Tyre


Overview

Published: 04/02/2013

by Choufi

Photos

About 83 km south of Beirut, Tyre is Lebanon's fourth largest city and declared by UNESCO in 1979 as a World Heritage Site. Also known as the "Queen of Seas, Tyre was founded at the start of the third millennium BC, originally consisting of a mainland settlement and a modest island off shore.


It was not until the first millennium BC that the city experienced its golden age, when Hiram, King of Tyre, extended the city by joining two islets by landfill.


Phoenician expansion began about 815 BC when traders from Tyre founded Carthage in North Africa. Eventually its colonies spread around the Mediterranean and Atlantic, bringing to the city a flourishing maritime trade.


The walled city was besieged for 13 years in the 6th century B.C. by Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon. The city stood firm, but the residents of the mainland had to abandon it. In 332 B.C. the city was conquered by Alexander the Great to serve him as a strategic point in the war between the Greeks and the Persians, and was half destroyed. Around 30,000 of the town's residents were massacred or sold to slavery.


Romans had their hand on the city in 64 B.C. and built many great monuments, including an aqueduct, a triumphal arch, and the largest hippodrome in antiquity, which remained till now. Tyre also succumbed to Muslim Conquest, and flourished under their rule exporting sugar, pearl, and glass. Excavations on the site have uncovered remains of the Crusader, Arab, Byzantine and Graeco-Roman cities. Herodotus of Halicarnassus, Father of History" visited Tyre during the 5th century B.C. and described the famous Temple of Melkart (Heracles).


Between the 12th and 4th centuries BC, Tyre flourished because of its maritime trade and became renowned for its Tyrian purple dye, its glass industry and its Phoenician overseas settlements in the Mediterranean. Being extremely costly Tyrean purple was worn as mark of imperial or royal rank.


The Greeks believed that various aspects of their civilization had their origin in Tyre. The introduction of the alphabet into Greece was attributed to Cadmus of Tyre, and it was Europa, the sister of Cadmus, who gave her name to the continent. Elissa princess and daughter of king Mattan of Tyre city, extended Tyre's empire through the Mediterranean and founded Carthage in 814 B.C.


Tyre is divided into Three Areas. Area One is a vast district of civic buildings, colonnades, public baths, mosaic streets and a rectangular arena. The columns to the left belong to Palaestra, an area where athletes trained. Other excavated remains on this site date to the Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine periods. A short distance from the shore there are 'islands' which are, in fact, the great stone breakwaters and jetties of the ancient Phoenician port called the 'Egyptian port' because it faced South towards Egypt.


Area Two has a Crusader Castle, and a few re-erected granite columns that are impressive. The area has also revealed a network of Roman-Byzantine roads and other installations. Visitors are not allowed inside the site, but the ruins can be viewed from the road.


Area Three consists of an extensive necropolis, a three-bay monumental arch and one of the largest Roman hippodromes ever found, dating from the 2nd Century AD to the 6th Century AD.


From the entrance of the site all the way to the sea there is a mosaic street flanked with cipolin marble columns, surrounded with remains of baths and a residential area. Archaeologists have recently discovered what may possibly be the remains of the oldest basilica built in the 4th century by Paulinos, the Bishop of Tyre, in Tyre's residential El Bass neighborhood.

The most important recent archaeological find in Tyre is a Phoenician cemetery from the first millennium BC discovered in 1991 during clandestine excavations. It is the first cemetery of its kind found in Lebanon. Funeral jars, inscribed steles and jewellery were among the objects retrieved from the site. The importance of this historical city and its monuments were highlighted in 1979 when UNESCO declared Tyre a World Heritage Site.

Necropolis The necropolis, excavated in 1962, yielded hundreds of ornate stone and marble sarcophagi of the Roman and Byzantine periods. Foundations of a Byzantine Church can also be seen. The archway stands astride a Roman road that led into the ancient city. Alongside the road there are remains of the aqueduct that assured the city its water supply.

Hippodrome South of the necropolis is the partially reconstructed Roman hippodrome excavated in 1967. The 480 meter structure seated 20,000 spectators who gathered to watch the death defying sport of chariot racing. Each end of the course was marked by still existing stone turning posts (metae). Charioteers had to make this circuit 7 times. Rounding the metae at top speed was the most dangerous part of the race an often produced spectacular spills.

Quarter of Sand The walk to Area Three takes you through a residential part of Tyre called Hay Er-Raml or the Quarter of Sand. You are in fact walking on what once was Alexander the Great's causeway. Accumulating sands and extensive landfill have expanded this old land link to the extent that modern visitors have the impression that Tyre is built on a peninsula.