Crusaders cursed, 700 years later in 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.