Tripoli’s Castle Home of the Ottoman Bashaw
The past can be very nebulous – one day it will seem like centuries ago, other days it was only yesterday in my mind. I looked for perceptive quotes about the past and found two intriguing ones. The first is a Chinese proverb: Consider the past and you shall know the future. The other comes from American author William Faulker: The past is not dead, in fact it’s not even past. I think both quotes apply to current life.
The Internet can easily make sure you don’t forget the past. I’ve been blessed by the adventures I had as an Army brat growing up, and the current continual growth of my connections with other military brats and citizens from around the world because of my Words on My Mind blog. A great deal of these connections have come from my three years living in Tripoli, Libya, in the mid 1950s.
Starting to thrive after the bloody North African fighting during WWII, in 1951 Libya was granted by the United Nations the status of Arab Kingdom, an independent state to be ruled by King Sayed Mohamed Idris el Senussi. I was there to witness the early blossoming, and so were a lot of Americans. Several of them, including me, have written about their experiences and had them published. I’ve read and will report on some of these books concerning Libya.
Tripoli has a tumultuous past that goes back to the Phoenicians and the Romans, and it was part of the Ottoman Empire for several centuries. Libyan Fadel Eswedi sent his friend Giuseppe Scalora (an Italian born in Libya) a fascinating book about Tripoli in the 18th century when the Turks still ruled Libya. Tully’s Letters was written by a Miss Tully, a young British woman who was part of the British consulate and wrote about her life experiences in Tripoli.
Reading the introduction page tells a great deal. The story comes from “letters written during a ten years’ residence at the Court of Tripoli, published from the originals in the possession of the family of the late Richard Tully, Esq., the British Consul, and it contains authentic memoirs and anecdotes of the reigning Bashaw (a high official in countries ruled by Turkey, as in the Ottoman Empire, which existed from 1299-1923).” It is also an account of the domestic manners of the Moors, Arabs and Turks.
According to this book, “Tripoli’s importance was derived from its link with Egypt and its geographical position on the great Hajj route from the west to Mecca, and the trade routes between Africa and Europe.” Miss Tully’s life in Tripoli began in 1783 during the time of the pirates, a famine and then a plague. As the book introduction quotes the reigning Bashaw’s words to the British, Dutch and French consuls who protested a Venetian ship that had been seized: “The Barbary Corsairs are born pirates, and not able to subsist by any other means; it is therefore the Christian’s business to be always on their guard, even in times of peace.” It doesn’t seem that much has changed in the world!
The famous old castle those of us who lived in Tripoli easily recognize was a dominant feature in the 18th century city. There were courtyards, and passages on different levels separated by heavy iron doors. The Bashaw lived there with his staff, his guards, his wives and his concubines, who lived in a harem in the depths of the castle. He had two sons with their families who also lived in separate guarded quarters within the castle.
Tripoli in those days had a slave market that sold off Christian slaves, and primarily Neopolitans, Spaniards, and Blacks from Fezzan and Bornu. A city of 25,000 population, 5,000 of them Sephardic Jewish refugees from the Spanish Inquisition, it was a rough and rowdy. According to the intro, the city was “a rabbit-warren of narrow lanes, arched bazaars and overhanging buildings.” Very few windows faced the street. Despite about 20 mosques, Tripoli wasn’t peaceful; those wealthy enough hired guards for their protection from the brutality.
On a positive note, east of the castle and extending along the bay for 10 miles was Menschia, a narrow green oasis full of palms, vegetables and peppers and gardens of apricot, orange and pomegranate trees. This area was the location for the summer homes of Tripoli notables. In modern times, and in the years I lived there, I will always remember the lovely bougainvillea vines that seemed to grow from every flat rooftop.
My thanks to Fadel Eswedi of Tripoli and Giuseppe Scalora, once a Tripoli resident and now a citizen of Los Angeles, for the use of this fascinating book. It was first published in 1846 and then again in 2002 in London. For those interested, the ISBN number is: 1850779279. Darf Publishers in London published the current edition.