Tripolitania or Tripolitana (طرابلس — Ṭarābulus — in Arabic, Ṭrables in Berber, from Latin Regio Tripolitana) is a historic region and former province of Libya. Originally, it included Tripoli, the capital city of Libya, and a vast northwestern portion of the country; later, the sha’biyah of Tripoli became much smaller than the original Tripolitania, including merely the city of Tripoli and its immediate surroundings. Because the city and the sha’biyah are nowadays almost coextensive, the term “Tripolitania” has more historical than contemporary value. In Arabic the same word (طرابلس) is used for both the city and the region, and that word, used alone, would be understood to mean only the city; in order to designate Tripolitania in Arabic, a qualifier such as “state”, “province” or “sha’biyah” is required.
Tripolitania was a separate Italian colony from 1927 to 1934. From 1934 to 1963, Tripolitania was one of three administrative divisions within Italian Libya and the Kingdom of Libya, alongside Cyrenaica to the east and Fezzan to the south.
The system of administrative divisions that included Tripolitania was abolished in the early 1970s in favor of a system of smaller-size municipalities or baladiyat (singular baladiyah). The baladiyat system was subsequently changed many times and has lately become the sha’biyat system. The region that was Tripolitania is now composed of several smaller baladiyat or sha’biyat.
The city of Oea, on the site of modern Tripoli, was founded by the Phoenicians in the 7th century BC. It was conquered by the Greek rulers of Cyrenaica, who were in turn displaced by the Carthaginians. The Greek name Τρίπολις “three cities” referred to Oea, Sabratha and Leptis Magna. The Roman Republic captured Tripolitania in 146 BC, and the area prospered during the Roman Empire period. The Latin name Regio Tripolitania dates to the 3rd century. The Vandals took over in 435, and were in turn supplanted by the counter offensive of the Eastern Roman Empire in the 530s.
In the 7th century, Tripolitania was conquered by the Rashidun Caliphate, and was inherited by its descendants the Umayyads and the Abbasids. The Fatimids, established a Caliphate from Tunisia to Syria. In the 1140s, the Normans of Sicily invaded Tripoli, but were ousted by the Almohad Caliphate in 1158. Emir Abu Zakariya, an Almohad vassal, established an independent state in Tunisia in 1229 and took control of Tripolitania shortly after. The Hafsids would control the region until the Ottoman conquest of 1553.
By the beginning of the 16th century, the Libyan coast had minimal central authority and its harbors were havens for unchecked bands of pirates. Spain occupied Tripoli in 1510, but the Spaniards were more concerned with controlling the port than with the inconveniences of administering a colony. In 1530, the city, along with Malta and Gozo, were ceded by Charles I of Spain to the Knights of St John as compensation for their recent expulsion from Rhodes at the hands of the Turks.
Christian rule lasted then until 1551, when Tripoli was besieged and conquered by famed Ottoman admirals Sinan Pasha and Turgut Reis. Declared Bey and later Pasha of Tripoli, Turgut Reis submitted the tribes of the interior and several cities like Misrata, Zuwara, Gharyan, and Gafsa in the next decade. These efforts contributed to cement the foundations of a statal structure in what is today Libya, but control from Constantinople remained loose at best, much like in the rest of the Barbary Coast.
Under the Ottomans, the Maghreb was divided into three provinces, Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli. After 1565, administrative authority in Tripoli was vested in a pasha directly appointed by the Sultan in Constantinople. The sultan provided the pasha with a corps of janissaries, which was in turn divided into a number of companies under the command of a junior officer or bey. The janissaries quickly became the dominant force in Ottoman Libya. As a self-governing military guild answerable only to their own laws and protected by a divan (a council of senior officers who advised the pasha), the janissaries soon reduced the pasha to a largely ceremonial role.
Ottoman Tripolitania (Trablusgarb) extended beyond the region of Tripolitania proper, also including Cyrenaica. Tripolitania became effectively independent under the rulers of the Karamanli dynasty from 1711 until Ottoman control was re-imposed by Mahmud II in 1835.
In 1711, Ahmed Karamanli, an Ottoman cavalry officer and son of a Turkish officer and Libyan woman, seized power and founded the Karamanli dynasty, which would last 124 years. The 1793–95 Tripolitanian civil war occurred in those years.
In May 1801, Pasha Yusuf Karamanli demanded from the United States an increase in the tribute ($83,000) which it had paid since 1796 for the protection of their commerce from piracy when the Treaty of Tripoli was signed. The demand was refused, an American naval force blockaded Tripoli, and the desultory First Barbary War dragged on until June 3, 1805. The Regency of Tripoli was defeated by the American Navy.
The Second Barbary War (1815, also known as the Algerian War) was the second of two wars fought between the United States and the Ottoman Empire’s North African regencies of Algiers, Tripoli, and Tunis, known collectively as the Barbary States.
In 1835, the government of Sultan Mahmud II took advantage of local disturbances to reassert their direct authority and held it until the final collapse of the Ottoman Empire. As decentralized Ottoman power had resulted in the virtual independence of Egypt as well as Tripoli, the coast and desert lying between them relapsed to anarchy, even after direct Ottoman control was resumed in Tripoli. The indigenous Senussi Movement, led by Islamic cleric Sayyid Mohammed Ali as-Senussi, called on the countryside to resist Ottoman rule. The Grand Senussi established his headquarters in the oasis town of Jaghbub while his ikhwan (brothers) set up zawiyas (religious colleges or monasteries) across North Africa and brought some stability to regions not known for their submission to central authority. In line with the expressed instruction of the Grand Sanusi, these gains were made largely without any coercion.
Tripolitania was one of the first Ottoman provinces to become a vilayet after an administrative reform in 1865, and by 1867 it had been reformed into the Tripolitania Vilayet.
The highpoint of the Sanusi influence came in the 1880s under the Grand Senussi’s son, Muhammad al-Mahdi as-Senussi, who was a skilled administrator and a charismatic orator. With 146 lodges spanning the entire Sahara, he moved the Senussi capital to Kufra. Harsh Ottoman rule only fuelled the appeal of the Senussi Movement’s call to repel foreign occupation. Remarkably, Mohammed al-Mahdi succeeded where so many had failed before him, securing the enduring loyalty of the Amazigh tribes of Cyrenaica. Over a 75‑year period the Ottoman Turks provided 33 governors and Libya remained part of the empire—although at times virtually autonomous—until Italy invaded in 1911, as the Ottoman Empire was collapsing.
Ottoman rule persisted until 1911–12, when it was captured by Italy in the Italo-Turkish War which was fought between the Ottoman Empire and the Kingdom of Italy from September 29, 1911 to October 18, 1912. As a result of this conflict, the Ottoman Turks ceded the provinces of Tripolitania, Fezzan, and Cyrenaica to Italy. These provinces together formed what became known as Libya. Italy officially granted autonomy after the war, but gradually occupied the region.
After World War I, an Arab republic, Al-Jumhuriya al-Trabulsiya (الجمهورية الطرابلسية) or the Tripolitanian Republic, declared the independence of Tripolitania from Italian Libya. The proclamation of the Tripolitanian Republic in autumn 1918 was followed by a formal declaration of independence at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference. This was the first formally declared republican form of government in the Arab world, but it gained little support from international powers, and disintegrated by 1923.
The first stamps of Tripolitania were Italian “Propagation of the Faith” stamps overprinted TRIPOLITANIA issued on October 24, 1923, at the same time as those for Cyrenaica. All stamps of colonial Tripolitania were printed at the Italian Government Printing Works. The first stamps inscribed for the colony were the semi-postal “Colonial Institute issue” in 1926, followed by several sets of airmail stamps, from 1931 to 1933.
Italy managed to establish full control over Libya by 1930. Originally administered as part of a single colony, Italian Tripolitania was a separate colony from June 26, 1927, to December 3, 1934, when it was merged into the Italian colony of Libya (Libia Italiana — ليبيا) with Cyrenaica and Fezzan. The Italian fascists constructed the Marble Arch as a form of an imperial triumphal arch at the border between Tripolitani and Cyrenaica near the coast.
October 1934 saw the only regular Tripolitanian stamps issued, a set of six (along with six more airmail) promoting the 2nd Colonial Arts Exhibition. Genuinely used stamps of Tripolitania (fake cancels are common) are valued at about twice as much as unused stamps.
During World War II Libya was occupied by the Allies and from 1942 until 1951, when Libya gained independence, Tripolitania and the region of Cyrenaica were administered by the British Military Administration. British stamps overprinted M.E.F. (Middle East Forces) were used from 1943 to 1948 after the area was captured by the British during World War II. From July 1, 1948, stamps overprinted B.M.A. TRIPOLATANIA were used. From February 6, 1950, to December 1951, the stamps were overprinted B.A. TRIPOLITANIA.
Italy formally renounced its claim upon the territory in 1947. On December 24, 1951, Cyrenaica, Tripolitania and Fezzan were unified as the Kingdom of Libya under Amir Mohammed Idris Al-Senussi. After unification, stamps of Libya were used.
Tripolitania retained its status as a province in the Kingdom of Libya from 1951 to 1963, when it was replaced by a new system of governorates, which divided Tripolitania into the governorates of Khoms, Zawiya, Jabal al Gharbi, Misrata, and Tarabulus.
Scott #B20 was released on April 21, 1927 — a semi-postal stamp with the overprint TRIPOLITANIA applied to Italy #B27 originally issued in 1926. The 60-centime with 30-centime surcharge brown red and olive brown stamp is perforated 11 on unwatermarked paper. The surtax was for the charitable work of the Voluntary Militia for Italian National Defense. It portrays the Aqueduct of Claudius (Aqua Claudia in Classical Latin). an ancient Roman aqueduct that was begun by Emperor Caligula in 38 AD and finished by Emperor Claudius in 52 AD. Together with the Aqua Anio Vetus, Aqua Anio Novus, and Aqua Marcia it is regarded as one of the “four great aqueducts of Rome.”
The aqueduct’s main springs, the Caeruleus and Curtius, were situated 300 paces to the left of the 38th milestone of the Via Sublacensis in Rome. The total length was 45–46 miles (69 km), most of which was underground. The flow was about 190000 cubic meters in 24 hours. Directly after its filtering tank, near the seventh mile of the Via Latina, it finally emerged onto arches, which increase in height as the ground falls toward the city, reaching over 100 feet. It is one of the two ancient aqueducts that flowed through the Porta Maggiore, the other being the Anio Novus. It is described in some detail by Frontinus in his work published in the later 1st century, De aquaeductu.
Nero extended the aqueduct with the Arcus Neroniani to the Caelian hill and Domitian further extended it to the Palatine when the Aqua Claudia could provide all 14 Roman districts with water. The aqueduct went through at least two major repairs. It was said that the Aqua Claudia was used for 10 years, then failed and was out of use for nine years. The first repair was done by Emperor Vespasian in 71 AD; it was repaired again in 81 AD by Emperor Titus. The Aqua Claudia maintained its structure and appearance for so long partly because of roman pozzolana mortar. The church of San Tommaso in Formis was later built into the side of the aqueduct.