Former province of Libya, stretching from Cyrenaica in the east to Tunisia in the west, and from the Mediterranean some 1,300 km/809 mi into the Sahara Desert. It came under Turkish rule in the 16th century; Italy captured it from Turkey in 1912, and the British captured it from Italy in 1942 and controlled it until it was incorporated into the newly independent United Kingdom of Libya, established in 1951. In 1963 Tripolitania was subdivided into administrative divisions.
Most of Libya's agricultural land is in Tripolitania, with principal crops including tomatoes, citrus fruits, wheat, barley, potatoes, olives, figs, apricots, and dates.
Topography Most of the coastline is low and sandy, and there are no suitable harbours. The country is flat near the coast, but there are low mountain ranges in the west, centre, and south.
Coastal area There are fisheries for sponges and tunny fish along the coast, but Tripolitania is mainly agricultural country. Except near Sirte and along the Jebel Nefousa the main productive coastal strip averages only 30 km/19 mi in width. Along the coast palms and olives are produced.
Inland area Barley, wheat, olives, tobacco, mulberries, figs, almonds, dates, and vines are grown inland. There is good pasture land for cattle and sheep. It is in this part of Tripolitania that Italian colonization was densest. Farther inland are sand dunes, which during the Italian occupation were afforested with poplar, pine, acacia, and robinia.
Mountain and desert zones The mountain district produces vines, figs, and olives. The sub-desert zone, still farther inland, produces only alfalfa, a source of cellulose; farther south still is the desert itself, barren save for a few fertile oases.
Imports and exports The chief exports are tobacco, dates, figs, olives, grapes, almonds, salt, barley, esparto grass, ostrich feathers, and sponges, and the chief imports are foodstuffs, cotton, and metal goods. There is an important caravan trade with central Sudan.
Oil and minerals Libya's major oilfields are located in the Sirte Basin, not far inland from the Mediterranean coast. Tripolitania has no minerals, apart from high quality salt.
Ancient history There are remains of ancient Roman houses, baths, theatres, and temples. Tripolitania enjoyed a long period of prosperity in Roman times. It was rich in grain and olive oil, and it supplied one-third of the corn imported by Rome. In later centuries Arabs from the east conquered Tripolitania bringing with them the new faith of Islam.
Ottoman rule During the 16th century Tripolitania came under Turkish rule, and in 1835 was made into a vilayet (administrative division) of the Ottoman Empire.
Italian occupation In October 1911 the whole territory was annexed by Italy. This annexation was recognized by the Treaty of Ouchy in October 1912. From then on, until World War II, Tripolitania was administered under the Italian Colonial Ministry. The Italian policy of energetic development was obstructed at the beginning of World War I, when there was a rebellion in Tripolitania. Order was restored under the governorship of Giuseppe Volpi (1921–25). In 1919 the western frontier was fixed by arrangement with France, and in 1928 effective occupation was greatly extended to the south. Tripolitania was united with Cyrenaica in 1938 to form Italian Libya.
Federal Libya In World War II the Italians were driven out of North Africa, and Tripolitania, like the other former Italian colonies, was occupied by the Allied forces. Italy, by the ensuing peace treaty (Article 23), renounced all right and title to these possessions. In 1951 the British resident commissioner in Tripolitania transferred all his remaining powers to the federal government of the Kingdom of Libya, of which Tripolitania became a part.
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Credit: Remains of a settlement near Zouar, Libya, Sahara Desert, Fezzan / De Agostini Picture Library / M. G. Marchelli / The Bridgeman Art Library