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Tripoli in the Travelers' Literature

The Ottoman Period (late 14th to early 20th Century CE)

Tripoli > History > Tripoli in the Travelers' Literature: The Ottoman Period

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Quotes from the Ottoman Period

".. We walked from the suburb of the town towards the sea passing by orchards, gardens, and springs until we reached a place where there was a green prairie split by the river that passes through the city until it pours in the sea. That area was so wonderful and it was named the river head. The land was used for promenading as in the meadow of Damascus. Around the area were gardens that hosted different flours and birds, at its tip next to the sea the person can see the waves and the boats. At one time, I was invited to a house at the eastern district of the town. It is a highland district overlooking the orchards and the sea. We entered to a well-built house and went up to a high place with windows at the western side of the house. It was the end of the day and nothing was in between me and the view of the sea at the sunset time. It was a mighty scene that I didnt encounter at all in any other place or time."

Ibrahim ben Mousa AlOtayfi (1634 CE)

Important Note: Please keep in mind that the text below is written in an Old English Language and this explains the misspellings encountered and the inclusion of the letter "f" where "s" should be present.

CHAP. LX. The way from Acre to Sourfayde, Baruth, Tripoly and Mount Libanus; and from Tripoly, to Aleppo, with what is to be feen in thefe places

.. At the end of this bridge [Baruths Bridge], there is a marble stone eleven Span long, and five broad, on which is an infcription of fix lines in Arabick Characters. From thence you go and lodge at Abrahim. The day following, you lye at Tripoly; by the way on the Sea-fide, you fee the Towns of Gibel, Patron, and Amphe. Tripoly is a very pretty Town with a neat Caftle, at the foot of which, a little River runs; feveral Gardens full of Orange-Trees, and White-Mulberries, encompafs the Town, which is a mile from the Sea, where there are feveral Towers planted with Cannon to defend the Coaft. Here it was that St. Marina being accufed of Incontinence, did Penance in Mans Apparrel. Next day you go to Mount Libanus, about five Hours and a halfs travelling from Tripoly, you come to lodge at Cannobin, which is a Village where the Patriarch of Mount Libanus Lives; there is a Church and Monaftery in it

Having feen Mount Libanus, you come back to Tripoly; from whence, if you have a mind to go to Aleppo, you muft take the following Road from Tripoly; you come to a lodge at a Caftle called the French Caftle, ftanding upon a high Hill, which was built in the time of Godfrey of Boulloin

CHAP. LXI. The Road fram Tripoly to Aleppo, by Damafcus

Thofe who have never feen Damafcus may go to it from Tripoly, in three good days Journey, and from thence to Aleppo, by the way following.

The Travels of Monfieur de Thevenot into the Levant - In Three Parts, Viz. Into I. Turkey. II. Persia. III. The East-Indies. Newly Done out of French, Licenfed, December 2, 1686. RO. LEstrange, London.

With a word of approval for the principal Mosque and enthusiastic praise for the public baths, the cleanest he had ever seen, dArvieux closes his account of Beirut, and when next we meet him he is setting out with some French merchants for Syrian Tripoli. On the way he made a determined effort to inspect a Mosque, formerly the church of St. George; and though unsuccessful he did make the surprising discovery that Moslems believed St. George to be a Mohammedan saint, a precursor of the Prophet, and that he was still alive.

dArvieux does his best with Tripoli, but it must have been a dismal hole, rather like Beirut in some respects, for it was sunk between mountains and ended in a ruined harbour. The most that could be said for it was that, unlike most other Levantine towns, it was not a combination of ancient ruin and ramshackle modernity. The fortifications, built by Godefroi de Bouillon, were still intact and the houses, many of which dated from the same period, were well built with fountained courtyards, and in the ground floor rooms there were jets of water playing into basins; though dArvieux rather disapproved of this arrangement, on the ground that fountains rendered dwelling rooms unhealthy. Tripoli also had an agreeable stone-built covered market, a better khan than that of Seide, and excellent public baths. But dArvieux reserved most of his admiration for the French Consulate, a large and very beautiful house.. with every amenity which could render a dwelling pleasant, situated on an eminence with wide views over the sea and the surrounding countryside. With the people of Tripoli he evidently got on well; honest folk he says, very clean, rich, and with the air of city people; business-like, and conducting their affairs in good faith.

Tripoli was not a very important French Echelle, for at some earlier date the French had abandoned it for Aleppo; and the reason for the change shows the hazards of a Levant merchants profession in a vivid light. Perhaps half a century back a particularly brutal Pasha of the get-rich-quick school had coveted the effects of the French community and decided to confiscate them; which he did by the simple expedient of arresting all Frenchmen in Tripoli and burying them alive in a pit on the shore road. It must be admitted that the Grand Vizier, on hearing the news, had the Pasha strangled and confiscated his estate; but as he did so for the benefit of the Sultan and not for the heirs of the murdered men, he established a precedent which was unlikely to induce any more Frenchmen to settle in Tripoli, though they had been entreated to do so by the Turkish authorities and promised the most ample protection.

The country outside the walls, pleasant, fertile, well watered, all too soon degenerated into the Syrian desert which was not sand but a plain of reddish gravel, easily passable in the dry season, but tedious going in the rains. Here nothing broke the monotony but rare outcrops of rock, and over all the white, dead landscape shimmered the heat haze

Lewis, W. H., "Levantine Adventurer: The Travels and Missions of the Chevalier dArvieux, 1653-1697," Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., New York.

At the evening we went to see ElMina. It is half an hour away from the [Tripoli] city. ElMina is almost an open sea rather than a closed harbor. Two small islands, located at a distance of 2 Parasangs (i.e., 6 miles) protect the place from the strong waves I think 6 square-shaped fortresses and towers were built at the seashore at equal distances to protect ElMina from any possible attacks by pirates. These fortresses and towers are now empty, there are no men or no ammunition.

Sir Mondrell (1697 CE)

"The town of Tripoli has a total of 360 mosques and madrassahs (theological schools). It also has 10 hammams (baths), 44 caravansarays, 100 fountains, and several military towers, palaces, gates, and others.."

AbdulGhani AlNaboulsi, (1700 CE)

Three Friends in Lebanon, April, 1802

The brig Mentor nosed her way northwards, ten days out from Alexandria It was the 15 April, 1802. The men were Lieutenant John Squire (1780-1812), Captain William Martin Leake (1777-1860) and William Richard Hamilton (1777-1859). All three had been in Egypt following the attack by British and Ottoman forces which defeated the French army there in 1801, and were on their way home.

The Mentor anchored in the bay of Tripoli at 5.30 in the afternoon of 16 April. Hamilton, Leake and Squire sent their names to the Greek merchant who acted as British consul, and then suffered a night of gales and rain squalls They were met on the beach by the consul's secretary and janissary, but they were warned not to have any contact with the local people since the plague had recently broken out and several people had died In the [next] morning they climbed a small hill to the south of Tripoli and gained a view of its site and situation, no doubt assisted by their telescopes. Tripoli, they saw, was situated beneath a rocky height on the inland edge of a triangular plain, the apex of which was a flat promontory towards the sea. They estimated that the town extended for about three-quarters of a mile north to south but was only 300 yards wide. North of the promontory was the anchorage not very safe, despite some protection from south and south-westerly winds from small islands. What the friend called the marina, where they had landed, was 'the size of a small town'. Further north still, towards the mouth of the river Kadisha, they saw six isolated and irregularly spaced towers which they thought were of Saracen construction. They ascended one of them in the afternoon and took some compass bearings. The plain itself was full of mulberry trees, planted with great regularity, but a large quantity of stagnant water could also be seen, suggesting malaria in the summer months. The town had no defensive walls, though it possessed gates; it was merely enclosed by garden walls. Protection was given by a citadel, but it was in a wretched state and mounted few guns The recent war between France and the Ottoman Empire had ruined Tripoli's trade, but this had included sponges found along the shore between Tripoli and Beirut, raw silk, and locally-manufactured silk handkerchiefs for turbans and soap.

Extracted from: J. Malcom Wagstaff, Archaeology & History in Lebanon Twelfth Issue: Autumn 2000, p. 13-19 (1802 CE)

Arriving to Tripoli

"On April 23, 1856, we went up by French steamer to Tripoli, the station to which I had been appointed by the mission as a colleague of Mr. Lyons. We were accompanied as far as Tripoli by the Aikens, Mr. Wilson and Mr. Calhoun who were en route for Hums. Mrs. Wilson was already in Homs.

I was soon domesticated with Mr. and Mrs. Lyons in Tripoli. That city had a reputation for the aristocratic pride of its people, both Moslems and Greek Christians. Mr. Wilson and Mr. Foote had made many warm friends there. Only one man, Mr. Antonius Yanni, whose father was a Greek from the Island of Miconos, had become an open Protestant. As American vice-consul he was obliged to be courteous to Americans, much against his religious prejudices, but by degrees, read the Bible with Mr. Wilson from the beginning to the end, and came into gospel light and liberty. He used to tell with much amusement of the horror with which he received a religious tract form Dr. Thomson in the Meena, and then, holding it at arms length, ran a mile and a half to his home in Tripoli and burned it in the kitchen. He then went to the priest and confessed his sin. The priest fines him three piastres for having received the tract. and forgave him, but then bethinking himself, asked, "What was the name of the tract?" Yanni replied, "Asheat al Ahad," a selection of Psalms to be read Sunday evening. "Ah," said the priest, "those were the Psalms of King David, and to burn them was a sin." So Yanni paid three piastres more and went away more perplexed at the logic of the priest."

Tripoli in the Shadow of Mount Lebanon

"As the summer drew on, the heat increased, and we walked out at evening through the shady walks among the orange orchards, enjoyed the luscious apricots and plums and often gathered shells along the seashore, to send home to our friends. I studies Arabic about six hours daily, with three teachers, Abu Selim of the Meena, the Port of Tripoli, who had taught Mr. Calhoun in 1841, Nicola Monsur, and Elias Saadeh, a young Greek, who in years after came out boldly as a preacher of the pure Gospels. The scenery of the plain of Tripoli with its luxuriant gardens is beautiful. But the crowning glory of the plain of Tripoli is that goodly mountain, Lebanon. It rises in the distance, range upon range, at its base bordered with gardens and orchards, with here and there a stone-walled village, hardly distinguishable at the distance form the white rock of the mountain ridges, while further up is bleak, rocky desolation. Towards the southeast, the highest range recedes, sweeping eastward in a majestic curve, and returning again towards the southwest, thus embracing in an amphitheatre of grand dimensions, the famous valley of the "Cedars of Lebanon," while to the north of this valley, and almost due east from the city, the summit of Jebel Makmel sits enthroned above all in snowy magnificence. Here the range of Lebanon proper terminates, and towards the northeast you see the immense precipice, where that mountain abruptly sinks to a level, and sweeps away to lose its identity among the shapeless hills and undulating plains, which expend to the Orantes, and border the "entrance of Hamath." You may gaze at the scene for hours and days and not be weary. You may view it at sunrise, when the sun breaks forth in all its glory from the snowy summits, revealing peak after peak and valley after valley, dissolving the mists, reflecting the rays of the monarch of heaven from the sheets of ice which encircle the brow of this monarch of earth, and throwing long spectral shadows down the dark ravines; or at evening when the last ray if the setting sun array the clouds in crimson and purple and gold, and then the rugged forms of the mountain peaks, bathed in a flood of mellow light, seem to lose their sternness, gradually fading from view in a halo of indescribable glory; or at midnight, when the full moon beams down so serenely and brightly through the transparent Syrian air, that you can almost forget the absence of the sun, and the tall cliffs stand out clear and cold, and awfully silent, overwhelming the mind with a new sense of the presence of Him who made heaven and earth, and the everlasting mountains, and before whose glory even the "glory of Lebanon" shall be a thing of naught; and though this be oft repeated, you will not be too weary to wonder, or too indifferent to praise. Here you become conscious of that indescribable something in mountain scenery which exalts, and at the same time humbles the spirit, and the earnest wish begins to burn within your soul, that it might be yours to live and die beneath the shadow of Mount Lebanon."

Learning Arabic

"My first duty was language study. We had no good dictionaries. My principal one was Freytags quarto Lexicon in four volumes, the meanings all given in Latin, and studying Arabic with such helps was a weariness to the flesh. We had also little reading primers, and reading-books, with the geography and arithmetic published at the American press. The chief difficulty was obtaining suitable teachers. My first teacher was Abu Selim Diab, who was recommended by Dr. Van Dyck as having been the teacher of Mr. Calhoun in Lebanon, in 1845. He knew no grammar and taught me more blunders than I was aware of at the time, but his chief excellence was story-telling, in which he used correct Arabic. When it became necessary to study grammar, we secures Sheikh Owad, a fanatical and conceited Moslem, who, loathed the necessity of teaching the sacred Arabic grammar to a foreign "infidel."

The mission at that time has no definite rules for Arabic study and no examinations of the new missionaries, so that each new recruit was obliged to stumble along as best he could. Some missionaries for this reason acquired habits of mispronunciation which adhered to them all their lives. One of by chief advantages in acquiring the colloquial was almost daily association with Mr. Yanni who was the most voluble and rapid talker I have met in the East. Once able to understand him, I could understand everybody. I began Arabic writing with Abu Selim, and during my six months visit to America the following year I kept up Arabic correspondence with him. But it should be stated that an Arabic letter in those days consisted of three parts: a long, flowery, poetic introduction covering one-third of the page, a similar conclusion covering the last third, and a brief letter in the middle. Important business, however, was written in a postscript diagonally across the right hand bottom of the page, and this was the part generally read by the receiver. Ever since, I have written Arabic letters myself. A missionary who cannot himself wrote a letter in the vernacular is greatly crippled and embarrassed by his work.

The boards of missions now, having learned by experience, insist upon a definite course of language study and rigid examinations, failing in which the new missionary is expected to resign."

The House

"The houses occupied by the missionaries in those days were the old-fashioned native houses in the cities and mountain villages. The roofs generally leaked and the walls were soaked by the winter rains, so that the walls were often discoloured by greenish fungus. In the mountain villages the houses were dark, with heavy earthen roofs, mud floors and few windows. Glass windows were almost unknown when I came to Syria. The first labour of a missionary in occupying a mountain house was to have openings made in the stone walls, and window frames and sash brought up from the cities in the plain. These facts seem almost incredible to the modern Syrian dwellers in the cities and the better villages of the Lebanon range, where the houses are rapidly becoming Europeanized, - dry, airy, and comfortable.

My first home n Tripoli was homely enough. For a year before my marriage and for six months after it, I enjoyed the hospitality of my dear colleagues, Mr. and Mrs. Lyons. But in the fall of 1858 we hired a house which stood near the site of the present Greek Church. Only a few rods to the south of this house was the Massaad house where Mr. Wilson has lived before, and where my brother lived afterwards. Between the two was a ruined Moslem wely (or tomb) surmounted by a moss-grown dome and overgrown with brambles and stunted fig trees, - the haunt of snakes. In 1855 Mr. Wilson caught in a rat-trap a snake five feet long, and after my brother took the house, his wife, on going to her room one evening, saw a huge serpant hissing on the iron bars of the open window.

Our house consisted of two rooms on the ground floor, opening into a vegetable garden, and two rooms on the roof of a neighbours house, reached by a flight of thirty stone steps, with a kitchen and servants room under the stairs. One of the rooms on the ground floor, a long, low, narrow, rakish affair, had been used as a stable, and it required days of work to shovel out and wash out the accumulated filth. The broken stone floor was mended up, rat-holes filled with stone and mortar, two windows cut in opposite walls, the walls whitewashed, poison applied to the woodwork, long strips of white cotton cloth nailed to the blackened and half-rotten ceiling, - and our parlour became the admiration of the boys and young men who crowded in on stormy winter nights to warm themselves by the cook-stove in the lower end of the room. To reach our bedroom we crossed a paved yard, sheltered by umbrellas when it rained, then up a covered staircase and across a flat, uncovered roof. The following fall we removed to the Troub house on which three new rooms had been built of the porous sandstone, plastered on the outside with white mortar. After the first hard rain in November, these walls absorbed water like a sponge, and the inside walls were soon coated with mould of many colours, - yet we wintered there, and bore the discomforts as best we could."


"The only roads in those days were the caravan tracks and bridle-paths. The first wheeled vehicle known in Syria was in 1861, and that on the French diligence road to Damascus, the only carriage road in Syria until about 1865 a little branch road was built to Baabda, the winter seat of the Lebanon government. Since that time the roads have gradually been built. The carriage road to Sidon was not finished till 1902 and the completion of the one to Tripoli is now (1909) in the near future. For twenty years a road has been surveyed from Sidon to Judaideh. Successive kaimakams have taxed the people grievously for building this road. After building a few hundred rods, the kaimakam would be removed to another district, carrying the road funds in his pocket. Similar jobbery and robbery were carried on for many years by the governors of Latakia and Hamath who reported to the government progress in taxing the people and building the road which has never yet been completed."

Consulates in Tripoli

"There was one institution in Tripoli, which still exists in many cities in Syria, which was the source of stupefying wonder to the average small boy. I refer to the vice-consulates of the European Powers. France and England were represented by foreigners, but Russia, Austria, Italy, the United States, Belgium, Denmark and Switzerland, by Oriental Greeks and Catholics. In the simple life of those old days "to be vice-consul was greater than to be a king." On feast days, especially the Turkish official holidays, they marched with stately tread through the narrow streets, proceeded by armed, gaily caparisoned Moslem kavasses or janizaries, with their tall silver-headed staves rattling on the pavement, the pompous dragoman or interpreter in the rear, a fringe of small boys all around, like the American boys following the elephant. The ordinary Moslems looked on with bitter disdain, but they were careful to keep silent lest they draw on themselves the wrath of czar, emperor or king."

Feasts in Tripoli

"Feast days were innumerable. In the Greek Church the people are obliged to refrain from work for about fifty holy days in addition to Sundays, so that the working men lose one-sixth of their working days. To make the round of calls needed on a first-class feast day, either Moslem or Christian, was a strenuous business. In those days to refuse coffee or sweets was to imply that you feared poisoning, and twenty coffee cups of black Arabic coffee were a peril to the health. The old way of getting rid of an obnoxious pasha or condemned criminal or secret enemy was to put a corrosive sublimate in coffee, and I have been often warned in going to a certain place to avoid coffee."

A Natural Disaster

"May 1856 The coast of Syria has just been visited with one of the most violent storms ever known at this season of the year. The rainy season usually begins in November and ends in March or April; and from that time onward a shower is rarely known on the seacoast. The amount of rain which fell during the past winter was not as great as usual. In the month of April there was but little rain, and by the middle of May the weather became settled. The owners of mulberry gardens had built their frail summer-houses of reeds and matting in the open air; the process of feeding the silkworms was considerably advanced, and all were anticipating a fine yield of silk to compensate for the losses of last season. But on Wednesday, May 28th, the air was thick with a dark cloud bank over the sea, and distant thunder, towards the south and on the mountains, threatened a storm.

Before midnight the rain fell in torrents. The thunder and lightening were fearful. The whole atmosphere seemed one sheet of flame. On Thursday the storm continued with such violence that the streets were flooded, and the beautiful river Kadisha rose to a height unprecedented at this season of the year. Above the city, it swept over vineyards and orchards, destroying property, and in one of its branches a little girl and boy were engulfed in the water and drowned. Towards evening, we walked out upon the bank of the river. It was a terrific scene. The roar of the waters dashing through the narrow arches of the stone bridge, and thence over the dam eight feet in height now almost concealed by the volume of the water - was really fearful. The river was rushing with mad violence in its haste to mingle with the sea. Its surface was covered with grass, sticks and scrubs, uprooted by the mountain torrents, and brought from distant heights not far from the snowy valley of the "Cedars of Lebanon." But the most remarkable feature of the scene was the colour of the water. It was a deep red colour, like blood, and the angry tide seemed crested with a bloody froth. The origin of this discoloration is in the ochreous soil which abounds along the sides of Lebanon, and is washed down by the rains."

Schools in Tripoli

"Six other boarding-schools connected with the Presbyterian Mission have opened since 1860.

The girls school in Tripoli (1872), and Sidon (1862), and the boys boarding school in Sidon (1881), and Suk el Gharb (1877), have had a large share in the training of the youth in Syria.

In 1899 the boys boarding school at Shweir, Mount Lebanon founded in 1869..

Another boys/ boarding-school has just been opened in Tripoli, under the care of Rev. Dr. Nelson. Its prospects are good, and the people are willing to pay for education. It has seventy-five paying boarders."

Tripoli Girl's School

"The Tripoli station had been occupied about twenty years, when the need of a girls boarding-school became urgent. A day-school of a girls boarding-school became urgent. A day-school for girls had been opened in 1856 and continued, but it could not train teachers or benefit Protestant girls in the interior. Beirut Seminary was too far and its training not adapted to the peasant girls of Akkar and Safita, Hums, and Mahardeh.

In September, 1873, Mrs. Shrimpton, an English lady, and Miss Kipp, of Auburn, N.Y., took charge of the school. In October, 1875, Miss Mary S. Hanford (now Mrs. Professor Moore of Andover) spent a year in teaching. In January, 1876, Miss Harriet La Grange began her work as head of the school, and was joined in May by Miss Emilia Thomson, of Beirut. In October, 1879, Miss Susan H. Calhoun came to aid Miss La Grange. In December, 1879, Miss Calhoun was transferred to Shwifat, and Miss Cundall took her place, and remained until her return to America in March, 1883. In November, 1883, Miss C. M. Holmes came, and remained, with one years absence, until July, 1894. Misses R. Brown (1886), Bird (1887), M.T.M. Ford (1888), F.M. Jessup (1895), A.H. Jessup (1896), E.M. Law, and Mrs. Shaw taught for varying periods until Miss Bernice Hunting came in October, 1896. During her furlough in 1904-1905 Miss Gillbee of England took her place.

Not less than fifteen different foreign teachers have been connected with ti, but the success of the school has been owing to the faithful and continuous labours of Miss Harriet La Grange for thirty-three years. Two classes of girls have been enrolled in this school, the more aristocratic Greek girls of Tripoli, and the daughters of the fellahin of the interior. To combine these two in one school has been no easy task, but the patience, wisdom and fidelity of the teachers have surmounted all difficulties. The daughters of the city have been highly educated and fitted for the wealthier homes, and the country girls have been fitted to be teachers, and to be wives of Syrian artisans and farmers.

I was present at the graduating exercises of this school in 1885, and delivered the annual address. At the close, Nicola Beg Nofel, the most prominent of the Orthodox Greek community of Tripoli, made a brief address, speaking in the most eloquent and affectionate terms of the high esteem in which Miss La Grange was held by the people of Tripoli, and of the fruit of her labours in the moral, religious, and intellectual elevations of the young women of Tripoli. It was one of many testimonies given from time to time in Tripoli, Beirut, and Sidon, to the high appreciation by the Syrian people of female education as conducted by the American missionaries.

The English language has been taught, and certain pupils have learned French, but all have been trained in the Arabic language, and in the Scriptures. In the winter id 1900-1901 a profound religious awakening moved the whole school.

The number of boarding pupils in the Tripoli school from the beginning is about 300, thirty-six of whom have become teachers in Protestant, native Greek and Russian schools. Twelve of the present pupils are daughters of former pupils."

Henry Harris Jessup, one of the founders of the American University of Beirut and author of the two volumes Fifty-Three Years in Syria (New York: Fleming H. Revell Company, pp. 112-119, 128-129, 508-510, 1910 CE)

Communicated by Mrs. Ann Hamze

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