TRIPOLI, Lebanon: Among Tripoli’s historic mosques stands one striking testament to the city’s enduring heritage, and after years of neglect it is about to undergo renovation. Despite significant neglect over the years there is now a wave of renovations coming to the city’s old mosques, will include the old Al-Attar Mosque in Tripoli’s historic Bab al-Hadid neighborhood.
The mosque is hidden deep inside Tripoli’s souks, in a neglected neighborhood that lacks proper infrastructure. The minaret, the tallest in the city, towers over the winding alleyways below.
The old minaret is distinct from the largely Mamluk architecture of the old city, despite being construction during that period.
Added to over the years, the inner courtyard was built over several periods and has varying styles and patterns weaved into its walls and arches, while the ground floor’s ceiling was patched with different stone and marble.
Hazem Aysh, head architect at Dar al-Fatwa’s Islamic waqfs department, described it as “one of the most beautiful old mosques in Tripoli.”
“Its eastern and western gates are most striking and its minaret is one of the grandest from the Mamluk period,” he explained.
The mosque’s name, which means perfumer in Arabic, can be attributed to Nasserddine al-Attar, a famous perfume merchant who commissioned the building over 700 years ago. “The mosque was built by Abu Bakr Ibn al-Bousais, one of the most famous Levantine architects at the time,” Aysh added.
Once a jewel of the city, the mosque has fallen into disrepair. Rubble often fell onto the old mosque from surrounding buildings during the Civil War; water leaks from the four-story residential building built directly on a part of the mosque; and sewage that leaked into the foundations has left the building damaged and at risk of collapse.
The renovation initiative to bring the old mosque back its former glory was begun last year by Dar al-Fatwa and the Azm and Saade Association, in collaboration with the General Directorate of Antiquities, a division of the Culture Ministry.
However, the project is far from smooth sailing. The mosque’s intricate construction over hundreds of years, coupled with the decades of recent accumulated building on top of and around the old structure, has proven a headache for renovators.
The project will have to carefully look at the mosque’s history as the building was added to and altered a lot over the years. “Since it was built over different time periods, the mosque’s architectural attributes are currently under study to determine what best suits its rare construction, especially since a marble basin was found buried in the room used for washing and is damaged,” Aysh said.
Jamil Jablawi, the engineer supervising the project, said a cautious approach will be taken with the renovation of the Al-Attar as illegal construction in the grounds has threatened the mosque’s foundations.
Jablawi insisted that modern renovation methods will be applied in full cooperation with DGA, UNESCO and Dar al-Fatwa’s Islamic waqfs department, as well as other stakeholders.
He hopes that the project will become an important reference point for how the renovation of heritage buildings should be handled. “We are currently completing an assessment study,” Jablawi said. “[We] will begin to renovate the mosque based on scientific recommendations.”