I walked almost everywhere in Tarabulus (Tripoli), Lebanon. The city is spread out over about 6km – more if you include Beddaoui and Mina. But it’s small enough to explore on foot.
Walking has always been my preferred mode of exploration and commuting. From shopping trips and dessert hunts to urban hikes and late-night essential-seeking. But most of the walks were long detours after school ended for the day.
This post will take you through the neighbourhoods in Tarabulus I’ve scouted and the things I’ve seen. It’s not meant to be a detailed guide of what each area has, but more an overview with a focus on the accessible attractions.
A note about some areas in Tarabulus
Some foreign ministries and organisations advise against all but essential travel to certain areas in Tarabulus. I won’t name these organisations or list the places they’ve mentioned. All I can say that if you’re just walking through Tarabulus, or getting some bread or falafel, without any agenda, you’ll be fine. A friend or a passer-by who can guide you around will make things more interesting.
My school was located here before it moved downtown to Azmi, so my first exposure to walking around Tarabulus and Lebanese daily life was in Zahriyeh (Zehriye). I would navigate my way to school from Al-Tal, along the main road filled with bakeries, roasteries and sweet shops.
I would buy my bread and saj after school from Al-Meer bakery. I had knafeh from Tom’s Sweets and coffee during breaks at the junction of the Tripoli Evangelical School for Boys and Girls. Opposite, Al-Meer was a general store whose owner sold superb homemade chili. The closest I could get to sambal in Lebanon!
The only problem with Zahriyeh is the traffic gridlock, since a single lane road passes through the area to and from Al-Tal.
I love Zahriyeh’s character: old, functional and quirky. Many buildings seem like afterthought additions. Tables laden with bread, machines roasting chicken and caged birds crowd the five-foot way.
There’s no consensus where Zahriyeh ends and the old city of Tarabulus begins. But I discovered that if I keep walking east, I’ll eventually hit the Abu Ali River and the Souq Tiab Balieh (second-hand clothes market) at the edge of Tabbaneh neighbourhood.
In the north of Zahriyeh, near the Takwa Mosque, is an astroturf field where I played football on Wednesdays. Good times.
I’ve already wrote a bit about the souqs, but I have to mention them again. Because no walk around Tarabulus is complete without seeing the old city.
Everything due east of Al-Tal, ending in the Abu Ali River, is loosely called the old city. It includes all of the city’s traditional souqs: the soap souq, the tailors’ khan, Nahasine (coppersmiths) souq, Attarin (perfumers) souq and all the hammams.
It’s impossible for me to map out the souqs other than list them by name. The old city is an endless warren of trails, corners and dead-ends. It’s an urban maze of surprises.
My visits to the old city were led by necessity. They were mainly food-related. Maybe I needed fresh sardines for fried rice. Or maybe I went to get a copper tea kettle as gift and then needed to buy some tomatoes or cucumbers. So I spent most of my time in the vegetable and meat market, and my experience of the old city got shaped by my discovery of Lebanese food.
Sfouf cake in the vegetable market. Accidentally buying ghobus fish at the fishmonger. Queuing for Makdous at the store near Al-Mansouri Mosque.
I only visited Hammam Ezzedine out of all the hammams in the old city. The info panels and signs about the restoration work there were top-notch. At the entrance portal is a bar of stone, with a paschal lamb symbol in between two seashells, which was possibly taken from a ruined Crusader church. If you can spot it, the Latin words read ‘ecce agnus dei’ (Lamb of God).
The other key attraction in the old city is the citadel.
A walk around Tarabulus should include the citadel, minimum. The striped stone gateway, the huge turrets, the deep moat and the view – the citadel rises over the old city. Depending on the time of day, the museum in the main keep may be open. But if it isn’t, the getting lost in the ramparts and the towers is still a nice experience. Unfortunately some parts of the citadel are still used by the Lebanese army, so not every nook is accessible.
Like the old city, the citadel feels like it’s been there for a long time. But unlike the old city, I always had the feeling that, standing atop the citadel admiring Tarabulus in front and Tabbaneh, the scenery is a gift. I wonder how many people had the opportunity over the years to stand in the sunshine and survey the city. Maybe just some soldiers, tourists, the odd wali or government official or two.
It still is one of my favourite places in the city.
Taynal Mosque, Haddadin and Abu Samra
If you walked through the vegetable souq and followed the alley all the way south, you would hit a cemetery called Bab Al Ramel. Further south is an area called Haddadin and beyond, Abu Samra.
I don’t know much about these areas, having walked through them en route to somewhere else. Haddadin flanks the main road towards Al-Nour Square. It is known as a very conservative neighbourhood among students at my school. It also has the only KFC in Tarabulus.
Abu Samra marks the southernmost district of Tarabulus’s urban sprawl, Beyond it lies the hills of the Koura, and the landcape changes to suburban farms.
Most people just pass through. They miss one of most attractive places in Tarabulus: Taynal Mosque near cemetery.
I found the mosque by accident. Walking around Tarabulus down a street filled with car and motorcycle-repair shops, the mosque’s courtyard was the only green thing in this relatively poor part of the city. What drew me was the orchard of oranges in courtyard and the strange shape of the mosque.
I waited till afternoon prayers ended, then wandered in. I had guessed correctly that the mosque was a former church, but seeing it for myself was something else altogether. Taynal Mosque has the most beautiful Roman columns, holding up a huge dome in the former church nave. The light in here is almost pinkishly clear.
Within, there’s another prayer hall, with the imam meets congregants. Separating them is a chamber with the distinctive black-and-white striped marble and granite from the Mamluke era. I didn’t go in, but spoke to the imam briefly when he left. He speaks English and is super friendly.
The place is ancient, aged to the point that its history is mixed with the culture that supplanted it. Ironically, the mosque has preserved the old church interior. Along with the citadel, these two are likely the oldest buildings still standing in Tarabulus.