Tripoli is the second-largest city in Lebanon, followed only by Beirut, the country’s capital. Its beautiful coast overlooks the Mediterranean, making the city a seaport that has had incredible strategic and commercial importance throughout the ages. For this reason, this city was an important cultural crossroads for many centuries., almost up until the towns beginning in the 14th century BCE. To this day, Tripoli is a patchwork of beautiful historical testimonies from various eras, from some of the best examples of Mamluk architecture down to western influences that came about since the times of the crusaders (who happened to have their most significant fortress in the middle east there, the Citadel of Raymond de Saint-Gilles). In recent times, Lebanon has gone through significant social unrest, with civil war ravaging the country and creating a lot of inequality among the population, resulting in many notable abandoned buildings of all sorts. The one that perhaps stands out the most is the Tripoli Fairground.
The fairground was designed by Oscar Niemeyer, the iconic Brazilian architect who is widely considered among the fathers of modern architecture. What made his style so distinctive was the fact that he often approached buildings from an artistic standpoint, so much that he earned the nickname “sculptor of monuments,” which was used both by the supporters of his work and by his detractors, who considered his designs too elaborate and utopian. Involving a “Big name” international architect and a very forward-thinking design, the fairground was a major urban development project. The futuristic nature of the design was going to be very significant, indicative of a community looking to move forward and leave a mark internationally. By involving someone like Niemeyer, the idea was to make a statement – “We’re building our future, and the world should tune in.” The futuristic, visionary style that he helped pioneer is found in the Tripoli fairground, which consists of 15 buildings spread throughout 10.000 hectares. Among the structures in the fairground, there is an unfinished subterranean space, which was meant to become a museum.
Construction began in 1963, but it was never destined to be completed. In 1975, with the outbreak of the Lebanese civil war, the project came to a grinding halt, and it remained forcefully stuck in limbo. Sadly, construction work on the fairground never resumed, and the buildings that have been created are currently left in a state of ruin and decay; some observers claim that structures might collapse at any moment. In the year before the civil war, Lebanon was experiencing economic growth, which led many to invest in establishments such as hotels and tourist attractions. This was the driving force behind an initiative as ambitious as this fairground, which was meant to become a permanent installation and welcome millions of yearly visitors. There is a particularly eerie feeling about an abandoned location that never got to fulfill its original purpose.
The fairground was never really used or completed, and it stands in decay, almost as a reminder of an alternative reality that never was – A fading, imaginary picture of what could have happened in Lebanon without the loss, damage, and struggles caused by the 15-years civil war. This is the testimony of a city, and a country, looking towards a brighter future, which was so abruptly cut short.
Today, many individuals and organizations are trying to save the Tripoli fairground, but economic struggles are making it difficult, despite the site being added to the list of the 100 most endangered sites monitored by the World Monuments Fund.
Massive thanks to Silat for culture for making the visit to the Tripoli Fairground in Lebanon possible.
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