Fol­low­ing Tripoli's scent trail

Lebanon Traveler - - CONTENT -

In Tripoli’s public gar­den and old spice souk, bio­di­ver­sity con­ser­va­tion­ist and Tripoli na­tive Elsa Sat­tout finds home

Dis­cov­er­ing places that have pre­served iden­tity in Le­banon of­fers a sense of be­long­ing. On an early Sun­day morn­ing while com­ing across the quote “the faith­ful heart does not like to ram­ble about with­out a homestead. It needs a fixed spot to re­turn to, it wants its square house,” (“The con­cept of dwelling: On the way to fig­u­ra­tive ar­chi­tec­ture,” Nor­bergShultz, 1985, pg. 12) in my per­sonal notes, I won­dered where this “square-house” might be lo­cated in the trans­formed mega-cities we live in to­day. It could be a living space be­yond the home, it might be at a cross­roads along the daily walk to work, or it could be at the cor­ner of a road where you briefly sip on cof­fee from a dis­pos­able cup while wait­ing for the red light to turn green. It could be a space where you have a few min­utes to rest in the early morn­ing to read a news­pa­per, a ‘one-stop cof­fee shop,’ be­fore catch­ing a taxi or con­tin­u­ing the day of com­mit­ments.

For many Tripoli­tans their “square house” is the public gar­den lo­cated in the heart of the city. Tripoli, Le­banon’s north­ern city, en­com­passes sto­ries of many civ­i­liza­tions, con­quests and re­li­gions and its di­verse his­tory has made this large coastal town an en­rich­ing place to re­flect on cul­tural di­ver­sity, hu­man con­nec­tions and roots to the past and present.

A scented path from Tripoli’s public gar­den that crosses the old souk to reach the mar­ket of aro­matic herbs and the court­yard sell­ing tra­di­tional soaps can have a strong im­pact on a Sun­day morn­ing. The gar­den, known as Min­shiet or Jnainet el Tan­abel. extends over a large sur­face area of around 8,850m2, which when the city’s pop­u­la­tion was only 50,000 was a huge ex­panse. In the early 1920s, the land was pre­sented to the mu­nic­i­pal­ity as a gift from a Tripoli­tan (At­tada­mon news­pa­per, 19 Fe­bru­ary, 2014). The gar­den fea­tures five axes lead­ing to a cen­tral wa­ter pond. At that time, the gar­den hosted tree species that thrived in the city such as fig, pit­tospo­rum, stone pine, date palms and fan palms. It was a plat­form where a large num­ber of city dwellers and for­eign­ers once as­sem­bled to cel­e­brate and honor the kings, princes and his­tor­i­cal and po­lit­i­cal fig­ures (Dabliz, n.d,) while lis­ten­ing to their speeches. Dur­ing the French col­o­niza­tion, it was here that cel­e­bra­tions were or­ga­nized for the com­mem­o­ra­tion of Dawlet Loub­nan el Kabir (State of Greater Le­banon) on 1 Septem­ber and Bastille Day on 14 July dur­ing the French man­date pe­riod (At­tada­mon news­pa­per, 19 Fe­bru­ary, 2014).

A few old trees still stand in the gar­den, hav­ing sur­vived the civil war. A fig tree bro­ken dur­ing a stormy win­ter night in the ‘90s was a rest­ing spot for re­flec­tion for cit­i­zens from all gen­er­a­tions. The mean­ing of the com­mon name, Sha­jaret el Tan­abel, given to this tree re­lates to the lazi­ness of some dwellers who would spend their days un­der its canopy, sur­rounded by nat­u­ral el­e­ments such as

A fig tree bro­ken dur­ing

a stormy win­ter night in the ‘90s was a rest­ing

spot for re­flec­tion for cit­i­zens from all

gen­er­a­tions .

plants and trees in­clud­ing palms, cy­press, aca­cia, silk tree (Al­bizia), arau­caria, or­anges and lemons, cranes­bill and other aro­matic and creep­ing plants. The spirit of the gar­den has given a sense of at­tach­ment to many of its vis­i­tors, em­braced by the sun and the his­toric realm that left its imprint on the walls of the old build­ings that sur­round it.

Af­ter leav­ing the gar­den and cross­ing Tall Square, a small en­trance leads to Souk el Atarine where the scent of a mix­ture of wild roses, rose­mary, oregano, thyme, cranes­bill, fen­nel, sumac, dill and mint spreads through the air. A stronger scent of es­sen­tial oils of sage, cedar, lemon, almond, and other aro­matic herbs will cap­ture all your senses and lead you to “Khan el Saboune,” the Court­yard of Soap.

Th­ese scents took away the breath of many cit­i­zens, pil­grims, ori­en­tal­ists, and trav­el­ers and drew some of them back again. They at­om­ized the paths and re­mained neb­u­lized in the city through­out his­tory, drawing in di­as­pora from all over the world, look­ing for the traces of their an­ces­tors.

Pho­tos cour­tesy of Elsa Sat­tout

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