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Prefecture Apostolic of Tripoli



Tripoli, Prefecture Apostolic of.—Tripolitana, one of the ancient Barbary States, lies in North Africa along the Mediterranean, from 6° to 22° E. long., and from 27° to 33° N. lat., between Egypt on the east, Tunisia on the west, the desert on the south, and the sea on the north. Its area cannot be precisely determined, but equals at least 395,641 sq. miles. The boundaries of some portions are ill-defined. Shortly after the outbreak of hostilities between the Italians and Turks, the Anglo-Egyptian Government, at the request of the Sultan of Turkey, occupied the Bay of Sollum with the adjacent territory, and thus annexed to Egypt 219 miles of coast-line, with a depth as yet unknown. About the same period France took possession of various contested points in southern Tripoli, notably the oases of Janet and Bilma. These frontier modifications have considerably reduced the territory of Tripoli and its hinterland. The frontier on the Tunisian side has since 1886 been at Lower Adjir; that on the Egyptian side, between Tobruk and the Bay of Sollum.

Tripoli comprises two very distinct parts separated by the Greater Syrtis desert; the vilayet of Western Tripoli (Tarabulus el-Gharb) and the autonomous sanjak of Benghazi. To the vilayet of Tripoli is attached the sanjak of Murzuk, capital of Fezzan, which communicates with the desert regions of the Sahara and the Egyptian and French Sudan. The vilayet of Tripoli comprises (I) the region of the oases situated near the coast and separated from each other by sand deserts; (2) the region of the Jebel-Gharian (Mount of the Grottos) or plateau, which is reached only through wild gorges partly cultivated and populated; (3) lastly, the desert, with a few oases, the most important of which is Ghadames, the ancient Cydamus. The population of the coast is exclusively Arab and sedentary, save for small Jewish colonies; the Jebel-Gharian is inhabited by the Berbers, the ancient Libyans; beyond are the nomadic Arabs, very different in customs and character from the sedentary Arabs. The total population of the vilayet, including Fezzan, which is chiefly inhabited by negroes, cannot exceed 800,000. On the sea-shore there are a few villages, such as Tripoli, Khoms, and Missurata, the chief towns of the large oases, and others such as Zanzur, Zuara, Tagiura, etc., which are surrounded by small oases. The climate of Tripoli is dry and very hot. Save in the oases and some valleys of the Jebel-Gharian the soil is very poor, and often even barren. In the oases of the coast and the interior, as also in the villages of the Jebel-Charian, date palms, olive, fig, banana, orange and citron trees are grown, as well as wheat and barley.

The present vilayet of Tripoli consists of only a portion of the ancient Tripolitana, namely, the eastern part. The Roman province of this name extended further along the western side to Lake Triton and Lesser Syrtis, that is, beyond Gabes in Tunisia. The origin of this province was the confederation of the three Punic cities, Oea, or Tripoli, Sabratha (ruins of the same name), and Leptis Magna, or Khoms, which confederation is mentioned by Ammianus Marcellinus (XXVIII, 6, 7) in the fourth century of our era, and which seems to have existed since the very foundation of the three cities (Movers, "Die Phonicier", II, 2, 482). Since 25 B.C., when Augustus reorganized and merged into a single province Africa Vetus and Africa Nova, Tripolitana formed a part thereof. The organization lasted until Diocletian, who divided Africa into six or seven distinct provinces, all comprised in the Dicecesis Afric; thenceforth Tripolitana formed a separate province. It belonged to the Romans until 455, when, after his successful expedition against the city of Rome, Genseric took possession of it. In 533, as soon as it learned that Belisarius was preparing for an expedition, Tripolitana revolted against the Vandal dominion and went over to the Emperor Justinian. Towards the end of the sixth century, under the Emperor Mauritius, Tripolitana was separated from Africa and attached to Egypt (Gelzer, "Georgii Cyprii descriptio orbis romani", LI, LXIV).

In 643 the Arabs had subdued the eastern part of Tripolitana, taken Tripoli by storm, and pillaged Sabratha. They returned definitively about 670. Thenceforth Tripolitana belonged successively to the Aglabites (801-909), the Fatimites (909-1050), then to the Zeirites and Hafsids of Tunis, from the fourteenth century. Ferdinand the Catholic captured Tripoli in 1510, and transferred the city and country to Charles V, who abandoned them to the Knights of Malta (1530-51); but in 1551 the renegade Sinan Pasha and Dragut took possession of them, and annexed the whole province to the Ottoman Empire. In 1714 Ahmed Bey, called the Great, achieved independence and founded the dynasty of Karamanlis, a descendant of whom, Hassun Pasha, has just been made Mayor of Tripoli by the Italians. In 1835, at the request of the Tripolitans themselves, who were being molested by the tribe Ouled-Slimans, the Porte reasserted its ancient rights, landed troops, and made the country a vilayet immediately subject to Constantinople. In 1840 the Turks added to it Fezzan, the Phazania of the Romans, and the present sanjak of Murzuk, which had been independent under the Beni-Khattab, next subordinated to the Sultans of Kanem (twelfth to fourteenth century), then to those of Morocco (sixteenth century), finally paying tribute to the beys of Tripoli. In recent years they have likewise extended their dominion to the oases of Ghadames, Rhat, etc., and sought to link their territory directly with Wadai and the other Mussulman States of Central Africa. The Anglo-French Convention of March 21, 1899, determined the zones of influence in the country of these two nations, consequently terminating the victorious progress of the Vali of Tripoli.

Besides the vilayet of Tripoli, Tripolitana is represented by the autonomous sanjak of Benghazi, directly subject to Constantinople. This sanjak consists of the ancient Cyrenaica, lying between Egypt and the Gulf of the Greater Syrtis. Cyrenaica, later the plateau of Barca, consisted chiefly of five Greek cities forming the Pentapolis Libyca, the alternative name of the region. These were Cyrene, now Grenneh, four leagues inland; Barca, which gave its name to the whole plateau, and situated five leagues from the sea; Teuchira, later Arsinoe and now Tocra; Hesperides, later Berenice, or Benghazi; Apollonia, now Marsa Susa, which served as a port for Cyrene. In the direction of Egypt there were other cities on the coast, Ptolemais (Tolmeita), Naustathmus (Marsa-al-Halal), Darnis (Denis.), Axylis, etc. On the Egyptian side the frontier was marked by Greater Chersonesus (Ras et-Tin), on the west by the altars of the Philenes at the eastern corner of the Greater Syrtis. In the south Cyrenaica included, at least theoretically, Phazania, or modern Fezzan, and the oasis of Augila. The sanjak of Benghazi, formed in 1879, is very little known, apart from some points on the coast where European travellers have been able to penetrate. It measures possibly 63,302 square miles, exclusive of the desert region, and has about 300,000 inhabitants. The country is divided into two districts, that on the coast, which is incredibly fertile, though poorly cultivated, and that of the plateaux, a very poor region, at an average height of 1640 feet, and inhabited chiefly by nomad Bedouins. Beyond stretches the desert occupied by the Sheikh of the Senoussi, a Mussulman sect very hostile to Christianity, and whose religious influence is felt throughout Africa and a portion of Arabia.

Consequent upon an ultimatum based upon trivial reasons, Italy declared war against Turkey September 27, 1911, and declared its intention of taking possession of Tripoli and Cyrenaica. By a decree of November 5 following, King Victor Emmanuel III proclaimed the annexation of these two provinces and their dependencies to the Kingdom of Italy. It only remained to take possession of the country. At present after more than seven months of war, and although they have put in the field an army of 100.000 men, the Italians now occupy only five points on a coast 1242 miles in extent: Tripoli and Khoms in Tripolitana; Benghazi, Derna, and Tobruk in Cyrenaica. They have advanced inland only about six miles to Ain-Zara, near Tripoli.

Tripolitana and Cyrenaica were under separate religious administrations, as well as being divided civilly. The former had seven bishoprics: Gigthi, now represented by the ruins of Henchir Jorf Bou-Grara, opposite the island of Girba; Girba, an island in Tunisia which has preserved its name; Leptis Magna, or Khoms; Oea, or Tripolis; Sabratha, at the ruins of this name, west of Tripoli; Sinnipsa, between Tripoli and Leptis Magna; Tacapae or Gabes in Tunisia. These seven sees were attached to the episcopate of Africa, of which the Bishop of Carthage was the recognized head. It is well known that these various ecclesiastical provinces of Africa had no metropolitan: in each of them the oldest bishop performed the offices of primate. Nevertheless, although it sent a special delegate to the national councils of Carthage, Tripolitana had no primate; its bishops were under the jurisdiction of the Primate of the Byzacene. Cyrenaica on the other hand was included in the Patriarchate of Alexandria, and formed two ecclesiastical provinces: (I) Libya Pen tapolis, with Apollonia Sozusa as metropolitan see and eight suffragan bishoprics: Ptolemais, Cyrene, Teucheira or Arsinoe, Berenice, Barca, Erythron, Olbia, and Dysthis; (2) Libya Secunda or Marmarica, with Darnis as metropolitan and seven suffragan sees, Paraetonium, Antipyrgos, Antiphrae, Zygris, Zagylis, Augila, and Marmarica(Le Quien," Oriens christ.", II, 617-37) .

The jurisdiction of the present Prefecture Apostolic of Tripoli extends over both the vilayet of Tripoli and the sanjak of Benghazi, that is, over Tripolitana and Cyrenaica. It is known that almost immediately on their foundation the Franciscans went to Tripoli, but we have no information concerning this early mission. In 1630 Propaganda sent thither two Friars Minor from Venetia. Seven years later Urban VIII appointed Father Francesco di Venezia missionary Apostolic, and in 1643 the mission was made a prefecture. Father Luigi da Ponte, prefect Apostolic, was slain by the natives in 1654; in 1691 all the missionaries died of the plague, but others replaced them. Conflicts of jurisdiction soon arose between the Franciscans dependent on Propaganda and the Fathers of Mercy or other religious long established in Tripoli for the ransom of captives. To end this, Propaganda in 1682 removed all jurisdiction from priests not dependent on it. In 1704, through the generosity of Louis XIV and Clement XI, a church and hospital were built. In 1843 there remained only two religious with 1300 Catholics in all the regency, but their number was soon increased by Italian and Maltese immigration. According to the "Missions catholici" (1907), 390, there were in the prefecture Apostolic prior to the Italo-Turkish war, 10 Franciscans, 5 parishes, and 5 churches without a resident priest. The Catholic stations are: Tripoli, with 4400 faithful, Khoms with 145, Benghazi with 310, Barca with 16, Derna with 44, Meschia with 600; in all nearly 6000 Catholics. The religious orders are: Franciscans with 5 convents and 21 religious; Marianites, 1 convent and 7 religious; Josephites, 1 convent and 5 religious; Franciscan Sisters, 3 convents and 16 nuns; French Sisters of St. Joseph, 2 convents and 17 religious; the last-named have a school and hospital at Tripoli.

Very little is known regarding the history of the city of Tripoli, the ancient Oea, which has given its name to the whole country. Of Punic origin, it subsequently passed into the hands of the Romans, when it had a renowned school and illustrious teachers. Apuleius, the celebrated author of the "Golden Ass", taught there for some time. Two Roman roads connected the city with Sabratha and Leptis Magna; one ran along the coast, the other took a more southerly direction inland. Christianity was implanted there at an early date, for its bishop, Natalis, assisted at the Council of Carthage, September, 256; the Donatist Marinianus was at the conference of Carthage in 411; Cresconius, banished in 455 by Genseric, returned to his diocese, assisted at the conference of Carthage in 484, and was again exiled. Thenceforth the city shared the lot of the province as related above. It was twice possessed by the Christians, from 1146 to 1160 by the Normans of Sicily, from 1510 to 1551 by the Spaniards and the Knights of Malta. It was also bombarded several times, notably by the French in 1685, 1693, and 1728. Before the Italian expedition Tripoli had about 60,000 inhabitants, including those of the neighboring oasis. Of these, 4400 were Maltese and Italians, 8000 Jews, and 45,000 Mussulmans. The sole artistic curiosity is the triumphal arch dating from the second century of our era.

S. Vailhé.








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