The southern city of Tyre, Lebanon, during the 2006 war with Israel:
The use of the word “Sour” in the title is not a commentary on the taste of Tyre, but rather is an alternative name for Tyre…
Tyre’s origins are thought to date to around the 3rd millennium BC, when the original founders are believed to have arrived from Sidon to establish a new port city.
Alexander the Great arrived in 332 BC as he marched along the Phoenecian coast exacting tribute from all its city-states. Tyre, at that time still an island and respecting a time-honored tradition, resisted and prepared for a long siege. The city was considered impregnable, but Alexander began building a sea bridge to reach the city. Meanwhile, on the mainland, Alexander’s engineers were constructing 20-story siege towers, the tallest ever used in the history of war. After several months these great war machines lumbered across the land bridge and the battle for Tyre began in earnest.
Running low on supplies and morale, Tyre finally fell after seven months and Alexander, annoyed by the stubborn resistance of the Tyrians, allowed his troops to sack the city. The city’s 30,000 residents were massacred or sold into slavery.
Alexander’s legacy lives on in Tyre, as the land bridge he created became the permanent link between the old city and the mainland, and Tyre became a peninsula.
In 64 BC, Tyre became a Roman province.
The Arabs took the city in AD 635 and the Umayyad caliph, Mu’awiyah, transformed the city into a naval base and it was from there that that the first Arab fleet set sail to conquer Cyprus.
In 1124, after a siege of five and a half months, Crusaders occupied the city. Tyre remained in Christian hands for 167 years, until the Mamluks retook the city in 1291.
Once the State of Israel was established in 1948, Tyre’s position close to the sealed border marginalized the city, which had already started to be sidelined by Beirut and Sidon.
And along with the rest of the South, Tyre suffered greatly during the drawn-out Lebanese civil war.
The battering the city took during the 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel didn’t help matters either. During the 2006 Israel-Lebanon conflict, several rocket-launching sites used by Hezbollah to attack Israel were located in rural areas around the city. At least one village near the city was bombed by Israel, as well as several sites within the city, causing civilian deaths. Israeli naval commandos also raided Hezbollah targets within the city.
And indeed, predominantly Shiite like much of the South, one will notice many many pro-Hezbollah posters on the drive into the city.
UNIFIL has about 12,000 troops and naval personnel in Lebanon after its expansion under UN Security Council resolution 1701 that halted the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war in southern Lebanon:
UN forces often find themselves the target of attacks around Tyre… Just last month, a roadside bomb struck a group of French troops. And in November two bombs ripped through downtown Tyre. The first bomb destroyed a pub at the Queen Elissa Hotel, popular with UN staffers, and the second went off five minutes later at a wholesale liquor store near Tyre’s port, also causing damage but no casualties.
The deadliest attack was in June 2007, when a bomb hit an armored personnel carrier near the Israeli border and killed six Spanish peacekeepers.
The old part of Tyre lies on the peninsula jutting out into the sea, covering a relatively small area. The modern town is on the left side as one arrives from Beirut. The coastal route goes all the way to Tyre’s picturesque old port, around which are a few cafes and restaurants. Behind the port is the Christian quarter, with its tiny alleys and old houses around shaded courtyards.
The port in Tyre:
A fisherman working on his nets:
One of the entrances to the Christian quarter:
The modern waterfront looks as if it could be in Beirut or Miami:
Once one starts walking away from the waterfront in Tyre, the modern city starts to look a little more interesting though:
And then one suddenly stumbles across the Roman ruins behind these high-rise apartments and they are extremely interesting:
Below is the Al-Bass Archaeological Site…
That’s the Al Bass Palestinian refugee camp on the far left. And just to the left of the Roman road is a vast funerary complex containing dozens of highly decorated marble and stone sarcophagi. To the right is a massive Roman hippodrome:
This huge, triple-bay monumental archway stands at the end of the Roman road. Originally the gateway to the Roman town, it dates to the 2nd century AD:
Next to the arch is the entrance to the largest and best-preserved Roman hippodrome in the world. Used for dangerous (and extremely popular) chariot races, the hippodrome is 480 meters long and once seated 20,000 people.
A view of the Roman hippodrome taken from the stands at one end:
The tight, high-speed turns at the end of the long, narrow course, were the most desirable spots to sit in as the sharp turns often produced dramatic collisions and falls:
A view of the seats:
A passageway running under the spectator seating – much like modern stadiums… Very little remains now, but the spectator seating used to wrap all of the way around the hippodrome:
As an interesting “oh by the way” connected to the Romans, the most famous woman of ancient Tyrian legend was Princess Elissa, also known as Dido. Embroiled in a plot to take power, when it became clear that she’d failed, Dido seized a fleet of ships and sailed for North Africa. She founded a new port on the ruins of Kambeh, which became known in time as Carthage, near modern-day Tunis. This became the seat of the Carthaginian empire. And we all know what headaches Carthage caused for the Romans…
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