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Libya Ottoman Legacy

Libya Ottoman Legacy



A general view of Tripoli

Tripoli -- Libya is a familiar place for Turks, as our ancestors ruled these lands for around 400 years. Its capital city, Tripoli, hosts a number of Ottoman works and relics and is full of mosques, minarets, hans and public baths. We are in the Green Square, or Saha al-Khadhra, which is the biggest and most famous square in the city.

Palm trees give it a unique landscape. As is the case with the rest of the country, images of Libya’s leader, Muammar Qaddafi, hang from walls and buildings, literally surrounding the Green Square.

Next to it is Assaraya al-Hamra, a palace from where Ottoman governors ruled Libya for several centuries. Libyans still love Turkey and the Turkish people even after so many years. We visit the palace, which is named al-Hamra, like the one in Granada, Spain. The interior of the palace is rather simple, but the place is still magnificent. The walls facing the courtyard are decorated with ceramic tiles.


After touring the Ottoman palace, we enter the Old City via the Freedom Gate, or Bab Al-Hurriya. As we pass through it, we are greeted by a truly Ottoman city. The bazaar, hans, public baths and mosques make us feel like we are traveling back in time. We are inside the old city of Tripoli. The name of the souq we visit is Souk Atturk, or the Turkish bazaar. The bazaar becomes active and lively towards sunset, and this continues until the Isha prayer. Thus, people tend to do their shopping as the evening approaches and sets in at this bazaar. The shopkeepers in the bazaar apparently like to see us in traditional apparel. This brings us closer to them and we make pleasant chatter. Libyans tend to wear western-style clothing on the weekdays, but on Friday they wear their traditional clothes, to attend the Friday prayer. Thus, it has become a tradition to resort to traditional clothes on Fridays. Yet, this does not apply fully to the elderly, as they tend to dress traditionally every day.

We run into a Turk as we tour around the Turkish bazaar. His name is Salim Muhammed Turki. As his name suggests, he is of Turkish origin. “I am originally from the Kuloğlu family,” he says. One may frequently encounter many Turks in the bazaar. There are also numerous Turkish families. Salim Muhammed Turki is a descendant of the Kuloğlu family, which played an important role in the administration of Libya during the Ottoman period. The Kuloğlu family was a big family in Libya, and there are still people in Libya from their lineage.

Family ties

We visit the 1,200-year-old Naqah Mosque, or the Camel Mosque, inside the bazaar. As we enter the mosque, its age becomes obvious. This also shows that Islam is a well-established religion in these lands.

There is a Dargut street in the old city. They call our Turgut Reis “Dargut” or “Dragut.” A famous Ottoman sailor, Turgut Reis, was the first Ottoman to bring these lands under Ottoman rule. He was also the first Ottoman governor of Tripoli. There is a mosque dedicated to him and his tomb. We pray to God for him in front of his grave. His grave is covered by a Turkish flag. Turgut was seriously wounded during the Siege of Malta and died later in 1565. He was buried in the tomb located next to the mosque, the construction of which he had sponsored between 1553 and 1565. There is also a building near the mosque, replete with numerous courtyards, which Turgut lived in during his tenure as governor.

The Turkish bath was built between 1604 and 1605 during the time of another Ottoman pasha, İskender Pasha. It is called Turgut Turkish bath. Apparently, it is named after Turgut Reis. It is the oldest bath in Tripoli. The prison was built in 1664 during the time of another governor, Osman Pasha. We visit Karamanli Ahmet Pasha Mosque, an Ottoman mosque surrounded by more than 400 graves. Karamanli Ahmet Pasha was an Ottoman governor who sponsored the building of the mosque in 1738. The mosque’s courtyard contains the tombs of Karamanli Ahmet Pasha and his family.

Entering the mosque, a beautiful sight greets us. It is truly a magnificent work of art with its pulpit, altar, and columns.

The old city

The Old City is full of Ottoman works. We eventually come to the Clock Square. It is named after the Clock Tower, built by Ottoman Governor Ali Pasha in 1871. The clock is still operational and has been telling the time to Libyans for many years. There is another Ottoman mosque built in 1388, called Shanshan, in the Clock Square. Its architecture and minarets are styled after those in Anatolia, so the traces of Ottoman architecture can be found, not only in Europe, but also in North Africa.

The minaret piercing the sky behind the Triumphal Arch from the Roman period belongs to the Gurgi Mosque. It was built by Mustafa Gürci, the son-in-law of Karamanli Yusuf Pasha, in 1834. It has two balconies. The mosques are kept orderly and clean.

Festivals are organized during the tourism season and offer a good opportunity for tourists to learn more about the country, which is investing heavily in tourism. The bilateral relations between Turkey and Libya gained momentum after a meeting between Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Libyan President Qaddafi in November 2009. Libya has been offering opportunities to Turkish entrepreneurs since 1970. As the country provides duty free trade with the African country, Turkish investors see Libya as a gate to make forays into the African continent. Turkish entrepreneurs have some great achievements in Libya. Their activities also serve to boost Turkish exports to this country. For instance, Turkey exported 35,000 tons of construction materials to Libya in the January-October 2008 period while this figure rose to 545,000 tons in the same period in 2009. Libya is providing incentives for foreign capital investments. After the Erdoğan-Qaddafi meeting, the visa requirements were abolished and the problem about the use of letters of credit (LCs) was resolved.

Libya agreed to accept the LCs issued by Turkish banks without much red tape. Thus, Turkish businessmen expect a 50 percent increase in their trade with Libya. The improved economic and political relationship makes tourism in the country more rewarding.

We saw so much in Libya, a startling and rewarding destination to the traveler: the capital city of Tripoli and its Ottoman heritage and architecture. The old houses of the city of Gidamis, located in the desert. Benghazi, the country’s second largest city. We saw artificial lakes, man-made rivers, the ancient city of Leptis Magna. Despite all this, the Libyan people’s attitude made the greatest impression on us.

Apparently, there are people at the other side of the Mediterranean Sea who like and appreciate us, though they may not know our language. In short, Libya, the land of deserts, is nowhere distant or alien to us. Next week, we will describe another beautiful part of the world, telling about their customs and traditions.

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