In 1881, Tripoli counted about 20,000 inhabitants. In 1909, a road link was built for the first time between Beirut and Tripoli, followed in 1911 by a rail link between Tripoli and Aleppo. In 1941, the French Mandate authorities completed this axis with the opening of a new section linking the three cities together.
Beirut began to supplant Tripoli in 1860, following the arrival of an expeditionary force of mostly French soldiers, who came to intervene in a series of bloody peasant revolts. Afterwards, Ottoman authorities were persuaded to grant the Mount Lebanon region almost complete administrative and fiscal autonomy.
This new system, known as the Mutasarrifiyya
, provided financial incentives that encouraged European investment in Mount Lebanon, mostly in the region’s silk industry.
This administrative and economic reconfiguration placed much greater importance on Beirut, which found itself increasingly expected to emerge as the new political centre of the region. Decades later, the decision by 20th Century French Mandate authorities to make Beirut the capital of the new country, further endorsed the erosion of Tripoli’s position.
In Tripoli, the Mandate administration chose to established its headquarters on the Place du Tell - the face of the new, modern city - rather than in souks of the Old City, which was now deemed obsolete.
Wealthy families abandoned the Old City to settle in new airy neighbourhoods full of large, comfortable homes. They were replaced by Tripoli’s poorest, mostly peasants fleeing rural poverty, who moved into the Old City and settled the district of Bab Tebbané. Within a few years, Tripoli doubled in size, growing from 41,474 inhabitants in 1932 to some 80,000 by 1943.
In 1929, Tripoli began to receive electricity from the hydroelectric power plant in Qadisha. In 1932, the Iraq Petroleum Company (IPC) opened a terminal in Beddawi and in 1949, relocated its headquarters from Haifa to Tripoli shortly after the establishment of the State of Israel.
In 1954, a quay was added to the port in Al-Mina and a deepwater access channel was completed in 1961. But the development of Tripoli’s port of is hampered by the emergence in Syria of the ports of Lattakia and Baniyas, built to meet the demands of Damascus after the establishment of customs barriers between the new states of Lebanon and Syria.
On December 17, 1955, the Abu Ali River overflows wreaking havoc across the city. Over 2000 people are left homeless and 160 Tripolitans are killed. The disaster further accelerated the flight of the Middle classes from the historic city centre to new neighbourhoods further from the river. This is how neighbourhoods like Azmi, which was built in the 1960’s and 70’s, extending from west of the Place du Tell towards the port, come into existence. Favouring luxury housing, Azmi soon develops into an alternative commercial area.
Stripped of both inhabitants and purpose, the historic centre falls further out of favour. It becomes increasingly disadvantaged and deprived. During the 1960’s, it is rocked by demonstrations. One social protest movement in particular becomes prominent The Dawlat al-Matlubin
(The Protesters’ State), led by Ali Akawi, repeatedly denounces the city’s rising poverty from its base in Bab Tébbané.