an independent kingdom. This order of things continued under the rule of his descendants, accompanied by the brazen piracy and blackmailing until 1835, when the Ottoman Empire took advantage of an internal struggle and re-established its authority.
The Ottoman province (vilayet) of Tripoli (including the dependent sanjak of Cyrenaica) lay along the southern shore of the Mediterranean between Tunisia in the west and Egypt in the east. Besides the city itself, the area included Cyrenaica (the Barca plateau), the chain of oases in the Aujila depression, Fezzan and the oases of Ghadames and Ghat, separated by sandy and stony wastelands.
In the early part of the 19th century, the regency at Tripoli, owing to its piratical practices, was twice involved in war with the United
States. In May 1801, the pasha demanded an increase in the tribute ($83,000) which the US government had been paying since 1796 for the protection of their commerce from piracy under the 1796 Treaty
with Tripoli. The demand was refused, and a naval force was sent from the United States to blockade Tripoli.
The First Barbary War dragged on for four years. In 1803, Tripolitan fighters captured the US frigate Philadelphia and took its commander, Captain William Bainbridge, and the entire crew as prisoners. This was after the Philadelphia was run aground when the captain tried to navigate too close to the port of Tripoli. After several hours aground and Tripolitan gun boats firing upon the Philadelphia, though none ever struck the Philadelphia, Captain Bainbridge made the decision to surrender. The Philadelphia was later turned against the Americans and anchored in Tripoli Harbor as a gun battery while her officers and crew were held prisoners in Tripoli. The following year, US Navy Lieutenant Stephen Decatur led a successful nighttime raid to retake and burn the ship. Decatur's men set fire to the Philadelphia and escaped.
The most colorful incident in the war was the expedition undertaken by William Eaton with the object of replacing the pasha with an elder brother living in exile, who had promised to accede to all the wishes of the United States. Eaton, at the head of a crew of 500 US Marines, Greek, Arab and Turkish Mercenaries, marched across the desert from Alexandria, Egypt and with the aid of American ships, succeeded in capturing Derna. Soon afterward, on 3 June 1805, peace was concluded. The pasha ended his demands and received $60,000 as ransom for the Philadelphia prisoners under the 1805 Treaty with Tripoli.
In 1815, in consequence of further outrages and due to the humiliation of the earlier defeat, Captains Bainbridge and Stephen Decatur, at the head of an American squadron, again visited Tripoli and forced the pasha to comply with the demands of the United States. See Second Barbary War.
In 1835, the Ottomans took advantage of a local civil war to reassert their direct authority. After that date, Tripoli was under the direct control of the Sublime Porte. Rebellions in 1842 and 1844 were unsuccessful. After the French occupation of Tunisia (1881), the Ottomans increased their garrison in Tripoli considerably.
Italy had long claimed that Tripoli fell within its zone of influence and that Italy had the right to preserve order within the state.
Under the pretext of protecting its own citizens living in Tripoli from the Ottoman Government, it declared war against the Ottomans on 29 September 1911, and announced its intention of annexing
Tripoli. On 1 October 1911, a naval battle was fought at Prevesa, Greece, and three Ottoman vessels were destroyed.
By the Treaty of Lausanne, Italian sovereignty was acknowledged by the Ottomans, although the Caliph was permitted to exercise religious authority. Italy officially granted autonomy after the war, but gradually occupied the region. Originally administered as part of a single colony, Tripoli and its surrounding province were a separate colony from 26 June 1927 to 3 December 1934, when all Italian possessions in North Africa were merged into one colony. By 1938, Tripoli had 108,240 inhabitants, including 39,096 Italians.
Tripoli underwent a huge architectural and urbanistic improvement under Italian rule: the first thing the Italians did was to create in the early 1920s a sewage system (that until then lacked) and a modern hospital.
In the coast of the province was built in 1937-1938 a section of the Litoranea Balbia, a road that went from Tripoli and Tunisia's frontier to the border of Egypt. The car tag for the Italian province of Tripoli was "TL".
Furthermore the Italians - in order to promote Tripoli's economy - founded in 1927 the Tripoli International Fair, which is considered to
be the oldest Trade Fair in Africa. The so-called Fiera internazionale di Tripoli was one of the main international "Fairs" in the colonial world in the 1930s, and was internationally promoted
together with the Tripoli Grand Prix as a showcase of Italian Libya.
The Italians even created the Tripoli Grand Prix, an international motor racing event first held in 1925 on a racing circuit outside Tripoli (it lasted until 1940). The first airport in Libya, the Mellaha Air Base was built by the Italian Air Force in 1923 near the Tripoli racing circuit (actually is called Mitiga International Airport).
Tripoli had even a railway station with some small railway connections to nearby cities, when in August 1941 the Italians started to build a new 1,040 kilometres (646 miles) railway (with a 1,435 mm (56.5 in) gauge, like the one used in Egypt and Tunisia) between Tripoli and Benghazi. But the war (with the defeat of the Italian Army) stopped the construction the next year.
Tripoli was controlled by Italy until 1943 when the provinces of Tripolitania and Cyrenaica were captured by Allied forces. The city fell to troops of the British Eighth Army on 23 January 1943. Tripoli was then governed by the British until independence in 1951. Under the terms of the 1947 peace treaty with the Allies, Italy relinquished all claims to Libya.
The city's old town, the Medina, is still unspoiled by mass-tourism, though it was increasingly exposed to more and more visitors from
abroad, following the lifting of the UN embargo in 2003. However, the walled Medina retains much of its serene old-world ambiance. The Red Castle Museum (Assaraya al-Hamra), a vast palace complex
with numerous courtyards, dominates the city skyline and is located on the outskirts of the Medina. There are some classical statues and fountains from the Ottoman period scattered around the castle.
An Ottoman serail now houses the Traveler's Library.
Three gates provided access to the old town: Bab Zanata in the west, Bab Hawara in the southeast and Bab Al-Bahr in the north wall. The city walls are still standing and can be climbed for good views of the city. The bazaar is also known for its traditional ware; fine jewellery and clothes can be found in the local markets.
There are a number of buildings that were constructed by the Italian colonial rulers and later demolished under Gaddafi. They included the Royal Miramare Theatre, next to the Red Castle, and Tripoli Railway Central Station.Tripoli Cathedral, constructed by the Italian colonial authorities during the 1920s, was converted into a mosque in the early 1970s. The building was extensively remodelled at this time.