Tyre, the Phoenician city, was the queen of the seas. It was built on an island, and became well known to the people who lived around the Mediterranean Sea for its wealth and prosperity. It was famous for its industry of purple-dyed textiles, thus attracting the great conquerors in ancient times. Among them we mention the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar and Alexander the Great.
How to Get There
Beyond Sidon southward, a new highway leads to the Litani River then an old road leads to Tyre. It is 80 kilometers from Beirut.
It was founded at the outset of the 3rd millennium B.C. It originally consisted of the mainland settlement and a few islands that lay offshore. It enjoyed its golden age only during the first millennium B.C.
At the outset of the 10th century B.C., its king Hiram accomplished important achievements by joining the islands and widening the city area by reclaiming a considerable area from the sea.
Its horizons were also broadened when its traders sailed around the Mediterranean Sea and reached the Atlantic Ocean. They built trade centers and colonies like Carthage (around 814 B.C.). It enjoyed prosperity owing to the produce of its colonies (glass-making and purple-dye industry). The traders of Tyre transferred the Phoenician alphabet to Greece. The Greeks mention the name of Cadmus, the son of the king of Tyre, in their writings because he taught them the Alphabet. His sister, Europe, gave her name to the continent of Europe. To that period goes back the Phoenician necropolis in Tyre where burial jars, writings and jewelry were discovered in 1991.
The prosperity of Tyre provoked the greedy people. Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, laid siege to the city for thirteen years during the sixth century B.C. It was fortified by strong walls. In 332 B.C., Alexander the Great besieged the city to weaken Tyre and its harbor which contained important units of the Persian fleet. He was preparing himself to reach Egypt. He worried that naval enemy forces might block the way, thus preventing the supplies to reach his troops. He besieged Tyre for seven months. The result was the destruction of the mainland city. The conqueror used its remaining stones to build a bridge that connected it with the sea city. Historians say that Alexander was so enraged by the resistance he faced in Tyre that he destroyed half of it, killed most of its residents and enslaved those who stayed alive.
After that Tyre fell under the Roman rule for three centuries like all other Phoenician cities. Yet, it minted its own coins and built its edifices and installations including aqueducts, a triumphal arch and the largest hippodrome in antiquity. Christianity came to Tyre at an early time; and the name of Tyre is mentioned in both the Old and New Testaments. During the Byzantine period, the Archbishop of Tyre was the primate of all the bishops of Phoenicia. During that period, Tyre witnessed an active life which can be seen from the inscriptions on the stones of the necropolis.
In 634 A.D. the Arabs occupied Tyre, but it continued to prosper exporting sugar and its extracts as well as objects made of pearls and glass. When the Abbasid Caliphate declined, Tyre retained some independence under the rule of Banu Aquil dynasty, the Fatimid liberals who came from Egypt. During that period, the city was filled with fountains, and its markets were full of various kinds of merchandise such as carpets, and gold and silver jewelry.
Strong fortifications contributed to its resistance. However, it fell to the Crusaders in 1124, and remained under their rule until 1291, when it became under the Mamluk rule, later the Ottomans occupied it (beginning of the 16th century) until the end of World War I and the declaration of Grand Lebanon.
Half a century ago, the General Directorate of Antiquities worked on three sites that go back to the Ancient Times and Middle Ages. Owing to the great number of places where ruins were discovered and because of their importance, the UNESCO declared Tyre as a World Heritage Site.
At the city entrance, near the Bass Camp of the Palestinians, there is a road that dates back to the Roman period, and later to the Byzantine period near the barricade built by Alexander the Great. This road leads to the city. It was surrounded by doors. At the large entrance, there was an arch of triumph comprising three arches. On the border of the road there was an aqueduct to draw water to the city. South of the necropolis, there is the Hippodrome; some of its parts were renovated.
The Byzantine Road is around 300 meters long, is paved with limestone slabs and delimited on both sides by a necropolis which contains many sarcophagi (around 300) ornamented with different figures and shapes. Most of them date back to the period between the 2nd and 5th centuries A.D.
The Funerary Chapel and Garden: There is a semi-circular hall paved with marble, tombs and a garden with an irrigation system.
The Tower Tomb dates back to the second century A.D. The sarcophagus inside it goes back to a later period.
The columbarium dates back to the 2nd century A.D.. It comprises 12 burial cells built in three levels. Every level contains four apertures covered with colored limestone. The floor is paved with mosaics. The Funerary Chapel dates back to 6th century A.D.. It has a small hall and a small fountain. Its entrance and apse floor are paved with colored marble.
The Arch of Triumph was built of limestone during the 2nd century A.D. It collapsed during the 5th or 6th century A.D. due to an earthquake; and it was plastered by colored lime.
Next to the Arch of Triumph, there is the Roman Road, which is paved with large slabs of limestone that bear marks of chariot wheels. It is bordered on both sides by a colonnade that separates the Byzantine road from the necropolis.
The Pedestrian Road is on the southern side of the Roman Road, and its solid stony ground is still in good shape. It used to be surrounded by lines of inscriptions near the roman aqueduct. The aqueduct used to border the Pedestrian Road. The water from Ras el Ain Spring, which is 6 kilometers from Tyre, flew into it.
Before the Funerary Spring, there is a small yard paved with mosaics. It is part of a necropolis which contained louvers and cisterns. The deceased one was put inside an aperture behind the spring.
On the southern side of the spring there are the Blue Team Balls. On the entrance "Victory for the Blue" is written.
The Hippodrome (480 – 160): It is one of the largest hippodromes of the Roman period. It is the second in size after the Circa Maxims in Rome and it is one of the hippodromes which are still in good shape.
It has the capacity to accommodate 400,000 spectators. It was designed in a way that the racing charioteers had to go around it seven times. In the middle of the hippodrome, there are the walls of the Crusader Hippodrome Church, which is covered with signatures and pictures of boats and shields that were drawn by the pilgrims.
It opens daily from 7:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. (6:00p.m. in winter)
It is located in the old section of the island, and it comprises residential areas, roads that have doors, as well as athletic and sports centers. Most of the structures in this area date back to the Roman and Byzantine periods. All along the way, there are pavements that witness the antiquity of the southern port of the Phoenician city (it is also called the Egyptian port).
The Grande Allee or the Mosaic Road: It is 160 meters long and 11, 8 m wide. It is bordered by a colonnade that is 5 meters long. The columns are of grey marble decorated with green and white colors. It is paved with mosaics that date back to the Roman period, and marble slabs that date back to the Byzantine period.
The Arena: It was founded in the 1st century A.D. It is the only rectangular arena in the world (45 meters ´ 35 meters) surrounded by five rows of seats. It used to accommodate 2,000 spectators. Today, the relationship between the arena and the two hundred rectangular vaulted reservoirs is still ambiguous.
The Residential Area: Here are houses paved with mosaics and sometimes with marble. The roads are narrow.
The Baths: The baths were built over parallel arches that isolate them from humidity. Under the arches there were rings of brick laid one above the other permitting the hot air to warm the marble floor. The floor has collapsed, but its infrastructure is still in good shape.
The Palestra: It was built in the second century A.D. It has a square area (30m ´ 30m). It used to be surrounded by granite columns. It fell down during the Byzantine period and was turned into a purple dye factory.
The Glass factory: It dates back to 6th and 7th century A.D.
The Small Alleys: There are two small Roman roads paved by limestone slabs. The first road extends to the north under the new city. The second one extends to the west under the Crusader Cathedral.
It opens daily from 8:00a.m. to 7:30p.m. (6:00p.m. in winter)
It is near Area II and it comprises the remains of a cathedral built during the Crusaders period at a crossroad that goes back to the Romano-Byzantine period. Some of its remains include red-granite columns. Area III fell to the Ayyubids; and it is in this area that the kings of Jerusalem were crowned. Emperor Frederick Barbarossa was buried in this area.
The Souk in Tyre is a lively area. It was a khan during the Ottoman period, and an old house which belonged to an Ottoman noble family.
In this area, there is a Shiite mosque which is double-domed. Near the market, there is a humble port called "the Sidonian Port" because it is to the north facing Sidon. A little bit further, there is the Christian Quarter. It is a beautiful area with narrow streets and traditional houses. It contains two towers. The first one is in a small garden, and the second near the lighthouse. They stand as witnesses to the importance that Tyre had during the Crusade period.