A couple of days ago, my sister, friend and I decided to have a road trip towards the northern part of Lebanon. We all agreed that it was high time we discovered the city of Tripoli. We woke up at 8 am and were on the road at 9 already. Our excitement could not be tamed, to the point that I forgot my wallet at Starbucks Verdun and did not even realize it if it were not for the customer service of the bank notifying me of the loss. Thank you for Bilal for taking the initiative in finding out the owner of that black purse left by itself on the counter. The good side? I was going to be invited for breakfast, and lunch and anything in between 😉
9.30 > we were already in Jbeil having each a mankouche at Zaatar w Zeit (my first free meal of the day)
10.20 > back into the car, it took us exactly 25 min to reach Tripoli. Of course along the ride, I had to goof around and take a video of us three singing to some 80s song
11 > we parked right in front of the municipality, asked for directions and started heading towards the old souks.
I had no clue what to expect but I was not expecting to literally enter the narrow roads of an old souk. You are literally transported to another era, another century, another altogether space and time. Each narrow road opens up to two or three adjacent roads. Each road is packed with people wandering, buying goodies, food and cloths. Motorcycles passing by through opposite directions and men welcoming you to enter their shops. It was a beautiful calming chaos. I know this last statement might have left you perplexed yet you will feel it once you wander through the old souks.
Our first stop was the famous “Khan el Saboun”
Located in the caravanserai of Tripoli, a local guide explained to us how sea travelers (merchants mostly) used to come and rest on the second floor of the caravanserai while their belongings were locked within a space baring the same room number.
Thanks to some online research I gathered further information about this building:
Khan Essaboun “was built at the beginning of the seventeenth century by Yusuf al-Saifi, pasha of Tripoli . Originally it was intended to serve as a military barracks to garrison Ottoman troops and it was purposely built in the center of the city to enable the pasha to control any uprising. It is a large imposing rectangular structure with two story arcaded corridors running around a fountain courtyard. The outer walls had a number of loopholes and arrow slits for defense purposes. In front of the building was an arched portal, flanked by stone benches for the pasha’s guards. A white marble plaque commemorates the building of this splendid military barracks of Tripoli. During the battle of Anjar, Yusuf Pasha was taken prisoner. When Tripoli fell to Fakhr-ed-Din, the Ottoman garrison fled to join his routed forces in Syria. The army of Fakhr-ed-Din occupied the barracks briefly but in the years that followed the building stood empty and useless. To the inhabitants of Tripoli this seemed to be a great waste so a petition was sent to Deir al-Qamar, the residence of Fakhr-ed-Din, with the request to turn the building into a soap factory and warehouse. From that day until the present time the Ottoman barracks have served as Tripoli’s flourishing Soap Khan or Khãn as-Sáboun.” (wikipedia)
Our guide turned out to be an employee of one of the soap shops within the Khan. Not only did he give us a tour of the caravanserai, he also explained to us the products sold at the shop. This is when I started noticing how welcoming the locals are.
(I bought a rose scented soap acting as a make up remover = my second freebie of the day!)
12.15 > Next we went and visited a Hammam (Turkish baths). For a mere 1000 LBP (0.60$) (free again!!) the employee of the Hammam took us for a quick tour (some customers were warned of our presence and hid in another room – the time to pass through the space). Further more, we were clothed into silk garments to experience the aftermath of the hammam which is smoking shisha and drinking tea. The whole experience was surreal and very thoughtful on behalf of the employees just for us to take pictures. Below my sister very happy with her new style!!
The old souk is very tricky to wander in and out for newcomers. There are so many roads to wander in. And sometimes you get confused as to which road you have already taken or not. We were very privileged to have had many locals guide us on where to go and what to see. I am positive they would have done the same for any tourist visiting.
Every one was caring and happy to see ‘foreigners’ taking pictures. Many times children asked me to take their pictures. I even noticed many men changing their posture (strike a pause-like) when the lens was directed in their direction. They were respectful. To be very frank, I was positively surprised. I was not expecting this much of love and warmth.
It is in Tripoli that I understood and saw first hand what being respectful to each other is and towards women in particular. It is in Tripoli that I witnessed people fearing God and acting upon it by respecting women and children. The behavior of the whole inhabitants of this city was homogenous. The 4 hours that we spent there, I felt safe. Something that I don’t feel in Beirut most of the times.
13.30 > We ended our road trip walking along the Mina where on any given Sunday, families take a stroll; the men and women walking side by side, the children on bikes or running around playing, laughing or eating ice cream. The family dynamic is strong. I kinda envied that. I loved how tight family members are to one another. How care free and happy, whether walking or sitting by the sea. Conversing loudly, happily while smiling at passerby.
I have overall taken 237 pictures of Tripoli, its habitants, its streets and its beautiful sceneries. Unfortunately I cannot share them all with you. However what I can advise you is to go and see this city by yourself. Experience it on your own. I challenge anyone who would contradict me on the hospitality of Tripolitans. I dare you!
ps: One last thing that I learnt about this trip: Don’t listen to gossip and fear mongers. Tripoli is a safe city. To hell with anyone trying to tarnish its image, especially mainstream media.