Phoenician Tyre was queen of the seas,
an island city of unprecedented splendor
She grew wealthy from her far-reaching colonies and her industries of purple-dyed textiles. But she also attracted the attention of jealous conquerors among them the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar and Alexander the Great.
Five Millennia of History
Founded at the start of the third millennium B.C., Tyre originally consisted of a mainland settlement and a modest island city that lay a short distance off shore. But it was not until the first millennium B.C. that the city experienced its golden age.
In the 10th century B.C. Hiram, King of Tyre, joined two islets by landfill. Later he extended the city further by reclaiming a considerable area from the sea. Phoenician expansion began about 815 B.C. 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. But prosperity and power make their own enemies. Early in the sixth century B.C. Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, laid siege to the walled city for thirteen years. Tyre stood firm, but it was probable that at this time the residents of the mainland city abandoned it for the safety of the island.
In 332 B.C. Alexander the Great set out to conquer this strategic coastal base in the war between the Greeks and the Persians.Unable to storm the city, he blockaded Tyre for seven months. Again Tyre held on. But the conqueror used the debris of the abandoned mainland city to build a causeway and once within reach of the city walls, Alexander used his siege engines to batter and finally breach the fortifications. It is said that Alexander was so enraged at the Tyrians' defense and the loss of his men that he destroyed half the city. The town's 30,000 residents were massacred or sold into slavery. Tyre and the whole of ancient Syria fell under Roman rule in 64 B.C.. Nonetheless, for some time Tyre continued to mint its own silver coins. The Romans built great important monuments in the city, including an aqueduct, a triumphal arch and the largest hippodrome in antiquity.
Christianity figures in the history of Tyre, whose name is mentioned in the new testament. During the Byzantine era, the Archbishop of Tyre was the primate of all the bishops of Phoenicia. At this time the town witnessed a second golden age as can be seen from the remains of its buildings and the inscriptions in the necropolis. Taken by the Islamic armies in 634, the city offered no resistance and continued to prosper under its new rulers, exporting sugar as well as objects made of pearl and glass.
With the decline of the Abbasid caliphate, Tyre acquired some independence under the dynasty of Banu 'Aqil, vassals of the Egyptian Fatimides. This was a time when Tyre was adorned with fountains and its bazaars were full of all kinds of merchandise, including carpets and jewerly of gold and silver.
Thanks to Tyre's strong fortifications it was able to resist to onslaught of the Crusaders until 1124. After about 180 years of Crusader rule, the Mamlukes retook the city in 1291, then it passed on to the Ottomans at the start of the 16th century.
With the end of the World War I Tyre was integrated into the new nation of Lebanon.
For a period of nearly 50 years the General Directorate of Antiquities excavated in and around Tyre, concentrating on the three major Roman archaeological sites in the town, which can be seen today.
The most important recent archaeological find in a Phoenician cemetery from the first millennium B.C. Discovered in 1991 during clandestine excavations, this is the first cemetery of its kind found in Lebanon. Funerary jars, inscribed steles and jewelry were among the objects retrieved from the site. The importance of this historical city and its monuments was highlighted in 1979 when UNESCO declared Tyre a world Heritage Site. In the meantime, government efforts have stopped much of the wartime pillaging that Tyre's archaeological treasures have suffered because of economic stress in the area and international demand for antiquities. Grassroots campaigns have also drawn attention to the importance of the city's antiquities.
Visiting Tyre's ancient sites
Area One, located on what was the Phoenician island, is a vast district of civic buildings, colonnades, public baths, mosaic streets and a rectangular arena.
Walk to the beach at the far end of the site. The columns to the left belong to a 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 you will see "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, is a five minute walk to the west. Its major point of interest is a Crusader cathedral. Only the lowest foundations and a few re-erected granite columns remain intact but these are nevertheless impressive. The area below has revealed a network of Romano-Byzantine roads and other installations. Visitors are not allowed inside the site, but the ruins can be viewed from the road.
Area Three, is a thirty minute walk from Areas One and Two and consists of an extensive necropolis, a three-bay monumental arch and one of the largest Roman hippodrome ever found.
All date from the 2nd century A.D. to the 6th. century A.D. 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 are the remains of the aqueduct that assured the city its water supply. Marble sarcophagus 2nd century A.D. South of the necropolis is the partially reconstructed Roman hippodrome excavated in 1967.
The 480-meter structure seated twenty thousand 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 seven times. Rounding the metae at top speed was the most dangerous part of the race and often produced spectacular spills.
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 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.
Tyre has a colorful souk (covered market) well worth exploring. Look for the Ottoman khan, or inn, just inside the market entrance. On a side street is the "Mamluke House", an Ottoman period residence that is being restored as a cultural heritage and information center by the General Directorate of Antiquities. Also in the souk area is a white, double-domed Shia mosque of great interest. Near the market you will see a busy fisherman's port, in Phoenician times referred to as the "Sidonian" port because it faced north towards Sidon. Walk along the port with the sea on your right and you enter the city's Christian Quarter, a picturesque area of narrow streets, traditional architecture, and the Seat of the Maronite bishop of Tyre and the Holy land. One medieval tower still stands in a small garden. A second one is visible under the little lighthouse. During Crusader times towers similar to these ringed the city.
More information here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tyre,_Lebanon
More information here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tyre,_Lebanon