Banner Courtesy of the Lebanon Ministry of TourismDuring the Al Adha holiday we took a day to visit the two major cities of Lebanon south of Beirut, Sidon and Tyre. The banner at the left shows a panoramic picture of one of Tyre's most famous ruins, a huge Roman necropolis (crypt), with an arc de triomphe at its entrance.

A Little Background.....
Although the earliest origins of Tyre are unknown, the testimonies of ancient historians and some archaeological evidence suggest it goes back to the start of the 3rd millennium BC. Originally a mainland settlement with an island city a short distance offshore, it came of age in the 10th century BC when King Hiram expanded the mainland and built two ports and a temple to honor Melkart, the city's god. Its flourishing maritime trade, Mediterranean colonies, its purple dye and glass industries made Tyre very powerful and wealthy. But the city's wealth attracted enemies. In the 6th century BC the Tyrians successfully defied Nebuchadnezzar for 13 years. Alexander The Great laid siege to it for 7 years, 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. Occupied by the Muslim 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; during the 400 year Ottoman period (beginning 1516) it remained a quiet town. Now a sleepy port town, it was incorporated into the nation of Lebanon at the end of World War I. It is a charming place in which to while away vacation time.

The City of Tyre
The Sidonian Harbor at TyreWhat remains of Tyre, in addition to the archeological treasures described below, is a fishing town of approximately 250,000, with an old city filled with the characteristic Middle East bazaars or souks (located on the landfill connecting the original island to the mainland) and a new city, located inland. Tyre has a colorful souk (market) well worth exploring. Unfortunately, it was closed on our visit, due to the religious holiday. Near the market you'll see a busy fisherman's port, in Phoenician times referred to as the "Sidonian port" because it faced north towards Sidon. Along the port with the sea on your right is 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.

The Archeology of Tyre
The Collonade in Area 1Tyre is home to many archaeological sites, and  in 1979 UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site. There are three areas to cover when visiting the sites. Area One, located on what was the Phoenician island, is a vast district of civic buildings, colonnades, The Roman Baths, Area 1public baths, mosaic streets and a rectangular arena. These columns (shown to the left) form a public walkway out to the sea, making it a favorite spot from which to view Tyre. On our walk out there we ran into two teachers from ACS and their friends from Northfield Mount Hermon, who turned out to be friends of colleagues from Durham Academy--small world indeed! To the south this promontory overlooks the port which once dispatched ships to Alexandria and Greece. Next to the walkway are the public baths which formed the other part of the social interaction during Roman times (the picture on the right)


The Ruins of the Crusader Church-Click to Enlarge!Area Two is two blocks 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 also revealed a network of Romano-Byzantine roads. Visitors are not allowed inside the site, but the ruins may be viewed from the road. Although close by, our hired driver insisted on driving us to the site. Somewhat directionally challenged (not necessarily a liability for taxi drivers in Lebanon) he drove us just shy of the border before realizing his error (edged in this direction by my thinly veiled threats) and forty!five minutes later we were back at area one. We then walked to the site..Ah, the joys of touring!

This Way to the NecropolisArea Three is a thirty minute walk away and consists of an extensive A Veiw of the Necropoliisnecropolis, a three-bay monumental arch and one of the largest Roman hippodromes ever found. The entryway to the complex is from the northwest through a large arc de triomphe, which nearly dwarfs the surrounding columns (seen on the left).  The Necropolis itself dates from Roman times and, as the picture to the right reveals, has suffered from exposure, shifting ground, and, unfortunately, the ravages of stray artillery shells which are reminders that the south of Lebanon still falls under the shadow of war. The picture below shows the detailed work found on many of the sarcophagi Detail of the Sarcophagi

The Hippodrome: the Roman Version of NASCAR!Perhaps the most impressive feature (at least in terms of scale) is the hippodrome. Just like the one in the movie Ben Hur, it was a long and narrow track with dangerously tight turns. Using horse-drawn chariots, few racers survived more than a few laps around the congested turns. The sport was popular with the locals as well as the ruling Romans.


From Tyre, we journeyed north to Lebanon's third most populous city, the port town of Sidon. . .

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