"Touching down in Tripoli" Top 5 Page for this destination Tripoli by TheWanderingCamel

Tripoli Travel Guide: 276 reviews and 881 photos

A place to wander...

Sunday morning in the medina in Libya's capital, Tripoli - the beginning of the working week (Friday and Saturday are the weekend here). It's still early, morning prayers are over and the souk is only just coming to life. Soon the shops will all be open, street stalls will be overflowing with goods for sale, the street will be jammed with people - men in business suits, jeans, jeballahs and thick white Berber cloaks; headscarfed young girls in pretty long sweaters over their long skirts will be walking with their more conservatively-clad mothers while old women may well be entirely wrapped in all-enveloping white burnouses that leave only one eye showing. A few tourists will be browsing through the handicrafts in souk by the entrance to the medina and people will be sitting in the sun at the teahouse down by the Ottoman clocktower, taking their time over a glass of "shai na'ana" (green tea), probably the first of many that day. It's been this way in Tripoli's medina (give or take the tourists) for years, there's no reason to suppose things will change too much in years to come.

There's more to Tripoli ...

.. than its medina and the North African sunshine though. Outside the medina's massive walls lies a city of many facets, one with a long history that dates back to the 6th century BC and that has continued, unbroken, to the present day. First the Phoenecians, then the Romans and, finally, the Byzantines knew the city as Oea. The Muslim conquest of the 7th century AD saw it renamed Tarabulus, and an Arab city built over and amid the remnants of the Classical past. Centuries passed, years that saw the city thrive, decline and thrive again as a succession of rulers came and went until, in the mid-16th century the Ottomans arrived to stay for over 400 years. The medina as we see it today is essentially the city built by the Ottomans.

By the beginning of the 20th century, the Ottoman Empire was in its death throes, weak and vulnerable. Eager to claim a stake in Africa along with other colonial powers, Italy invaded and usurped the Turk. The Libyans fought the invaders bitterly but the brute force employed by the Fascists won the day.

Although their rule was relatively short lived, just 31 years (1912-1943) the Italians left their mark on the city they named Tripoli, in an evocation of its place in the Roman province of Tripolitania. Those years of occupation saw it expand greatly and today we see the buildings they left behind - arcaded streets and and grandiose public buildings. Italian bread and Libyan soup (minestrone by any other name) are staples of the daily diet. We can only read about the huge toll of life of those years - it's estimated no fewer than one quarter of the population had died by the time the Italians left after their defeat in WWII.

Tripoli today

... is a thriving, essentially modern, city. It's Arabic-speaking people call it Tarabulus once more but both names suffice these days.

Call it what you will, the city has a bit of everything it seems to me - a beautiful seaside location; a busy working harbour right on its doorstep- and a colourful fishing harbour and market right next door; the picturesque medina with its minarets, souks, twisting alleys, a Roman arch and Roman pillars at street corners; a dramatically sited castle with a suitably dark and bloody past; a first-rate museum; elegant white Italianate buildings of the 1930s; modern blocks of flats with a satellite dish attached to every balcony; its own version of gravity-defying modern office blocks without which any city these days seems incomplete. Death-defying pedestrians step blithely out into swirling traffic. Shop windows display French perfume and Italian suits. The Leader's portrait is everywhere but there's no heavy police presence.

For the tourist, Tripoli's easy. No-one will hassle you, there are virtually no beggars, there are no touts trying to sell you a carpet. Children may ask you to take their photo but they won't ask you for money or 'bens'. You can walk where you like, go off exploring on your own, the biggest danger is broken paving. Most of what you will want to visit in the city will be within walking distance from your hotel.

I could go on but you need to come and see for yourself. Now's the time to do it. Interest in Libya is growing, tourism is set to expand. The Tripoli we see today may well be a very different city in a few year's time.

2012 Update: The last 12 months have seen radical changes in Libya that are still in their infancy. One thing is sure, the images of "The Leader", Muammer Ghaddafi, that were everywhere in Tripoli, will be gone. Everyday life will almost certainly be carrying on as before. Just what the months and years ahead will be like for the people of this ancient city we're still waiting to see.

  • Last visit to Tripoli: Mar 2007
  • Intro Updated May 9, 2016
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Reviews (46)

Comments (23)

  • Jim_Eliason's Profile Photo
    Mar 20, 2012 at 8:28 PM

    great tips!

  • HORSCHECK's Profile Photo
    May 8, 2011 at 2:09 AM

    Fabulous page with brilliant photos and interesting commentaries about Tripoli. A pity that this city is so much in the bad news these days.

  • planxty's Profile Photo
    Apr 7, 2011 at 5:33 PM

    these are absolutely fantastic pages on Libya and Tripoli in particular. I always fancied going there and hopefully can when the current situation settles down. Great writing and photos. fergy.

  • thinking's Profile Photo
    Jun 3, 2010 at 1:34 PM

    Bonjour from Paris! I enjoyed your trip to Libya, so now I want to plan one for myself. Thank you for your wonderful pages.

  • toonsarah's Profile Photo
    Mar 18, 2010 at 7:40 AM

    Fantastic page - elegantly written and with excellent photos, as always. Everything you say here adds to my desire to visit Libya some day, not least for the pleasure of shopping hassle-free. And when I do I fancy a stay at the Zumit Hotel :-)

  • BruceDunning's Profile Photo
    Dec 2, 2009 at 10:08 AM

    The city id surely loaded with history. Our US Marines took its first venture here in 1803 to take back ship laborers that were captured for ransom. Nothing has changed to this date, and it starts all over again.

  • icunme's Profile Photo
    Jul 17, 2009 at 10:20 PM

    Hi Leyle - Enjoying a lovely tour of Tripoli w/you. Allure here is an aire of mystique coupled w/safety. Ciao, Carol

  • Nemorino's Profile Photo
    May 31, 2009 at 6:53 AM

    Lots of fascinating things to see here, but the one that entices me the most is Sabratha-by-the-sea with its theatre & museum -- and moderate number of tourists. (Nothing against tourists, since I'm often one myself, but too many of us can spoil a place).

  • starship's Profile Photo
    Feb 2, 2009 at 6:40 AM

    I am glad I revisited this page because it is truly spectacular!! Beautifully written and the photos are wonderful as well! Great page!

  • Jan 11, 2009 at 2:57 AM

    I can only repeat what the others have said: beautifully written (as always) with fantastic photos. Definitely one of the best pages on VT.

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