Red Castle in Tripoli: a digital archive as support to historical research

Castello Rosso di Tripoli

The project for the “Refurbishing and enhancement of the Red Castle of  Tripoli – Feasibility Study and personnel training ” funded by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs with the funds set down by the Law 212/92 is part of the general process for consolidating relations between our country and Libya, already underway for several years, but which is being reinforced by the profound processes of change and transformation currently taking place in the country.

The project stems from partnership between the  “Carlo Bo” University of Urbino and the Antiquities Department of Tripoli, with participation by the School of Specialization in Architectural and Landscape Heritage of the Rome “La Sapienza” University and with support from the Florentine NGO Demine, which had already worked in Libya developing some preliminary studies and hypotheses concerning the recovery of this important monument.

The project therefore falls within a context which aims at better planning of work on cultural assets, taking as an example the most representative monument for the city of Tripoli – the Red Castle. In the first stage, this means laying down a conservation methodology where historical research is the main starting point, and the creation of this digital archive is meant to be a systematic proposal for the management of information associated with this monument which can also be implemented on other items analyzed in the future.

Asserraj al-hamra: - The Red Castle of Tripoli - has been the witness of complicated historical events, that have transformed the monument into his present “facies” and that are described in several publications, spread after the intense archival research of the Italian dominion’s first years.

Castello Rosso di Tripoli

From the reference work on some texts that testify the castle’s historical events were summarized the following historical phases:

VII century: it was built as small defensive fortress, probably on a Roman castrum;

X century: it was transformed into a royal residence, with the rooms’ add and enlargement in order to be suitable for the royal court;

XVI century: it took up again the role of war fortress as garrison for the Knights of Malta;

XVIII-XIX century: because of its abandon, it lost its strategic importance and his function as royal residence;

XX century: it was transformed by the restorations of Armando Brasini, - one of the most famous architects of the Roman outline- following the forma mentis of the Italian colonial conquest; the works were both stylistic and re- interpretative of the past symbolic grandeur,   in order  to restore  the symbolic aspect  proper for the new function as Governor’s seat.

Castello Rosso di Tripoli

From the summary of the historical phases, with regard to the sources analysed, has come to evidence that:

  • the works made by the Knights of Malta during the XVIth century, the previous facies and following facies can be proved through the bibliographical sources;
  • the Italian restorations of the first half of the XXth century can be documented through the archival research.

The historical- archival research was carried out with two aims:

  • the study of the bibliographical sources, already spread by many Italian experts during the first castle’s restorations; during the ‘20-‘30ies, in fact, the rich archival documentation, especially the one of the XVIth century, was deeply studied and published, most of all by the Fine Arts Commission directed by Salvatore Aurigemma.
  • the finding of the documentary and cartographical sources concerning the Italian works, both for the urban profile and for the monument in particular, in order to show the importance of Brasini’s restoration, through which the castle achieved a representative role and then its present aspect.


The project was funded by
Ministero degli Affari Esteri
Università degli Studi di Urbino Dipartimento
delle Antichità di Tripoli
Demine Scuola di Specializzazione 
in Beni Architettonici e del Paesaggio 
Università degli Studi di Roma
"La Sapienza"