Monday, March 4, 2019


The following is a translation of an essay written by B. D'Ambrosio for the Italian "Universita' di Genova" -under the supervision of prof. Giuliani Balestrino- about the years when Tripoli of Libya was under the rule of the Kingdom of Italy:

Map of "Tripoli italiana" in 1940


Italian Tripoli was the capital of "Italian Libya" and was officially called "Tripoli italiana" by the Italian government.

Tripoli was under Italian control for more than 3 decades, that lasted from 1911 until January 1943. Italians conquered the town of less than 20,000 inhabitants from the Ottoman empire and enlarged it in 1943 to a big city of nearly 120,000 "Tripolini" (as were called the inhabitants in Italian) who were more than half Italians, creating a vibrant and modern capital in north Africa. The census of 1939 showed this population in Tripoli:
Town Italians Arabs Jews Total
Tripoli 47,442 47,123 18,467 113,212

TRIPOLI ITALIANA (the Grand Hotel built in the early 1930s)


During the Italo-Turkish War of 1911 Tripoli was conquered by the Italian Kingdom. The Italian fleet appeared off Ottoman Tripoli in the evening of September 28, 1911: the city was quickly conquered by 1,500 Italian sailors, welcomed by the population ( Tripoli inhabitants welcomed the Italians; p. 36-40).

With the 1912 treaty signed in Ouchy, Italian sovereignty was acknowledged by the Ottomans, although the local Caliph was permitted to exercise religious authority. Italy officially granted autonomy after the war, but gradually occupied the region of Tripolitania. Originally administered as part of a single colony, Tripoli and its surrounding province were a separate colony from 26 June 1927 to 3 December 1934, when all Italian possessions in North Africa were merged into one colony called ''Libia''.

Fiat train "Littorina" at Tripoli station

Since 1937 the governor Italo Balbo started a policy of immigration of Italians (mainly farmers) who were called the Ventimilli and some of them settled in the area of Italian Tripoli ( of Italian settlers arriving in the port of Tripoli).

So, by the end of 1937, the city had 108,240 inhabitants, including 39,096 Italians (according to The Statesman's Yearbook 1948. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 1040). At the start of WWII Italian Tripoli had 111,124 inhabitants of which the Italians were 41,304: 37% of the city's inhabitants. Additionally there were nearly 18,000 Jews in the Tripoli area. Indeed after the Italian occupation of Libya in 1911, the Jews made great strides in education and economic conditions: at that time, there were about 21,000 Jews in the country, the majority in Tripoli. In the late 1930s, Fascist anti-Jewish laws were gradually enforced, and Jews were subject to moderate repression: still, by late 1940 -due even to the partial rejection of those laws by governor Italo Balbo- the Jews accounted for a fifth of the population of Tripoli and maintained 44 synagogues.

 In 1942 Tripoli -according to estimates of the Italian government (Istituto Agricolo Coloniale (Firenze); Ministero degli Esteri, 1946)- reached a temporary population of nearly 150,000 inhabitants, due to the arrival of many Italians from Benghazi and Cyrenaica who took refuge from the British army attacks during WWII. As a consequence Tripoli was in that year -for the first time since the Arab conquest in 643 AD- a city mostly Christian.

Architectural and Urbanistic improvement of Italian Tripoli

Tripoli underwent a huge architectural and urbanistic improvement under Italian rule ( Tripoli section: p. 54-59). The first thing the Italians did was to create in the early 1920s a sewage system (that until then lacked) with water & electrical facilities to all the city and a modern hospital. Also was started the creation of the modern port. Furthermore, in the western section of Tripoli was created an industrial area in the 1930s, around a huge tobacco factory (called "Manufattura Tabacchi di Tripoli"), with railway workshops, Fiat Motor works, various food processing plants, electrical engineering workshops, ironworks, water plants, agricultural machinery factories, breweries, distilleries, biscuit factories, tanneries, bakeries, lime, brick and cement works.

Governor Balbo used to say that "We Italians found in 1911 a big village of approximately 20,000 inhabitants called Tripoli and now we have in 1940 a modern capital nearly ten times bigger and one of the most developed and vibrant cities of Africa". (photos of Tripoli: ).

In the coast of the province was built in 1937-1938 a section of the Litoranea Balbia, a road that went from Tripoli and Tunisia's frontier to the border of Egypt. The car tag for the Italian province of Tripoli was "TL" ( Berionne, Michele. "Libia (1937-1943)"  Italian car tags )

Fiera internazionale di Tripoli (Tripoli International Fair in 1939)

Furthermore the Italians - in order to promote Tripoli's economy - founded in 1927 the "Tripoli International Fair", which is considered to be the oldest Trade Fair in Africa ( Tripoli International Fair brief history). The so-called Fiera internazionale di Tripoli was one of the main international "Fairs" in the colonial world in the 1930s, and was internationally promoted together with the Tripoli Grand Prix as a showcase of Italian Libya( Filippo Giannini: Colonial Italy and Islam (in Italian).

Indeed the Italians even created the "Tripoli Grand Prix", an international motor racing event first held in 1925 on a racing circuit outside Tripoli that lasted until 1940 ( of Tripoli Grand Prix).Tripoli during the Grand Prix was visited by the elite tourism of the world and had even some "fashion" shops ( Italian women walking near the Tripoli Castle).

The first airport in Libya, the "Mellaha Air Base" was built by the Italian Air Force in 1923 near the Tripoli racing circuit (actually is called "Mitiga International Airport"). The regular air services (with postal services) in Libya began in November 1928 with the first Rome-Syracuse-Tripoli air route, three times a week in winter, daily in summer, of the "Societa Anonima Navigazione Aerea (SANA)" airplanes. In the December of 1931 the "Società Nord Africa Aviazione (NAA)" inaugurated the Benghazi-Agedabia-Sirte-Tripoli line, which followed the coast line. With the absorption of the two companies from the ''Ala Littoria'' in 1935 the service continued on the same routes. From 4 April 1937 the Rome-Tunis line of Ala Littoria was extended to Tripoli; in 1938 the Air France opened a Marseilles-Tripoli line, then extended to Benghazi and Damascus. (

Tripoli had even a modern railway station with some small railway connections to nearby cities, when in August 1941 the Italians started to build a new 1,040 kilometres (646 miles) railway (with a 1,435 mm (56.5 in) gauge, like the one used in Egypt and Tunisia) between Tripoli and Benghazi. But the war -with the defeat of the Italian Army- stopped the construction the next year: only one hundred miles were created, but it was done also the project to connect this new railway with the borders of Tunisia & Egypt.

Tripoli was controlled by Italy until 1943 when the provinces of Tripolitania and Cyrenaica were captured by Allied forces. The city fell to troops of the British Eighth Army on 23 January 1943 and the Italian colonists since then started to diminish (the following photo shows a family of farm colonists with British soldiers).

Tripoli was then governed by the British until independence in 1951. Under the terms of the 1947 peace treaty with the Allies, Italy relinquished all claims to Libya.

After WWII the era of international decolonization fostered a huge exodus of Italians from Tripoli ( Italian exodus from Tripolitania), especially after Libya became independent in 1953. In 1948 there still were nearly 20,000 Italians in the city, but after 1970 the Italian population of the city (called Tripolini) almost disappeared when Libyan president Muammar Gaddafi ordered the expulsion of Italians (  Gaddafi expulsion of the Italians in 1970).

At present, the Libyan Italians are organized in the Associazione Italiani Rimpatriati dalla Libia (. Associazione Italiani Rimpatriati dalla Libia). The remaining "Tripolini" struggle to get their confiscated properties (  History of the Italian refugees from Gheddafi Libya) and even to maintain their Italian cemetery ( Attacks on the Tripoli Italian Cemetery)


Since the first years in Italian Tripoli were made many infrastructures by the Italians, even with the participation of the local arab "elite" (Journal of Libyan Studies 3, 1 (2002) p. 59-68: "Local Elites and Italian Town Planning Procedures in Early Colonial Tripoli (1911-1912)" by Denis Bocquet and Nora Lafi). The most important were the coastal road (called "Via Balbia" in honor of Italo Balbo after his death in 1940) between Tripoli and Benghazi and the railways Tripoli-Zuara, Tripoli-Garian and Tripoli-Tagiura.

The Cathedral of Tripoli (in the 1960s).

Other important infrastructures were the enlargement of the port of Tripoli with the addition of a seaplane facility and the creation of the Tripoli airport (later in the 1930s was added another "international" airport in nearby Castel Benito).

The first modern hospital in Tripoli was created by the Italians: the "Tripoli Central Hospital" main buildings that are standing now were built during the Italian administration of Libya in the 1910s. It was known then as L'Ospedale Coloniale di Vittorio Emanuele III (or Vittorio Emanuele III Colonial Hospital). The service during those days used to be headed by Italian doctors: notable among them was Tomaso Casoni (1880–1933) who practiced there from 1912 to 1932. He described there a test for diagnosing hydatid disease based on "dermal hypersensitivity", known internationally after him as the Casoni test. The original building is still standing and is occupied by the hospital's surgery department.

Since 1912 the Italian authorities started creating a "city plan", that was one of the first in the world to respect the ancient medieval city called "medina" (without demolitions of old buildings): it was decided to create a new modern city outside the Ottoman walls ( Section: Tripoli, un centro di sperimentazione urbanistica e architettonica, p. 104). Tripoli city plan and architectural development by Italy). The city of Tripoli underwent a huge transformation in those years, with the creation of new avenues, squares, sea promenades and modern buildings like -to name a few worldwide famous- the modern "Palazzo delle Poste" and the "Palazzo Previdenza Sociale".

Corso Sicilia in 1940

From the central square "Piazza Italia", located just south of the old castle and medina, were created huge boulevards, like Corso Sicilia (above is the photo of Corso Sicilia in 1940), Corso Vittorio Emanuele III, Via Roma, Via Lazio, Via Piemonte and Via Lombardia around which new Italian-style modern buildings were developed. The buildings of the "Cassa di risparmio della Tripolitania" and of the "Banca d'Italia" were created as  masterpieces of rationalist style (and are still used by the Central Bank of Libya).

In Tripoli was built in 1928 the biggest catholic cathedral of north Africa: the "Tripoli Cathedral". Italian government even restructured the ancient "Arch of Marcus Aurelius".

Indeed immediately after the Italian conquest, this Roman monument (related to M. Aurelius) received conservation and restoration work from the Italian administration, while the zone around the arch was reorganized by the Italian architect Florestano Di Fausto in the early 1930s. Governor Balbo gave Di Fausto in 1938 the task of designing the city plan of Italian Tripoli, and Di Fausto, nominated by Balbo chef of the "Commission for Urban Protection and Esthetics", with the main task of designing Tripoli's city plan, started to produce a stream of projects for Libya's capital: there the architect outlined the plan of Piazza Castello (the area around the Red Castle) and of the square around the Arch of Marcus Aurelius, in the Medina. Moreover, he erected public buildings, churches, markets, hotels, totaling fifteen works in few years( Architecture in Tripoli created during Fascism).

"Piazza Italia" with Italian Renaissance style fountain and buildings

His masterpiece in Tripoli was the multifunctional center "Al Waddan" (hotel, swimming pools, casino, theater), characterized by a long row of arches parallel to today's Sharia al Fatah promenade: it was one of the predecessors of "modern malls". Indeed the actual Al Waddan opened in 1936 as the "Uaddan Hotel & Casino", just east of the Grand Hotel Tripoli (now destroyed as it was when originally built in 1925). Historically it was the grandest hotel in Tripoli and was referenced by an American journalist as being "the Waldorf Astoria of Tripoli" and was also named "a jewel of modern African architecture" (Segrè, Claudio G. Italo Balbo: A Fascist Life. University of California Press. p. 303. ISBN 978-0-520-07199-5). It contained a casino and a 500 seat theatre.
Di Fausto also created the famous "Hotel Del Mehari", built in 1935 at the same time as the nearby Hotel Casinò Uaddan. According to Brian McLaren in his book Architecture and tourism in Italian colonial Libya (, the (destroyed after WW2) Mehari hotel "provided a fusion of the indigenous architecture of Tripoli with a modern aesthetic that responded to the demand for a metropolitan standard of comfort, typical to colonial tourism"
In all these works, the architect Di Fausto resumed his Romano-Greek experience, mixing with great virtuosity arabisant and novecento elements.

Even the modern futuristic "Church of Saint Francis" in downtown Tripoli was another work of art of him. The same residence of Governor Balbo was to become after WWII the "Royal Palace" of the Libya's king. Balbo even promoted the creation of an international airport at "Castel Benito" (now called Tripoli International Airport), connected by the first international flights in Africa to Italy and to Ethiopia's Addis Abeba. The Red Castle Museum was established in 1919, when the colonial Italians in Libya converted a section of the Tripoli's ancient castle to a museum to house many of the archaeological artifacts scattered across the country since prehistoric times. The square around the castle was designed in the thirties by architect Di Fausto as "Piazza Castello" and was integrated with nearby "Piazza Italia" and the disappeared "Lungomare Conte Volpi".

In 1939 was created the '7 October Stadium', a grass football stadium called initially "Stadio Comunale di Tripoli" and based in the center of the city. The stadium was initially made for 5,000 people and was used even for athletism and cyclism sports. It was the only football stadium in Tripoli before the June 11 Stadium was built in the 1970s.

The "Palazzo del Governatore" of Balbo, remodeled as Royal Palace in the 1950s

The Piazza Italia (now called Martyr's Square) featured on one side a wide avenue leading towards the seafront with two tall pillars. On top of the pillars still there are an iron-cast, miniature wooden ship on the norther corner, while the other one features a horseback rider. On the Piazza's other side there was the Teatro Miramare, called later Royal Miramare Theatre: it used to be located across from the Red Castle Museum, but it was demolished by Gaddafi's government after the 1960s to create space for large demonstrations. Another important building demolished by dictator Gheddafi was the Tripoli railway station, built in 1937. It was the only railway station in Africa served by the state-of-the-art "Littorina" (an Italian passenger train that obtained the world record of speed in 1939 with the model FS Class ETR 200).

Additionally, a group of villages for Italians and Libyans were created on the coastal tripolitania around Italian Tripoli during the 1930s.  They were like satellite towns and interacted with Tripoli ( Photos of Italian works in Libya and of the new villages created for Italians and Libyans). In 1939 the most important created and populated only by native arabs and berbers (who received by governor Italo Balbo the Italian citizenship in the newly created "Quarta Sponda" or "Fourth Shore of Italy") were: "El Fager" (al-Fajr, Alba in Italian language), "Nahima" (Deliziosa), "Azizia" (‘Aziziyya, Meravigliosa), "Nahiba" (Risorta), "Mansura" (Vittoriosa), "Chadra" (khadra, Verde), "Zahara" (Zahra, Fiorita), "Gedida" (Jadida, Nuova), "Mamhura" (Fiorente).

All the villages in the outskirts of Tripoli since 1939 were connected daily by bus service to the "Stazione centrale autobus" (one of the first central bus stations in north Africa), located in the square of the Tripoli Railway Station.

Italians of Tripoli strolling in the city in the late 1930s

Schools and Institutions

Schools for Italians
 Giardino d’infanzia Principessa Mafalda • Giardino d’infanzia Principessa Jolanda • Giardino d’infanzia Principessa Giovanna • Scuola elementare maschile Roma • Scuola elementare maschile Pietro Verri • Scuola elementare femminile Regina Elena • Scuola elementare femminile Margherita di Savoia • Scuola elementare mista Trieste • Scuola elementare mista B. Mussolini • Scuola elementare mista Trento • Scuola elementare mista Principessa di Piemonte • Liceo-ginnasio Dante Alighieri • Istituto tecnico commerciale e per geometri Guglielmo Marconi • Istituto magistrale Giovanni Pascoli • Scuola di avviamento professionale Duca degli Abruzzi • Istituto di addestramento e di perfezionamento dei lavoratori Italo Balbo  • Fratelli delle scuole cristiane Istituto Umberto di Savoia con collegio e convitto e scuola elementare maschile parificata • Suore Giuseppine dell’Apparizione (asilo d’infanzia e scuola elementare femminile parificata) • Suore francescane missionarie d’Egitto Istituto E. Schiaparelli con collegio e convitto, orfanotrofio femminile, asilo d’infanzia e scuola elementare mista • Suore francescane missionarie di Maria. Istituto Casa della divina provvidenza (orfanotrofio) • Scuola elementare maschile del vicariato apostolico diretta dai Fratelli delle scuole cristiane (a Sciara Espagnol) • Scuola elementare con collegio e convitto Niccolò Tommaseo
• Istituto sperimentale agrario e zootecnico della Libia (in Sidi El-Mésri)

Schools for Arabs
 Scuola musulmana di mestieri e arti indigene. • Scuola femminile professionale M. Brighenti. • Scuola convitto per allieve infermiere Principessa Maria Pia. • Scuola superiore di cultura islamica

• Sopraintendenza scolastica. • Archivio storico. • Sopraintendenza alle antichità della Libia • Biblioteca del governo • Biblioteca del Consiglio e ufficio dell’economia corporativa • Biblioteca della Sopraintendenza monumenti e scavi • Biblioteca della Casa littoria • Biblioteca municipale • Biblioteca del Centro sperimentale agrario e zootecnico Biblioteca araba degli Auqaf-as-sur
• Biblioteche israelitiche (Addi • Mimun • Rabbi Josef Ruben • Rabbi Efraim Tayar • Angelo Arbib • Dar Sued ) • Museo archeologico • Museo libico di storia naturale. • Casa littoria • Sindacati fascisti. • Opera nazionale dopolavoro(Ond). • Gioventù italiana del littorio(Gil). • Ente fascista della cooperazione della Libia. • Ente colonizzazione della Libia. • Casa del mutilato. • Istituto fascista per l’artigianato della Libia • Società Dante Alighieri. • Ente turistico alberghiero della Libia (Etal) • Regio automobile club d’Italia. • Consociazione turistica italiana (Touring club) • Compagnia italiana del turismo. • Fiera campionaria. • Casa dell’artigianato. • Scuola allievi zaptiè. • Associazione musulmana del littorio. • Gioventù araba del littorio. 

The "Palazzo delle Poste"
(built in the late 1930s)

Societies and Associations

Istituto del nastro azzurro tra combattenti decorati al valore militare • Associazione nazionale tra mutilati e invalidi di guerra • Associazione libica tra mutilati e invalidi di guerra musulmani • Associazione nazionale famiglie dei caduti in guerra • Opera nazionale combattenti • Battaglione volontari d’Italia • Unione nazionale ufficiali in congedo d’Italia • Reggimento bersaglieri d’Italia • Reparti arditi d’Italia • Associazione arma d’artiglieria • Associazione nazionale carabinieri reali in congedo • Circolo coorte finanzieri d’Italia • Associazione nazionale marinai in congedo • Unione fascista famiglie numerose • Circolo militare • Circolo Italia • Società cacce a cavallo • Società libica incremento razze equine • Associazione cacciatori della Libia • Commissione venatoria della Libia • Federazione tennis della Libia (presidente Rodolfo Graziani) • Tennis Tripoli (presidente onorario e fondatore Amedeo d’Aosta, viceré d’Etiopia) • Moto club Tripoli • Lega navale italiana • Reale unione navale aeronautica • Associazione ciclistica italiana • Croce rossa italiana • Ente generale per l’assistenza e beneficenza • Società tripolina di mutuo soccorso • Terz’ordine francescano • Associazione uomini di azione cattolica • Unione donne di azione cattolica • Gioventù maschile di azione cattolica • Associazione San Giovanni Battista De La Salle • Associazione Santa Lucia • Jews associations (Circolo Maccabei • Associazione donne ebree d’italia (Adei) • Società ebraica femminile • Laboratorio ebraico femminile • Circolo Ben Jeudà • Associazione Aghuddat Torà )

Newspapers and magazines

• «Bollettino ufficiale del governo della Libia». • «Notiziario economico della Libia». • Newspaper «L’avvenire di Tripoli»  • «Quarta sponda. Quindicinale dei lavoratori della Libia». • «Il tascapane del soldato libico». • «Annuario generale della Libia. Guida amministrativa-commerciale della Libia». • «Notiziario corporativo della Libia». • «Bollettino sindacale corporativo delle associazioni fasciste degliindustriali e degli artigiani della Libia». • «Agricoltura Libia». • «Annali del centro sperimentale agrario e zootecnico della Libia». • «Bollettino meteorologico delle colonie italiane». • «Bollettino del Consiglio e ufficio dell’economia corporativa di Tripoli. Atti Ufficiali. Notiziario dei provvedimenti inerenti il commercio, l’industria e l’agricoltura; elenco dei protesti cambiari». • «Bollettino delle cooperative di consumo di Tripoli-Misurata-Bengasi-Derna». • «Notiziario dell’Associazione fascista agricoltori della Libia». • «Listino dei prezzi all’ingrosso dell’Ufficio dell’economia di Tripoli». • «Agenzia di Libia». • «Famiglia Cristiana» (periodico del vicariato apostolico). • «El - Adel» (settimanale in lingua araba). • «Orario generale delle comunicazioni della Libia. Aeree, marittime, automobilistiche del turismo». • Corrispondenti delle testate nazionali (Agenzia Stefani; «Popolo d’Italia»; «Corriere Padano» - «Popolo di Roma»; «Corriere della Sera» -«Giornale d’Italia» - «Gazzetta del Popolo» - «Resto del Carlino»; «Lavoro fascista»; «L’Osservatore romano»; «La Gazzetta dello Sport»; «La Tribuna) «L’artigianato» - "L’organizzazione industriale" Editorials (Stabilimento poligrafico editoriale del Cav. Plinio Maggi • Unione coloniale italiana pubblicità e informazione(Ucipi) • Cartiere della Tripolitania ) • Libraries  (Cagiuti • Ferrero • Libreria Minerva (Librerie italiane riunite) • Tommaseo(agente Mondadori) • Utet • Miscergli • Mohammed Mohtar Scerfeddin • Haggiag Scialom • Reginaldo Abram • Ruben Rahmir)

Regio Teatro Miramare, the royal theater of Tripoli was built in the early 1930s

Cinemas and Theaters

• Royal Theater Miramare • Terrazza del Miramare • Teatro casinò Uaddan • Teatro di Sugh el Turch del Dopolavoro provinciale • Teatro Politeama • Cinema teatro Ond • Super cinema Alhambra • Cinema delle Palme • Cinema estivo Corso



  • Chapin Metz, Hellen. Libya: A Country Study. Washington: GPO for the Library of Congress, 1987.
  • De Martino, Antonio. Tripoli italiana, la guerra italo-turca.Societa' Libraria Italiana. New York, 1912 (
  • Istituto Agricolo Coloniale (Firenze). La colonizzazione agricola della Tripolitania. Ministero degli affari esteri, Tip. Del senato di G. Bardi, Roma 1946.
  • ISTAT. ISTITUTO NAZIONALE DI STATISTICA SOCIETÀ ITALIANA DI DEMOGRAFIA STORICA Le fonti di stato della popolazione tra il XIX e il XXI secolo. Annali di Statistica.
  • Luiggi, Luigi, Le opere pubbliche a Tripoli. Note di Viaggio, in: Nuova Antologia, XLVII, fasc.965, 1 marzo 1912, p. 115.
  • McLaren, Brian (2006). Architecture and tourism in Italian colonial Libya: an original modernism. University of Washington Press. p. 194. ISBN 978-0-295-98542-8.
  • Pagano, Giovanni. Architettura e città durante il fascismo. Editori Laterza. Roma, 1990
  • Pal, Go. Gaddafi Up-Close Publisher AuthorHouse. Bloomington,2011. ISBN 1467041831
  • Santoianni, Vittorio. Il Razionalismo nelle colonie italiane 1928-1943.La «nuova architettura» delle Terre d’Oltremare. Ed. Universita' Federico II. Napoli, 2008 
  • Sean Anderson. "The Light and the Line: Florestano Di Fausto and the Politics of Mediterraneità". California Italian Studies. University of California, 2010.
       • Video of "Fiera di Tripoli" in 1939 ( )

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