Today, I decided to play tourist in the Medina (old city), to sail un-chartered routes farther than the shops I was used to visiting, to go into side streets and alleys where people actually lived and to explore the realms of the ‘white city’ in reference to the words of a 14th century traveler al Tegani who said “ [..] when we approached Tripoli, the brilliant whiteness of the city with reflection of the sun nearly blinded us, therefore I realized why it is called Albayda" ( the white one) . So walking slowly and peacefully, leaving behind the bustle of the shopping area, I felt transported to another time, despite the obvious lack of luster and the decrepitude of many of the buildings. Whatever had befallen it , the city still commands an unmistakable presence. Its history is very complex dating to pre-Islamic times. The Medina has often been rebuilt and restored, depending on the vagaries of war and the conquering armies. However, since 1985 the ‘Project for the organization and administration of the old city of Tripoli’ was launched and funds allocated accordingly. It had 3 main objectives ( very briefly).
-Restoration of archeological monuments and other buildings in Medina
-Modernizing it’s infrastructure .
-Cultural revival programmes
In the Ramadan of 1985 , I attended with my father one of those revival shows, in the old city. As we walked in , it was fantastic and eerie to see male and female and children of ancient times walking, living, working, playing in its streets. I felt I had just come out of the Time Machine. A full historical play live in its natural setting and costumes , complete with a battle and soldiers. Oh I loved every minute . It is a tribute to the success of that idea and the cast people, that 20 years later I am still impressed and it is stamped vividly in my memory. If those people are reading I would like to say thank you because you have fuelled my dreams and my curiousity about our wonderful past.
As for the other aspects of the project, work has been slow and sometimes snail like but it has been steady, this is a major endeavour and I wish to see it done correctly. I look forward to obtaining the 3 booklets published in this regard. I’ll have to check where I can find them.
So to get back to my walk in Medina, this time I had a digital camera and I was not going to miss anything. Ahmad Basha Garamally mosque, the Clock Tower ( see the purple photo here) , the various Suqs, Al Naga mosque , the Garamally house, Alzahir hotel, the Darghut Hamam, Santa Maria Church , the French Consulate, Marcus Aurelius Arch, the British Consulate, The Jewish school – formerly known as Dar Salat al-Sarusi which has been restored 1990-94 and filled with historical documents and audios etc… and it is now called the House of Ahmed Al-Naib for Historical Information. As I left Marcus’arch on my right and walked up the hill I got lost in the streets and ended up to my surprise in front of a deserted synagogue. I’m not sure this was the one which had been restored. It was quite a big monument. And it looked like some restoration work was done on the outside. I knew we had some synagogues in Tripoli I just never knew where on the map.. so coming across one just like this without even looking was strange. It was surrounded by houses and people were going on their daily lives in their city. I started to shoot some photos a bit apprehensively to be honest, I wasn’t sure of the neighbour’s reaction and also there are NO tourists in that area at all. To my surprise one of the residents came over to explain to me in haltering English ( he thought I was a foreigner) and was pointing at some interesting angles. I probably have a photographic scoop ( how modest). The building needs a lot of work but I can see it was a majestic place. You can use my photos but kindly let me know and link back to me. I'll put a link to the other photos of the city as soon as I have them up. This is just a trailer ;).
An interesting guidebook is by Mariam Salama, a Libyan young woman who has been part of the restoration project. If I recall well she is a historian or archeologist, but she also works as a professional tourist guide and was the first female Libyan tourist guide. Maybe if Michael Totten had contacted her he would have had a more positive outlook of Libya - see my post here.
Mariam Salama- guidebook