The road leads to the city on the island and passes under a triumphal arch. In the picture is the pedestrian road walk and by the side is the larger road which was used by the horse carriages.
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.
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 is 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 Tyrian's 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 a great many 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 are 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 the 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 jewelry of gold and silver.
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. At the far end of the site, near The beach, there are columns to the left belonging 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 it 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 hippodromes 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 (See reference to Ras El-Ain below). 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'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.
Picture by: Hussein Kefel
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