Crusaders cursed, 700 years later in Lebanon

Sunday 22/05/2016
Scene from celebrations of the end of the Crusaders’ occupation in Tripoli, north Lebanon.

Tripoli, Lebanon - Although they were evict­ed more than 700 years ago, and several con­querors have occupied Tripoli since, the defeat of the Crusaders is still celebrated in northern Lebanon.
The celebration marking the end of the Crusaders’ 180-year occupa­tion has been an annual tradition since 2004. Parades on foot and horseback depicting scenes from medieval times roam the alleys of the old city and the seaside prom­enade and all historic sites are open free to the public on April 26th.
“The tradition was revived 12 years ago after it had been stopped for a long time. It has since become an annual event in line with a deci­sion taken unanimously by Tripoli’s municipality members, both Mus­lims and Christians, because it is part of our history and heritage that we should preserve,” Tripoli Mayor Amer Rafei said.
“It (celebration) is not aimed against our Christian brethren. They are part of the city’s history and civilisation.”
Historian Omar Tadmori, who was behind the initiative to revive the celebration, explained the rea­sons behind marking the end of the Crusaders’ rule only, though Tripoli has changed hands many times in the past seven centuries from the Mamluks to the Ottomans and the French.
“On April 26th, 1289, Tripoli en­tered a new age following its libera­tion at the hands of Mamluk Sultan Qalawun. We do not mark other liberations from foreign occupiers, because the Mamluks and the Otto­mans have left a treasure of monu­ments and archaeology and the French did the same, whereas the Franks (Crusaders) caused nothing but destruction and desolation dur­ing 180 years of occupation,” Tad­mori said.
“Tripoli was a capital for the Mus­lim world. The conquest resulted in a great deal of destruction, includ­ing that of the city’s famous library, the Dar Al ‘Ilm, and its 3 million books and ancient manuscripts. It was taken by the Crusader Ray­mond de Saint-Gilles, count of Tou­louse, who turned it into the ‘coun­ty of Tripoli’.”
The Franks built a number of structures, including a fortress overlooking the Abu Ali river, known as the Château de Saint- Gilles (Qal’at Sanjil). The Old City of Tripoli, which extends beneath the citadel, began to develop following the eviction of the Crusaders, Tad­mori said.
“A tight tangle of alleyways and dead ends, the Old City was specifi­cally designed to thwart military in­vasion from the sea. From here on, it was to develop separately from the port area of Al-Mina. The Mam­luks built a wall around it, which still survives today, making it the second biggest Mamluk city after Cairo,” he said.
Celebrating the end of Christian rule is marked by both Tripoli’s Muslim and Christian inhabitants. “The celebration does not provoke any anti-Christian malaise or feel­ings, because it is part of the city’s traditions and an expression of its heritage,” said Greek Orthodox cler­ic Ibrahim Srouj.
“This phase of history was bad news for all of us, both Muslims and Christians of the Orient. As Chris­tians from this part of the world, we consider the Crusaders and Eu­rope as two facets of the same coin. They have conspired against us and thwarted our interests as Arabs,” Srouj said.
“When the Crusaders arrived they removed the clergy of the Orient, replacing them with their own cler­ics, pillaged our monuments and ransacked our (Christians’) history, which is deeply rooted in this land.”
At a time when Christians are being persecuted by Islamic State (ISIS) militants in Iraq and neigh­bouring Syria, Srouj pointed out that Christians of the Orient were persecuted by their co-religionists from Europe a long time ago.
“We all mark this unique occasion because the Crusaders persecuted us as much as our Muslim brethren and we don’t see it as a provocation. Regardless of the evils of occupa­tion, other conquerors had left their traces in architecture and develop­ment, while the Franks were a real curse on us,” Srouj added.
Until the 19th century, life in Tripoli revolved around the Great Mosque. The Mamluks destroyed the old port city (today Al-Mina) and built an inland one near the old castle. It was at this time that nu­merous religious and secular build­ings were erected, many of which still survive.
“First, the Great al-Mansouri mosque was built by Sultan Qalawun’s sons to celebrate the conquest of Tripoli, and then the old citadel was enlarged and rein­forced,” Tadmori explained.
The Ottomans, who defeated the Mamluks in 1516, exerted control over the city by expanding the cita­del. The souks were left untouched and continued to play their tradi­tional role, even though little was done to renovate their architecture or infrastructure.
“Seven surveillance towers were erected along Tripoli’s coastline to alert inland garrisons about any at­tacks from the sea. Only one of the massive towers, the Tower of the Lions (Borj el-Sba’), remains today,” Tadmori said.