Among the Old Alleys of El Mina

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On the way to Tripoli, as you drive pass by Chekka, the feel of the country changes and you will directly notice that modernity has not laid its extending hands from this point forward. The road to Tripoli feels like life’s long journey, where one leaves life’s excesses and moves to a less hectic and chaotic state of being. The highway is calmer and the sky opens up to a horizon of a forgotten shoreline.

Tripoli deserves so much more then one post, so I have decided to divide them in ways that would be fair for this beautiful and historic part of Lebanon. I will be writing about our weekend today.

As we arrived to Tripoli we headed to El-Mina. El Mina is the site of the ancient city of Tripolis that dates back to the Phoenician era, and is one of Lebanon’s oldest cities, alongside Byblos, Tyre, and Sidon. Many people get confused between Tripoli and Mina thinking that Mina is just one neighborhood of Tripoli. But Mina is a city with a long and rich history and a municipality that dates back to the 19th century. The people of Mina (Minawiyeh) have their own accent, which is totally different then other accents in other areas and regions in Lebanon. It is the city with the largest number of islands surrounding it along the Levantine coastline.

El-mina is a treasure of tiny alleys surrounded by old stone houses with orange and lemon trees growing from their courtyards. The stark contrast between the open sea just a minute’s walk from the small rural streets of Mina help to highlight its beauty. Cobblestone streets, small cafés where old men play cards, shops, and dekénes (mini markets) all meshed together with churches and mosques encompassing them create a world of mystic and heightened spiritual relevance.

Our bed and breakfast luckily was situated in the heart of Mina, Beit el Nassim, Nabil’s guesthouse. With infinite patience, Nabil brought life back to this beautiful 150-year-old house. And while we were sitting on the rooftop terrace, with bell towers, minarets and fruit trees surrounding us discussing life’s adventures, El- Mina was far from what we were expecting, yet much closer to what we were dreaming of, a Marrakech kind of city where you would wake up to the sound of the Azein (morning prayer) and then hear the residing bells of the 100 year old churches while whirling birds flew in circles above its rich historical land.

At sunset we took the boys to walk on the famous seashore sidewalk that extends 3 to 4 kilometers, the “corniche”, frequented by its residents, who come to enjoy the fresh air. Due to large expansion, El-Mina and Tripoli are now almost attached. While we walked men with their wooden carts where selling corn, ghazel el baneit (cotton candy). We met our friends afterwards for dinner at al shati’ el foddi (silver shore) where we sampled some amazing seafood and the famous samkeh trabolsiyeh (Tripoli fish made with a special spicy sauce). The restaurant is deservedly known for its seafood and its local crab, which is beautifully rich in flavor. After a very rich dinner we headed to the pubs in Mina and spend the night with the kids having a glass of wine at Mike’s reflecting on the beauty of the day.

The next morning we met our friends at Via Mina a boutique hotel constructed in French colonial style tucked away in a pretty, quaint backstreet of Al-Mina. We walked in to an impressive iron spiral staircase with a beautiful Arabic-tiled lap pool. We then headed to the ancient Greek Orthodox women’s monastery dedicated to Saint Jacob the Persian (Deir Mar Yacoub al moqata3) in the village of Deddeh. The monastery is built high up on a plateau at the northern edge of the village with a breathtaking view of the coast of Tripoli. The Monastery is estimated to be over 800 years old. It is composed of two beautiful stone arches where they have on display some of the oldest icons with Arabic inscription.

After some serene time with the fresh sea wind embracing us, we headed to the old souk and enjoyed its absolute beauty, but that will be a post on its own.  

Afterwards we went back to El-Mina and there off a windy street, just after Beit el Nassim, an unassuming door opens. The hustle and bustle left far behind as you enter this beautiful café which feels like a little haven. In its tranquil courtyard grows an unpretentious orange tree with windy stairs that lead to a little terrace where you may sit and enjoy your afternoon. Al Kindi is a self-service social club where one can sit, have coffee and enjoy the afternoon secluded in a private old stone house turned into a café.

This grand city of dual splendor, oriental and modern, mid terrain between Lebanon and Syria, bride of the Mediterranean, where wooden cart battle engine wheels, flows on a rhythm of its own. Fascinated by its magnificence, I wondered why Tripoli was not being visited as much, only her inhabitants share her true glory.

Its strange when we belong to something
 and yet are far, far away from it and only realize that it lives there in beauty waiting to be discovered. That is Tripoli. Far to the North, a city of splendor, alive and vibrant and open to those who seek it, yet forgotten by many.

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8 thoughts on “Among the Old Alleys of El Mina

  1. Dearest Karen, excuse me for taking the liberty to call u by ur first name…after all I am a friend of ur mother and ur aunt Souad. I want to take this chance to Thanku for such an awesome article about El Mina. It is such a change from the negativity of people today. I really admire ur cultural style and positive approach. Thanku again. I am looking forward to reading more about Lebanon by u!!!!

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    1. Dear Sarah,
      I wouldn’t want you to call me any other way. Thank you for your lovely message. I am grateful to those who take the time to message me as it truly does fire me up to write more and discover new things. There will be much more to come and I am truly honored that you are reading my blog and that you have reached out to me. Much love

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  2. Karen, thank you for bringing home closer. It has been 12 years since I have been back to Lebanon. I grew up in the same neighborhood you stayed in and realize now how much it has changed. It really is time to go home so I won’t be left finding nothing of my childhood’s past!

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    1. Hello Samara, that’s lovely to hear. Waw 12 years is a lot of time. I am sure it has changed since you last visited yet I am sure you will find yourself amongst its little alleys. Thank you for reading my blog and for your support. Love from beirut

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  3. Lebanon, a hidden gem! I landed in Beirut in the first days of February. This country, though with many foibles, has something that enthralls me to itself from the first moments; who knows, maybe I would find my soul match somewhere here …

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