Why Lebanon Plans to Revive Tripoli's Abandoned Fairgrounds

The helipad in Tripolis fairground
The helipad in Tripoli's fairground | © Eric Lafforgue / Art In All Of Us / Corbis via Getty Images

Tripoli’s fairgrounds have become an otherworldly tourist attraction ever since they were built and abandoned before Lebanon’s civil war. But big changes are on the horizon for these abandoned relics.

The Rashid Karami International Fairgrounds in Tripoli have long sat abandoned near the city’s old centre. But recent plans for new investment promise to reinvigorate the fairground’s structures into a key facet of the city’s economy.

Reminders of what could have been

Tripoli’s fairgrounds were the brainchild of Lebanese politicians who sought to make Lebanon a regional business hub in the western Middle East, and hoped the fairgrounds would become a staging ground for trade exhibitions featuring companies from around the world. Oscar Niemeyer, an internationally acclaimed Brazilian architect who was already famous for his striking Modernist style, was commissioned to design the fairgrounds himself.

Recreational area for kids in the Tripoli’s abandoned fairgrounds
Helipad in the the Rachid Karami International Exhibition Center

A surreal landscape

In the decades since the end of the civil war, the fairgrounds, which occupy a massive swath of land west of downtown Tripoli, have become an alternative tourist destination in the city and are open to the public free of charge. Sprawled out across the oval-shaped fairgrounds, Niemeyer’s creations bring to mind ancient ruins or monuments, which makes their staunchly Modernist appearance even more intriguing.

Enter if you dare into the dome-shaped theatre

In place of the businesspeople Niemeyer had designed the fairgrounds for, curious tourists now walk amid the buildings here, which include a sharp pyramid-like structure, a ghostly amphitheater, and a giant, alien-like orb you can walk into. The only structure here that is permanently in operation is the Quality Inn Hotel that stands at the northern edge of the fairgrounds. It also happens to be the only western-style hotel within the city limits. But besides this one exception, the entire area feels like another world that time forgot.

New opportunities

Given the amount of money and time that had been poured into this project before the war, it’s no wonder that Tripoli’s politicians have been eager to find ways to put this space to good use. Although it is Lebanon’s second largest city, it also remains one of the country’s poorest, and economic stability here has long been hampered by intermittent sectarian conflict that only concluded in 2014. Since then, officials here have been busy planning a set of sweeping new development plans in hopes to putting the city on the right track toward recovery.

A massive arch over a bridge to nowhere

A major part of these plans is the construction of an economic zone near the city’s port, which will be governed by a special law designed to attract investment and businesses to the area. And now, politicians have successfully been able to extend this law to the economic zone to Tripoli’s fairgrounds, and hope to finally make it into the hub it was originally designed to be.

“We’ve been able to apply the same law to… a plot in the middle of the Rashid Karami International Fairgrounds,” Raya al-Hassan, chairwoman and general manager of the Tripoli Special Economic Zone, tells Culture Trip. “So that plot will be more geared toward attracting service industries, most likely to be in the innovation sectors.”

Even though the fairgrounds have been mostly abandoned since the 1970s, some of the facilities have been used on and off for art exhibitions and other events. But these new development plans have the potential to completely revitalize the area into a major center of activity in Tripoli.

Although there remains much work to be done before the economic zone opens and the fairgrounds can be used to launch Tripoli’s economy into the future, politicians are hopeful these changes will have a much-needed positive impact on the city. And even though the haunting beauty of the abandoned buildings here will likely fade as new development gets underway, the trade-off is a worthwhile one for the city’s residents, who need new opportunities more than anything.

landscape with balloons floating in the air


Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world

Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.

Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.

Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.

We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.

Edit article