We needed to get out of Beirut after weeks and weekends of report cards; Sharon writing them and Mike reading and editing comments from multiple teachers. We rented a car and headed up the coast to Tripoli, Lebanon’s second largest city and a place we had yet to visit.
We found our way to El Mina, the old port section of town easily enough. We drove up and down the seaside Corniche, which compared to Beirut’s Corniche, was empty and unimpressive. Our goal on this trip was to spend some time in the old souks of Tripoli, and to visit the medieval citadel overlooking the city. Both of these were inland several kilometers, so we decided to brave it and drive into the heart of old Tripoli to park. We crawled along for a kilometer or two, not knowing if we were even going in the right direction, so we stopped and asked for directions. Tripoli is a strongly Muslim city, with little English evident on signs or heard on the streets. Fortunately, we found a few locals who spoke English, and they were able to point us towards our destination. After a hair raising drive across five lanes of traffic at a round-a-bout, we got as close as we felt we could with the car and parked on a street, crossed our fingers that the car would still be there upon our return, and started hoofing it. We were soon in the souks, with their crowds, narrow alleys and endless variety of purchasing options. Ultimately, we found our way out of the souks and to the citadel.
The citadel of Raymond de Saint-Gilles dominates the city of Tripoli. First built in 1100 by Crusader Raymond de Saint-Gilles, it has seen many occupiers and builders, giving it an interesting mix of architectural styles. These include a moat built by the Crusaders, an Ottoman era gate built by Suleyman the Magnificent, another gate with the distinctive black and white stone of the Mamluks. The castle is undergoing significant work and with no guides we had to rely on our imaginations to get a sense of the place.
We found our way back through the souks to our intact car, and headed back down the coast. We met up with Phil and Josie from ACS at a seaside restaurant in Batroun where we enjoyed a beer and fresh grilled fish as the sun set over the Mediterranean.