Friday, April 18, 2008


Tyre: Phoenician Tyre was Queen of the Seas, an island city of unprecedented splendor. It grew wealthy from its far-reaching colonies and its industries of purple-dyed textiles. But it also attracted the attention of jealous conquerors, among them the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar and Alexander the Great.

It was founded at the start of the third millennium BC. Tyre originally consisted of a mainland settlement and a modest island city that lay a short distance offshore. But it was not until the first millennium BC that the city experienced its golden age. In the 10th century BC, King of Tyre, Ahiram, joined two islets by landfill. Later he extended the city further by reclaiming a considerable area from the sea and built two ports and a temple to Melkart, the city's god. 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.

Recent excavations have uncovered Crusader, Arab, Byzantine and Greco-Roman remains, but the city that has come to light is the Roman and Byzantine settlement. The loveliest relic is a reconstructed Triumphal Arch. A Necropolis situated on both sides of a long avenue is most impressive, and the Great Hippodrome for chariot racing is remarkable in that it was built of stone while most others were built of brick. Also in Tyre is the Tomb of King Ahiram (970-936 BC), contemporary of King David (pbuh), who sent cedar wood and craftsmen to build King Solomon's temple (pbuh) in Jerusalem.

Although the earliest origins of Tyre are unknown, the testimonies of ancient historians and some archeological evidence suggest that it goes back to the start of the 3rd millennium B.C.

But the city's wealth attracted enemies. In the sixth century B.C. the Tyrians successfully defied Nebuchadnezzar for 13 years. Alexander the Great laid siege to it for 7 months, finally overwhelming the island city by constructing a great causeway from the shore to the island. In their day the Romans built a magnificent city at Tyre. The remains of its Roman streets, arcades and public buildings, including one of the largest hippodromes of the period, are Tyre's major attractions today. Occupied by the Moslem Arabs in 636, then captured in 1124 by the Crusaders, Tyre was an important fortified town of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. In 1291 the Mamlukes took the city, then during the 400-year Ottoman period beginning in 1516, it remained a quiet fishing town.

In 1984 Tyre's important archeological remains prompted UNESCO to make the town a world heritage site. Located 79 km from Beirut, prosperous Tyre is notable for its many high-rise buildings. Nevertheless, the inner city has retained its industrious maritime character and its interesting old-style houses.

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