Tripoli is the capital, largest city and main seaport. It is in the northwest on the Mediterranean coast. Around a third of the country’s estimated population of 5.6 m. live there.
Tripoli was one of several settlements along the North African coast established by the Phoenicians. Subsequent Carthaginian rule gave way to Roman dominance from 146 BC. The street plan of the old walled city was laid down in Roman period, during which time Tripoli (along with neighbouring Sabratha and Leptis—the other cities of Tripolitania) prospered. When the Roman empire fell into decline, the area was invaded first by the Vandals in AD 455 and then by the Byzantines in the sixth century. In AD 645 Tripoli was conquered by the Muslim Arabs. It remained under the control of a succession of Arab dynasties, except for a brief period of Norman supremacy from 1146–58, until the beginning of the sixteenth century when it was stormed by Spanish forces. In 1551 Tripoli was taken by the Turks. It remained a part of the Ottoman empire (and a haven for Mediterranean pirates in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries) until 1911 when it fell to Italian colonization. The city had begun to spread beyond the confines of the old walled city in the eighteenth century, and in these outer areas the Italians established new administrative quarters and official residences. Upon Italy’s defeat in the Second World War, Tripoli was occupied by the British from 1943 until Libya’s independence in 1951. Following the 1969 revolution the city expanded rapidly into sprawling suburbs. In April 1986 areas of the city were bombed by United States military aircraft in a reprisal raid for alleged Libyan terrorist activities. Anti-government protests in Tripoli during Feb. and March 2011 sparked a civil war that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of Libyans. In March the UN enforced a no-fly zone over the country and Tripoli came under air attack for the second time since 1986. After months of fighting the rebels seized control of the city, bringing an end to Col. Gaddafi’s 42-year rule.
A coastal oasis, Tripoli serves an agricultural area producing olives, fruit and vegetables. Textiles and fishing are important industries. It is the main centre for commerce and shipping, with an international airport and a coastal highway link to Benghazi (Libya’s second city) and neighbouring Egypt. The city centre and most of the major commercial streets radiate from Green Square. The Al-Fateh University opened in 1973.
Places of Interest
The ancient walled city is dominated by a castle, dating from Roman times and extended by the Spanish and the Ottoman Turks. The adjoining Jamhiriya Museum has one of the finest collections of classical art in the Mediterranean area. The old quarter has a number of historic mosques—particularly the Ahmed Pasha Karamanli, An-Naqah (the oldest in Tripoli) and Gurgi Mosques—and the Roman Arch of Marcus Aurelius.