1902 Encyclopedia > Tripoli, North Africa

Tripoli, North Africa

TRIPOLI, a North African state, bounded by the Mediterranean-on the north, by the desert of Barca (or Libyan Desert), which separates it from Egypt, on the east, by the Sahara and Fezzan on the south-east, south, and south-west, and by Tunis on the north-west. The country is made up of a strip of fertile soil adjacent to the sea, with vast sandy plains and parallel chains of rocky moun-tains, which finally join the Atlas range near Kairwan in Tunis. It is naturally divided into five parts, viz.,—Tripoli proper, to the north-east of which is the plateau of Barca and Jebel al-Akhdar, to the south the oasis of Fezzan, to the south-east that of Aujala, and to the south-west that of Ghadámes. It is very badly watered : the rivers are small and the desert wells and watering places are often dry. As regards the coast, it is extremely difficult to fix the exact border between Egypt and Tripoli. The sea-board of the Libyan Desert is so little known to Europeans that the spacious harbours of Tebruk (Tabraca and Tabarka) and Bomba (Bombsea) have almost escaped notice. The land bordering the sea to the west of Cape Ras al-Tin does not partake of the sterile character of the wastes of Barca. The district of Jebel al-Akhdar ("the Green Mountain"), which intervenes between Ras al-Tin and Benghazi, abounds in wood, water, and other resources; but its ports are scarcely worthy of the name, except Derna (Darnis), where vessels from Alexandria call to embark honey, wool, and wax. From Mersa Suza (Apollonia, later Sozusa), now a mere boat cove, but once a powerful city of Cyrenaica, to Benghazi the' coast abounds in extensive ruins. Benghazi itself, on the Bay of Sidra (Syrtis Major), is an insignificant fortified town trading in cattle and other produce. The principal products of the country are corn, barley, olives, saffron, figs, and dates,—these last being perhaps the finest in the whole of North Africa. Fruit also is abundant in cer-tain parts, and so are many kinds of vegetables. The horses and mules, though small, are capable of much hard work. The native tissues and pottery are almost as good as those of Tunis. Great quantities of castor oil come from Tad-jura. In consequence of recent events in Tunis, Tripoli has become the last surviving centre of the caravan trade to Northern Africa. It is at least 250 miles nearer the great marts of the interior than either Tunis or Algiers. A large proportion of the commerce of Tripoli is in the hands of British merchants or dealers in British goods, who send cloth, cutlery, and cotton fabrics southwards and re-ceive in return esparto grass, ivory, and ostrich feathers. The sirocco blows with great force at times during the autumn, and the heat is as a rule much greater than in Tunis. The climate is very variable; cold nights often succeed warm days; storms are of frequent occurrence; and rain is at times wanting for many months. In addi-tion to the capital TRIPOLI (see below), called Tarabulus al-Gharb to distinguish it from the town of the same name in Syria, the only important places are Murzuk and Ghadames in the interior and Benghazi (Berenice) on the coast. The population of the country consists of Moors, Arabs, Kabyles, Kuluglis (descendants of Turkish fathers and Moorish mothers), Turks, Jews, Europeans, and Negroes. Nothing like a census has ever been attempted, and the number of inhabitants is purely a matter of con-jecture. In the interior the population is very scattered, and it is not probable that the total exceeds from 800,000 to a million. The Europeans (2500 or 3000) on the coast are nearly all Maltese. There is a Jewish colony of about 4000 in the capital, and the trade is almost entirely in their hands and in those of the Maltese.
Beechey's Proceedings of the Expedition to Explore the Northern Coast ef Africa from Tripoli Eastwards, Loudon, 1828. Admiral W. H. Smyth's Mediterranean, London, 1854, contains a description of the coast. See also Rae, Country of the Moors, London, 1877, and Broad-ley, Tvrais Past and Present, London and Edinburgh, 1882.
Since 1835 Tripoli has lost the semi-independent character of a regency which it formerly enjoyed in common with Tunis, and has become a vilayet or outlying province of the Turkish empire. For administrative purposes it is divided into five districts, which are again subdivided into twenty-five cantons, the former being governed by motasarrifs and the latter by caimacams. Each vill-age has its sheikh, who is assisted by a sort of municipal council. Since the invasion of Tunis by the French, the Turkish garrison of Tripoli has been considerably reinforced, and many new fortifi-cations are partially erected on the coast. The chief judge or cadi is nominated by the Porte; the muftis are subject to his authority. There are also a criminal court and a commercial tribunal. The taxes are collected by a receiver-general, also nominated from Constantinople, and they press very heavily on all classes of the inhabitants. The principal sources of revenue are the usual Mo-hammedan taxes. The constant succession of Turkish governors, each of whom invariably follows a different policy from that of his predecessor, has been fatal to the material progress of the country. There are few elementary schools in the capital, and instruction in the interior is entirely limited to the Koran.
History.—After falling successively into the hands of the Phoenicians, Romans (a four-sided triumphal arch, erected in honour of Aurelius Antoninus and Aurelius Pius, still stands near the Marina gate), Vandals, and Greeks, Tripoli was finally conquered by the Arabs twelve centuries ago, and has remained a Moslem state ever since. In 1510 Ferdinand the Catholic of Spain took it, and thirteen years later it was given to the Knights of St John, who were expelled in 1553 by the Turkish corsairs Dragut and Sinan. Dragut, who afterwards fell in Malta, lies buried in a much vener-ated kubba close to one of the mosques. After his decease the con-nexion between Tripoli and Constantinople seems to have been considerably weakened. But the Tripolitan pirates soon became the terror and scourge of the Mediterranean; half the states of Europe seem at some time or other to have sent their fleets to bombard the capital. In 1714, when Hosain ibn All founded the present line of the beys of Tunis, Ahmed Pasha Caramanli achieved independ-ence, and his descendants governed Tripoli until 1835. In that year the Turks took advantage of a civil war to reassert their authority, and since that date Tripoli has been governed by repre-sentatives of the sultan.
The khouan (ikhwdn) or semi-religious semi-political fraternities which exercise such considerable influence in Tunis, Algeria, and Morocco are perhaps still more powerful in Tripoli. The most remarkable is that of the Senúsíya, the centre of whose authority is Jaghbub or Jerabub, north-west of the oasis of Siwa. The sectaries of Senúsíya are found in all parts of North Africa, but exist in unusual force in Tripoli, and particularly in Ghadámes and Murzuk. A certain halo of romance surrounds the history of this poweiful sect; but its chief has, up to the present time (1887), not played any conspicuous part in the affairs of the Soudan or in those of the North African littoral. Mohammed el-Senúsí came originally in 1830 from Mostaghánem in Algeria. He acquired a high reputation for sanctity at Fez in Morocco. After a visit to Mecca and the holy places he started a zdwiya or convent-college at Alexandria, but, being excommunicated by the sheikh al-Islam at Cairo, he fled across the Libyan Desert to the Jebel al-Akhdar near Benghazi. He afterwards removed to Jaghbub, which has never been visited by any European traveller. Here he established his záwiya in the midst of palm-groves and soon gathered nearly a thousand followers. His austere doctrines are received with enthusiasm in the Moslem states of Northern and Central Africa. He established some one hundred sanctuaries in every considerable place between Morocco and Mecca, and appointed mukaddemin or lieutenants in nearly every part of Islam. Senúsí the elder died in 1860 and was succeeded by his son, who bore the title of Al-Mahdi. Under his rule the prosperity of the záwiya at Jerabub is said to have greatly increased. Pilgrims to Mecca from North Africa, as well as those coming from Bornou and the Sallaran pro-vinces, flock there to seek his blessing. He not only receives caravans of ivory and ostrich feathers from the different sultans of the in-terior, but cargoes of arms arid ammunition often arrive for him at the almost unknown harbours of the coast. Rohlfs, Nachtigal, and Duveyrier found their passage barred by Senusian agents. It was confidently expected Senúsí would make some demonstration at the beginning of the 14th century of the Hijra (November 1882). His followers were, however, doomed to disappointment. Most of the Tripolitan sheikhs are affiliated to the Senúsíya confraternity.
From an archaeological point of view Tripoli possesses an interest
equal to, if not greater than, that which attaches to Tunis. On
this subject the fullest information is afforded by the book of the
Beecheys, and in a less degree by that of Mr Rae. The former is
illustrated by numerous plans and engravings and still affords the
safest guide to the antiquities of Tripoli. (A. M. B.)

TRIPOLI, the capital of the above country, is situated in 32° 53' 40" N. lat. and 13° 11' 32" E. long., on a promontory stretching out into the Mediterranean and forming a small bay. Its crenellated enceinte wall has the form of an irregular pentagon. A line of small half-ruined forts is supposed to protect one' side of the harbour, and the castle of the governor the other. The desert almost touches the western side of the city, while on the east is the ver-dant oasis of Meshiga, where are still to be seen the tombs of the Caramanlian sultanas and the twelve-domed mar-about of Sy Hamonda. In the town itself there are seven principal mosques, six of them possessing lofty minarets in the Turkish style. The streets are narrow, dirty, and unpaved; there is no European quarter properly so called : Tripoli is still a typical Moorish city. Its population numbers about 20,000.


Concerning the last-named districts full information can be found in Sahara und Sudan (Berlin, 1879-81) by Dr Nachtigal, who continued the explorations of southern Tripoli commenced by Barth and Kohlfs. Consult also Narrative of Travels and Discoveries in Northern and Central Africa, by Denham, Clapperton, and Oudney, London, 1826.

The best known English work on Tripoli is F. W. and H. W.

The Letters (London, 1819) of Richard Tully, who was consul at Tripoli from 1783 to 1793, throw a strange and Vivid light on Tripolitan life during the 18th century.

About this EncyclopediaTop ContributorsAll ContributorsToday in History
Terms of UsePrivacyContact Us

© 2005-21 1902 Encyclopedia. All Rights Reserved.

This website is the free online Encyclopedia Britannica (9th Edition and 10th Edition) with added expert translations and commentaries