With its narrow pathways adorned with colorful doors, the smell of blossoming orange tree flowers, old rusted French and German trains nestled beneath green shrubs and the stone walls of the train station, Tripoli is Lebanon's very own, and an incredible city to visit.
A day in this unorthodox town would unveil truth and beauty not seen or heard of on the news.
Lebanon’s second largest city, once dubbed "the city of science and scholars," has always played a strategic role in local politics, economics, regional relations, and culture.
However, for the past 15 years or so, Tripoli’s reputation as a hub for modernity, innovation, and cohabitation has been dilapidated by its local sectarian disputes, influence from the crisis in neighboring Syria, and economic hardships.
Even though the city’s rich heritage and local gems are hiding behind the conflicts and hardships, they are still there, resilient and unwavering.
Tripoli’s avant-garde Maarad - as known by locals, which means "exhibition" in Arabic - or Rashid Karameh International Exhibition Center, was designed by late modernist Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer - who also designed the United Nations Headquarters in New York.
In fact, it contains elements of Brazil’s legendary capital Brasília with its concrete structures, curved lines, reflective pools, and dome-like designs.
In 1963, with over 10,000 hectares of emptiness, Niemeyer designed a long exhibition space without erecting a single vertical column.
The spacious location, still to this day, holds a Dome that serves as an experimental theater, where the smallest sound echoes across the entire space.
The Maarad also displays a high concrete arch that stands above a curved pathway which leads to an open-air Amphitheater, a helipad looking like a giant flattened mushroom, a pyramid, a Master House, a restaurant, and several other elements easily noticeable when scanning the undisturbed horizon across the grounds.
Niemeyer’s vision was to allow the overflow of greenery and vegetation amongst his structures.
Even though the Maarad is currently deserted and empty, the greenery flourishes wherever you look, making you forget all about the crowded streets of Tripoli that are just meters away.
But the local sensations don’t end there.
A serene walk across the Mina or "the original city of Tripoli" - frequented by the Assyrians, Romans, Byzantines, and so many other settlers centuries ago - overlooks the many islands along the coast.
Not only is each island a natural reserve, but each has its own reputation: cow island, lover’s island, rabbit island, to name a few.
Deeper into Old Mina’s narrow alleys, colorful doorways, painted walls and flowery fragrances reflect the charm of old port cities. The sounds of chatter and music mix with smells of foul and saj to draw onlookers into the numerous small shops.
Behind a large wooden door, a pathway leads to an old Orthodox church where designers and architects have compared the Christian designs and murals to impressions from Islamic art... a true testament to the diversity that steered Tripoli’s and Lebanon’s history.
And where better to end a day in Tripoli than at the rail depot of Tripoli’s old train station that first began operating in 1911.
With a single track connected to Homs, and a track later connected to Beirut’s train station in Mar Mikhael in 1945, the train station played an important role in bridging societies at some point.
For now, grand rusty German and French trains remain immobile beneath overflowing greenery and graffitied walls.
I highly encourage architecture and history enthusiasts, or anybody with curiosity and greed for explorations, to visit Tripoli with an intention to see it in a new light.
Many organizations like Mira’s Guided Tours help tourists and locals to discover the city. Beyond the politics and hardships, many parts of Lebanon have much to offer but it’s the onlooker perception that needs to shift.
In the same way, there is more to Tripoli than meets the eye, every part of Lebanon has something beautiful, though hidden, to offer... but only when you really want to see it.