Tripoli is a delightful, lively Mediterranean city situated on a bay in western Libya, close to the Tunisian border. Tourists tend to come here en route to the magnificent Roman sites nearby, but it is well worth spending a few days exploring the sights and soaking up the ambience of Libya’s largest city, main seaport and economic hub. Tripoli has a long and complicated history, as do all the other Libyan towns and cities.
Divided into two sections, the skyline is dominated by the Assaraya al-Hamra, or Red Castle, an enormous citadel built by the Spanish in the 16th century. Today this houses the fascinating national museum and overlooks the walled medina. Three gates lead into the medina, which was laid out and fortified by the Romans.
It is a marvellous tangle of narrow streets and covered souks, where friendly traders ply customers with mint tea or coffee whilst selling everything from fine jewellery to Gaddafi souvenirs. Most of the historic buildings are within these Roman walls, and at the medina’s northern end stands the triumphal arch of Marcus Aurelius, erected during the 2nd century AD, and the only surviving Roman monument in Tripoli.
The new town was built largely during the Italian occupation in the first half of the 20th century. Green Square, situated close to the Corniche, boasts one of two large fountains dating from this era and a large Italian-built cathedral was converted to a mosque after their departure. Oil money and the lifting of UN sanctions have helped open Tripoli to more foreign business and tourism, and the city has expanded to include residential suburbs, the university and the largest hospital in North Africa. Just in case you forget who’s in charge, enormous billboards are dotted all over town, featuring ‘Brother’ Gaddafi’s familiar face.
When to visit:
May to December
- Karamanli Mosque – this, the largest mosque in the medina, boasts some of the finest woodwork in Libya.
- Gurgi Mosque – named after a Georgian captive, Youssef Gurgi, and built-in 1833, this is one of the most attractive mosques in the city.
- Leptis Magna – an amazingly well-preserved Roman city, originally founded in the 10th century BC.
- Sabratha – these Roman ruins are a sight to behold and some even have preserved mosaic floors.
You should know
In 1986 the USA bombed Tripoli, killing amongst others Gaddafi’s young, adopted daughter. In 2003 Libya accepted responsibility for the 1988 Lockerbie bombing. Today, Gaddafi has become a peace broker and a leading figure in the Organization for African Unity.