Tripoli Grand Prix

Quick Sands

Fast cars, full-on carnage, and fascist colonialism: revisiting the Tripoli Grand Prix

At the turn of the 20th century, the Ottoman rulers of Libya had long since lost control of their vast empire. Almost 400 years earlier in 1551, 6,000 Turks disembarked from ships at Tripoli along with 40 cannons, and captured the city with relative ease. With a coastline stretching thousands of kilometres and a desert leading into the unknown, this barely-touched vastness was a gateway not only to the Sahara, but to the whole of the African continent as well. In 1909, the American explorer Charles Wellington Furlong visited Tripoli, ‘a white-burnoosed city’ and ‘the most native of the Barbary capitals’, which he described as ‘[lying] in an oasis on the edge of the desert, dipping her feet in the swash and ripple of the sea’1. Many Orientalist accounts from this particular period praised the multiculturalism of Tripoli, a place where Phoenician monks, rabbis, imams, nuns, and priests could all be seen roaming the city’s streets2. Libya was by no means a Mediterranean utopia, but many still perceived it as a harmonious part of the world. It was no wonder, then, that the Italian colonialists later set their eyes on the coast.

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