In 1102, Raymond VI of Saint Gilles, Count of Toulouse, one of the first knights who set out on the First Crusade in 1096, turned his attention to the conquest of Tripoli, the most important emirate on the coast. Raymond wished to establish a principality that would command both the coast road and the Orontes. In 1103 Saint-Gilles who had camped on the outskirts of the city, ordered the construction of a fortress which to this day is still known by his name.

Tripoli-citadel

 

The well preserved ‘Qal’at Saint-Gilles’ is still visible in the twentieth century, in the centre of the modern city of Tripoli. At the time of the arrival of the Crusaders, however, the city extended no further than the Mina’ quarter, the port, which lay at the end of a peninsula access to which was controlled by this famous fortress.

 

This fortress was the first ever of its kind. No caravan could reach or leave Tripoli without being intercepted by Saint-Gilles’s men.

 

During the Crusade period, Tripoli witnessed the growth of the inland settlement surrounding the “Pilgrim’s Mountain” (the citadel) into a built-up suburb including the main religious monuments of the city such as: The “Church of the Holy Sepulchre of Pilgrim’s Mountain”, the Church of Saint Mary’s of the Tower, and the Carmelite Church. The state was a major base of operations for the military order of the Knights Hospitaller, who occupied the famous castle Krak Des Chevaliers.

 

In 1289, when the Mamluk occupied the city, the Mont Pèlerin quarter was set ablaze, the castle of Saint-Gilles suffered from the holocaust and stood abandoned on the hilltop for the next eighteen years. But, in 1308, The Mamluk Governor Essendemir Kurgi, decided to restore and rebuild StGilles Castle on the hill,  so he incorporated what he could in his citadel, and made use of Roman column shafts and other building material he found nearby.

 

 

Many of the interior walls, ramps and terraces of the citadel seen today were built in his time. In the years that followed, various Ottoman governors of Tripoli, specially Barbar Agha, did restoration work on the citadel to suit their needs and with time the medieval crenellated battlements were destroyed in order to open ports for cannons. Very little of the original Crusader structure has survived until this day. The graves of a number of nameless Frankish knights, here and there, are the only bits of evidence today evocative of their presence on the heights of Tripoli’s “Pilgrim’s Mountain” many centuries ago.