From Montpèlerin to Tarabulus al-Mustajadda: The Frankish-Mamluk Succession in Old Tripoli
By Mathias Piana
Egypt and Syria in the Fatamid, Ayyubid and Mamluk Eras VI, edited by U. Vermeulen and K. D’Hulster (Leuven, 2010)
Introduction: Modern Tripoli still shows the division into two different urban areas existing since the Middle Ages. Until the arrival of the Crusaders Tripoli merely consisted of the ancient town on the coast. It was located on the peninsula, which today is occupied by the part of the city called al-Mina. The Old Town of Tripoli is situated within 3 km to the southeast. It covers the area where the Mamluks founded a new city by the end of the 13th century, after they had defeated the Crusaders and razed all their settlements. This new city (Tarabulus al-mustajadda) is regarded as one of the very few Mamluk new foundations. Due to the fact that over one hundred buildings survived from this period it is a unique place for the study of Mamluk architecture. In recent years several initiatives were started to investigate these and all scholars concerned with Mamluk Tripoli agree that except from the castle almost no significant remains of the Crusader period are preserved. However, it is known that an extended Crusader settlement has existed at the bottom of the castle hill, undoubtedly at the location of today’s Old Town, where the Mamluks have established their new city.
The lack of archaeological evidence and the still insufficient state of research on the monuments and architecture of Old Tripoli turn an assessment of the Crusader settlement at the site into a difficult task. A closer look at the monuments and their topographical setting provides new insights. There is strong evidence that in fact a real town existed at the site in the Crusader period and that there was some kind of a Frankish-Mamluk succession regarding the infrastructure and the architecture. Its study may reveal how the Mamluks adopted elements of a different culture and building tradition and how they used them as a basis for their own construction. In favour of a more inland-oriented development the Mamluks neglected the coastal towns after the expulsion of the Crusaders. Thus other examples of a Frankish-Mamluk succession are primarily found in inland towns like Jerusalem and some former Crusader castles restored by the Mamluks (e.g. Hisn al-Akrad/Crac des Chevaliers and Marqab). Therefore, the study of Mamluk building activities on the coast is of a specific interest.