Islamist Radical Egwillah Attributes the Red Castle to the Ottomans: What Does History Say? – Al Marsad

The Libyan-Canadian Islamist radical Abdul Baset Egwillah, who is a member of the Dar Al-Ifta (Fatwa Council) in Tripoli and is affiliated to the Muslim Brotherhood, raised controversy recently when he said, “God killed and overthrew the tyrant Muammar Gaddafi and Mussolini, a long time ago, because of their daring rhetoric from the lofty Red Castle, known as Al-Saraya al-Hamra, that the Ottomans built and which was inhabited lated by the Karamanlis”. 

[Libya, 18 February 2020] “When we saw Gaddafi delivering speeches from the Castle, we realized that his end would be like Mussolini’s, All tyrants who gave speeches from the Castle, were overthrown by God,” said Egwillah on the satellite channel Al-Tanasouh, which is affiliated to the Mufti ousted by the House of Representatives, Sadiq Al-Ghariani. The comments were made in a documentary filmed in front of the Red Castle and at the Bab al-Azizia camp where the former Libyan leadership headquarters was based before being targeted by NATO airstrikes.

Many social media commentators slammed Egwillah ignoring NATO’s role in destroying the Bab al-Azizia camp in 2011, and for misrepresenting the history of the building of the Castle and giving its affiliation to the Ottoman invaders. The real history of the Red Castle dates back to the period before the Islamic conquest of Tripoli and the entire North African region. It survived then in the era of the Spaniards, the Maltese and so to this day.

From the many historical references that deny the validity of Egwillah’s claims that the Ottomans were the ones who built the Red Castle we will examine some of these in detail. There is an Ottoman reference to the Turkish navigator and cartographer Piri Reis who visited Tripoli in 1525—26 years before the Ottoman invasion. He drew a map showing the Castle which was completely constructed with its fences and towers. In other words, it was built decades before that date and it was called “West Tripoli Castle”!

The History of the Red Castle

The Red Castle, also known as Tripoli Castle, is one of the most important landmarks in the city of Tripoli in Libya. It is called Red Castle because some of its parts were painted in red. It overlooks the streets of Omar Al-Mukhtar and Al-Shat.

It is located in the northeastern corner of the old city of Tripoli, and overlooks its port, and the Red Castle Lake, which was previously a sea before it was reclaimed to enable it to more effectively protect the city and defend it by land and sea.

The Red Castle has undergone significant changes and additions to its architecture by each ruling regime. It’s about 1300m and its dimensions are: from the northeast (115m), from the northwest (90m), and from the southwest (130m). The maximum height is 21m.

It was built on the remains of a huge Roman building, perhaps one of the temples or large baths, where some of large marble columns and crowns dating back to the first or second century AD are found below the road that penetrated the Castle from east to west.

It was a great bulwark to defend the city of Tripoli in the Byzantine era, when it is narrated that Arab Muslims, when they marched on Tripoli under the leadership of Amr bin Al-Aas in the year 642 they found the city surrounded by a strong wall, and they could not enter the city until after one-month long siege. The Arab rulers took care of the Castle. One can notice on the western side of the Castle remnants of some high towers, similar to those that were known before the discovery of gunpowder, as well as the presence of some walls that the Arabs built before the Spaniards entered Tripoli on 25 July 1510.

Al Marsad contacted an expert familiar with the history of Tripoli and its landmarks, who explained the following: “When the Companions of the Prophet, may God bless with them, conquered Tripoli, the city was originally fully fortified which forced them to besiege it for an entire month. This fact is proved and agreed by many history books including the book of Ahmed Bek al-Na’eb al-Ansari, who wrote “The Sweet Spring in the History of West Tripoli”.

“The history of the Citadel of Tripoli dates back to very ancient origins prior to the entry of Muslim Arabs to it. The arch of (Marcus Aurelius) in Bab al-Bahr is an eyewitness to the strength of architecture in Tripoli since ancient times. Many generations have worked on restoring, improving and developing these ancient fortifications as possible in every era of the city’s ancient history. Among the most important developments on the Castle itself are those improvements made by the Spaniards during the reign of (Charles V) and then (the Knights of St. John) who received it from him in 1530.

“It is interesting that an Ottoman marine expert named (Piri Reis) drew the fortifications of Tripoli as they were at the time of writing his book in 1525, when he gave it to Sultan Suleiman al-Qanuni and placed the Ottoman flag wishing to conquer it soon.

The famous Reis sketch shows the portrayal of the fortifications of Tripoli with a completed wall, the Castle, and the port watchtower, all of which existed before the Ottomans entered Tripoli in 1551.

A map drawn by Piri Reis showing the coasts of Tripoli: The Red Castle, Janzour, Tajura, South of Gherian, the city of Ghadames, Fezzan and other locations.

Yes, the Ottomans and then the Karamanlis made improvements inside the Castle, but they were never established it and they never claimed so. But the Muslim Brotherhood are more Ottomans than the Ottoman Empire itself, and they turn everything into Ottoman, even the history and landmarks of ancient Libya.”

When the Spanish occupied the city of Tripoli, they paid special attention to the defensive walls and castles, especially the Castle of Tripoli. It appears that most of the current external construction of the castle dates back to the period of Spanish rule and the period of the knights of St. John, who were handed over by the Spaniards upon their departure from it in 1530 AD.

The Spanish built two towers at the Castle: the southwest tower and the southeast tower, which is known as the (Fort of St. George). They had holes to place the cannons according to the methods used in the sixteenth century AD. The knights of St. John added another tower in the northeastern corner, known as the (Santa Barbara Tower). According to the maps dating back to the seventeenth century, the Castle was surrounded by a water channel from all sides, and its entrance was located at the south wall. As for calling it “Red”, it was a result of the fact that the Spanish painted its outer walls in red.

The Turkish Era and Egwillah’s Claims

The Turks seized the Castle in 1551. They made several additions to it. Murad Agha transformed the church that was inside the Castle into a mosque, and the Turkish rulers took the Castle as headquarters for them and for their families.

When Ahmed Pasha Al Karamanli became a ruler of the country in 1711, he and his family took a special interest in defensive forts. The citadel during the Karamanli era included a special building for the Governor of Tripoli with a spacious hall where he received delegations and consuls of foreign countries. The Castle also had a mint, a court of justice, a governmental pharmacy, and some stores, prisons, and mills. This was the role of the Ottomans in the history of the Castle, very different from the misleading information provided by Egwillah.

When fascist Italy occupied Tripoli in 1911, the Castle became the general ruler’s headquarters. Some of its parts were used as museums. Many changes took place inside the castle, the most important of which was the removal of some external buildings that were adjacent to it, and the construction of the road that leads to the port of Tripoli, and the arches located on the north side of the Castle wall. In 1919, the Castle was turned into a museum for the first time in its history.

In the beginning the Italians were satisfied with the ancient building located next to the Castle from the south, which was used during the second Ottoman era as a police station. The Italians converted it upon capturing Tripoli to an ammunition store. Later on, the warehouse, which is 30m long and about 10m wide, was built on six columns to be the first museum in the history of Libya.

In the early 1920s, all the annexes of the Castle, including the aforementioned warehouse, were removed, and the Castle was turned entirely into a museum and opened in 1930 by the Italian governor-general of the Balbo. He was fascinated by the Castle and transferred his office, and from where he governed the country. The former “Classic Museum” has now been replaced by the Red Castle Museum. Some old fountains have been placed in the Castle squares that date back to the 16th and 17th centuries AD. They were brought from the houses of the old city.

After the British took control of the country during the Second World War, they sought with the help of UNESCO to save invaluable archaeological artifacts. In 1948, the entire Castle became the Libyan Museum Complex, that included the following collections: The Prehistoric Museum; The Museum of Ancient Libyan Tribes; The Libyan Heritage Museum in the Punic Period; The Greek Era; The Roman Era; The Byzantine Era; and the Museum of Natural History.

Since 1952, the Castle has been the headquarters of the Department of Antiquities and its Museums. Finally, in the era of the former regime, the Museum of the Masses was also added.

The Red Castle has a veritable history and it is highly significant for all Libyans. The Libyan-Canadian Islamist radical Abdul Baset Egwillah cannot rewrite history to suit his pro-Ottoman and pro-Turkish ideological preferences.

© Al Marsad English (2020)