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Tyre: Ancient Queen of the Seas

In Phoenician times, Tyre was famous for its export of richly dyed purple textiles, using a dye extracted from the murex sea snail. Because of its rarity, the color was typically worn by royalty. The Tyrean purple dye was so highly valued that the Greeks named the people living in the city state “Phoenicians,” after the Greek word for “purple.” 

With over 5,000 years of history, Tyre is a historian and archaeologist’s delight. Although there are remnants of Egyptian, Assyrian, Phoenician, Greek, Byzantine, Arab, and Ottoman civilizations in the city, it is the Roman ruins that are most prominent in Tyre today. Highlights include the largest Roman hippodrome in the world, an enormous triumphal arch, and an extensive Roman necropolis.

Tyre’s archaeological treasures are spread over three main sites:

Entering the Al-Mina Site (Area 1), visitors walk along a long colonnaded road, leading from the ancient marketplace down to the harbor. Mosaics from the Byzantine period line the pavement. The site includes the ruins of an unusual rectangular Roman pool (probably used for water sports), an extensive Roman bathhouse complex, and mosaic-floored residential buildings. The current site

 was once two Phoenician island cities that were joined together by King Hiram in the 10th century BC. Looking off into the harbor, visitors can see large stones above the surface of the water, which are the remnants of the Phoenician jetties and breakwaters. 

A short distance north of the Al-Mina site is a Crusader Cathedral (Area 2), where visitors can view the 12th century church’s foundations and granite columns. According to legend, the King of Jerusalem was once crowned here, and the remains of the German king Frederick Barbarossa are buried here. The cathedral is surrounded by a network of Roman and Byzantine roads and other buildings.

Perhaps the most impressive ruins are located at the large Al-Bass Site (Area 3), a 20-30 minute walk east of the other two sites. This walk takes you through a residential section of Tyre called Hay el-Ramel, or the “Quarter of Sand,” which is in fact the causeway built by Alexander the Great during his siege of the ancient island city in 332 BC.


At the Al-Bass site, a monumental triple bay stone archway towers over an ancient Roman road that led into the city. Running alongside this road are the remains of the aqueducts that supplied the city with water. A massive necropolis reveals hundreds of ornate stone and marble sarcophagi from the Roman and Byzantine periods (dating from as early as the 2nd century BC through the 6th century AD). Also located at the Al-Bass site is the largest and best-preserved Roman hippodrome in the world. Death-defying chariot races took place here, and the enormous stone stands (which have been partially reconstructed) once seated over 20,000 people. 


While a visit to Tyre’s ruins alone can occupy several hours or a day, there is a wealth of other activities and attractions for visitors to the area. Adventure-lovers can snorkel or dive in search of underwater Phoenician and Roman ruins that lie submerged off the coast of the city or in search of a glimpse of the famed murex sea snail. Culture-lovers will enjoy exploring the bustling Ottoman-era souqs in the old city and visiting the waterside fish restaurants that overlook the colorful harbor. In close proximity to Tyre are several biblical sites, which include the Tomb of King Hiram, the Phoenician King of Tyre who was a contemporary of Kind David and King Solomon, and the village of Qana, where it is blieved that Jesus turned water into wine.



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