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Tripoli — City, Oasis and Hinterland — Reflections on the Old City 1551 to the Present

  • Keith McLachlan (a1)


On the surface, the old city of Tripoli appears to have survived without serious damage to its morphological and architectural character into the modern period. But the entire function of the castle and suk has changed radically since the early years of the present century, beginning with the arrival of the Italian colonial regime in 1911. Even earlier, in the mid-nineteenth century, an important change is to be seen in the removal of the Karamanli Bashaws as rulers of Tripolitania and the institution of Ottoman control, from which time Tripoli ceased to be the seat of political power and an independent centre of corsair activity. Under Turkish administration there were but few changes in the structure of Tripoli and its environs, though illustrations of the period suggest that a number of official institutions set up buildings outside the old city and a slow but perceptible move began to establish settlements around the city walls. The pace of development of modern Tripoli was much accelerated by the Italian colonial occupation, though the larger part of this ‘new’ Tripoli was occupied by and served the needs of the Italians rather than the indigenous population. The population of Tripoli was reported as 13 841 in 1914 (di Agostini: 1917), entirely contained within the old city, and these social groups remained in their traditional areas in many cases until the violent upheavals caused by the collapse of the Italian colonial administration and the coming of political independence to Libya. Rapidly rising personal incomes in the period after 1961, resulting from the diffusion of oil wealth and particularly the concentration of economic activity in the hands of the merchants and the urban population of large, led to abandonment of the greater part of the old city of Tripoli. The old Arab and Jewish quarters alike are now taken over for temporary accommodation for recent (and often foreign immigrants) and for storage of goods. It may well be that physical decay of the city has been retarded but that the functional decay of the area is far advanced. Possibly this may be viewed as a fitting epitaph on a city that historically never succeeded in establishing clear and lasting control over its hinterland.


Tripoli — City, Oasis and Hinterland — Reflections on the Old City 1551 to the Present

  • Keith McLachlan (a1)


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