Introducing Tripoli (Trablous)
Tripoli (Trablous in Arabic), 85km north of Beirut, is Lebanon’s second-largest city and the north’s main port. Famous for its medieval Mamluk architecture, old city souq, huge fortress and teeth-clenchingly sweet pastries, its charms were sadly overshadowed in 2007 by the deadly and drawn-out confrontation between Palestinian militants and the Lebanese army, centred on the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp around 16km from the city centre. On 20 May 2007, militants and Lebanese police began battling it out in Tripoli itself, before fighting moved to Nahr al-Bared; Lebanese soldiers finally took control of the camp in September 2007. Alleged ties between the militant group and Al-Qaeda lent events a particularly sinister and gloomy edge.
Its image tarnished as a result, Tripoli is currently struggling to entice tourists back to its markets and monuments. Certainly, there’s plenty to keep a visitor entertained for a couple of days, and with one good budget hotel and one excellent top-end choice, there are accommodation options for every pocket. Since few tourists currently make it this far north, you’ll have no problem finding an available room or restaurant table.
If you’re arriving direct from Beirut, though, you may be in for something of a culture shock. Tripoli may be Lebanon’s second-largest city, but in many ways it couldn’t be more different. Where Beirut is glitzy, Tripoli is demure and down-to-earth. Though there is some nightlife to be had, it’s low key and based in the port of Al-Mina rather than in Tripoli proper. It’s wise, therefore, to dress down a little, leaving your best figure-hugging combinations for the streets and clubs of the capital.