Port of Tripoli
Review and History

The Port of Tripoli lies on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea in northwest Libya. It is the country’s capital, biggest city, and most important seaport. At the heart of Libya’s most densely-populated region, it is connected by almost a thousand kilometers of coastal highway to the Port of Benghazi and by inland road to Sabh? to the south. In 2005, over 911 thousand people lived in the city and over two million lived in the urban area of the Port of Tripoli.

As Libya’s busiest manufacturing and commercial center, the Port of Tripoli is home to traditional industries that include the makers of carpet and cigarettes, tanners, fishing, and fish canneries. Newer heavy industries include an oil depot, gas-bottling plant, and some vehicle assembly plants. The Port of Tripoli is also on the site of a coastal oasis that supports agricultural produce like olives, fruit, vegetables, grains, and tobacco. With a very long and rich history, the Port of Tripoli also contains many archaeological sites.

Port History

The Phoenicians founded Oea, today’s Port of Tripoli, in the 7th Century BC when they established a port and colony there. It was later ruled by Greek colonists who called their colony Cyrenaica which stretched halfway to Egypt. Still later, the Carthaginians conquered the city.

By the end of the 2nd Century BC, Romans ruled the city. They called the Roman province Regio Syrtica, or “Region of the Three Cities” including Oea, Sabratha, and Leptis Magna (the latter two are UNESCO World Heritage Sites). Historians believe that Emperor Septimius Severus, who was born in Leptis Magna, raised the modern Port of Tripoli to the status of a separate province. Despite their occupation for several centuries, there are few visible reminders of the Romans. Many columns were incorporated into newer buildings. The 2nd Century Arch of Marcus Aurelius stands.

Since the Port of Tripoli has been settled so long, most residents either used materials from older buildings or built their new buildings atop the old. Therefore, many remains remain underground and unexcavated. It is likely that the Port of Tripoli fell into decline in the 5th and 6th Centuries AD after the Roman Empire fell.

By the early 8th Century, the Muslims had conquered North Africa and the Port of Tripoli. Over the next seven centuries, it was ruled by dynasties from Cairo including the Fatimids and the Mamluks, and the Port of Tripoli was an important base for the infamous Barbary pirates.

In 1510, Don Pedro Navarro, took the Port of Tripoli for Spain, largely to break up pirate activities and support the growth of Christian shipping in the Mediterranean. It was consigned to the Knights of St. John in 1523 after they Ottoman Turks expelled them from the island of Rhodes to prevent the return of piracy to the city. The knights built up the city’s defenses, building atop older buildings that may include a Roman bath, including the earliest parts of the Red Castle (Assaraya al-Hamra). The knights were able to hold the city until 1551.

Turgut Reis led the Ottoman Turks in their conquest of the Port of Tripoli in 1551. Turgut was buried in the Port of Tripoli in 1565 when he died during a siege of Malta. He was interred in a tomb in a mosque he is said to have created near his palace in Tripoli. The palace is gone, but the mosque and tomb still stand near the Bab Al-Bahr gate.

With the Ottoman Turks in power, Barbary pirates again began to operate out of the Port of Tripoli. Ruling from 1551 until 1711, their local Janissary Corps (much like the Roman Praetorian Guard) hindered effective Ottoman administration of the city.

In 1711, a Janissary officer from Turkey killed the Ottoman governor and made himself the ruler of the Port of Tripoli region. By 1714, he had made the region a relatively independent body, paying tribute to the Ottoman Sultan but independent in all other ways. This was the beginning of the Karamanli Dynasty that ruled a fairly corrupt region, with much blackmailing and piracy, until 1835 when the Ottoman Empire saw an opportunity to re-establish its authority over the Port of Tripoli.

In the early 19th Century, the Port of Tripoli’s rulers were pulled into two wars with the United States. The US had been paying tribute since 1796 for the safety of their ocean-going commerce. In 1801, the local Pasha (governor) demanded more tribute. The US refused and blockaded the Port of Tripoli. This First Barbary War lasted four years, during which time Tripolitan forced captured a US frigate and turned it against the US until the Americans burned the ship.

The war ended in 1805 when a mercenary expedition of 500 marched from Alexandria, Egypt, across the desert to capture the Port of Derna, the province’s capital. When peace was declared, the Pasha received $60 thousand in ransom for the prisoners that had been taken from the US frigate. US forces visited the Port of Tripoli again in 1815, bringing an end to all US tribute payments and a beginning to the final days of piracy in the region.

In 1835, the Ottomans once again reasserted their authority over the Port of Tripoli, and it remained under their control into the 20th Century. In 1911, Italy claimed the need to protect its citizens who lived in the Port of Tripoli. It declared war against the Ottomans, saying it would annex the city. A naval battle fought at Prevesa, Greece, ended in the destruction of three Ottoman ships and the recognition of Italian sovereignty over the Port of Tripoli. The Italians controlled the region until 1943. British forces governed the area after World War II until Libyan independence in 1941.

In 1986, US planes bombed both the Ports of Tripoli and Benghazi, claiming that Libya was engaged in acts of terrorism against the US. United Nations sanctions were imposed that remained in effect until 2003. Lifting of the sanctions has allowed ocean-going traffic to increase in the Port of Tripoli, and the city’s economy has begun to recover.

Today, the Port of Tripoli is at the heart of Libya’s economy and the center of finance, communications, banking, commerce, and manufacturing for the country. Manufactured goods like textiles, construction materials, processed foods, clothing, and tobacco flow from the city. Foreign investment and tourism are on the increase. The Port of Tripoli hosts the Tripoli International Fair each year in April where participants from about 30 countries and 2000 companies exhibit their agricultural, industrial, and commercial products.

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