You may wish to see an introductory page to this section first.
(above) Egyptian/Southern Harbour; (below) the coast to the south of the town and at its end the rocks of Ras el-Nakoora; (inset) 1912 map of Sur/Tyre: a) Roman Southern Harbour Neighbourhood; b) Al-Bass Necropolis and Hippodrome which are covered in another page
This City, standing in the Sea upon a Peninsula, promises at a distance something very magnificent. But when
you come to it you find no similitude of that glory, for
which it was so renown'd in Ancient times, and which
the Prophet Ezehchiel describes Cap. 26, 27. 28. On the North side it has an old Turkish ungarrison'd Castle; besides which you see nothing here, but a mere Babel, of
broken Walls, Pillars, Vaults, &c. there being not so much,
as one entire House left. It's present Inhabitants are only
a few poor wretches, harbouring themselves in the Vaults,
and subsisting chiefly upon fishing, who seem to be preserved, in this place, by divine providence, as a visible
argument, how God has fulfilled his word concerning Tyre,
viz. "That It should be as the top of a Rock, a place for fishers
to dry their nets on" Ezek. 16. 14.
In the midst of the ruins, there stands up, one pile, higher than the rest, which is the east end of a great church, probably of the cathedral of Tyre; (..) there being an old staircase, I got up to the top of it: from whence I had an entire prospect, of the Island part of Tyre, of the Isthmus, and of the adjacent shore. (..) The Island of Tyre in it's natural state seems to have been of a circular figure, containing not more than forty Acres of Ground. (..) It makes with the Isthmus two large Bays, one on it's North side, the other on it's South.
Henry Maundrell - A Journey from Aleppo to Jerusalem at Easter - 1697
(left) Portico of a large octagonal building at the northern end of the archaeological area, perhaps a "macellum" (marketplace, see that at Leptis Magna) or a "martyrium", an early Christian funerary chapel; (right) another view of columns of the portico showing behind them and outside the archaeological area some other columns which were incorporated into the lost Crusader cathedral
New Tyre is now called Sur, which is the antient name of Tyre, and
this having been the chief city of the whole country, possibly Syria might
receive its name from Sur. The Tyrians retired to this place, which
was then an island, and made so great a stand against Alexander the Great,
that tho' it is said to have been half a mile from the land, yet he joined it
to the continent, and made it a peninsula. If it was so far from the land,
which, I think, is much to be doubted, it must have been a very small
island, and a work of very great expence to join it to the continent. (..) It is no wonder, that there are no signs of the antient city, since Alexander carried
all the remains of it away, in order to join new Tyre to the continent.
Richard Pococke - A Description of the East and Some Other Countries - 1745
At the south-east and south-west corners of the town, are some remains of ancient arches; and the walls are in many places mended with columns of large circumference, of red and grey granite, thrust in. Of these columns many fragments are lying about the city and the beach; and in the city and its environs are many ruins of ancient, apparently Roman, buildings.
William Turner - Journal of a Tour in the Levant - 1820
All ancient accounts about Tyre say that it stood on an islet, similar to Aradus in the northern part of Phoenicia, and that Alexander the Great, after a useless siege of seven months, built a causeway to conquer and entirely destroy it. Over the years longshore drifts carried sediments which enlarged the causeway and eventually created an isthmus. Archaeologists who excavated the area immediately south-east of the islet, knew that they would not find major evidence of the Phoenician town there and, unlikely what occurred at Byblos, they focussed on bringing to light and partly reconstructing the Roman monuments they found.
We came to the fountains which supplied the aqueducts of Tyre. (..) These fountains are about a league and a
half south east of Tyre, and are called, The Fountains of Solomon; they are said, tho' I know not on what foundation, to have been made by him,
at the time when he cultivated an alliance with Hiram, king of Tyre, to facilitate the building of the temple of Jerusalem. (..) At the east end also there are ruins of two great square
towers, very strongly built, which seem to have served for reservoirs of water from the aqueduct, in order to distribute it all over
the city. Pococke
The aqueduct was built during the Roman rule, most likely in the Ist century AD, and some of its arches can be seen near the Hippodrome. The cisterns were supplied by the aqueduct, but before its construction they might have been used to store rainwater. They were utilized until the medieval town was destroyed by the Mamelukes in 1291, shortly after they had conquered Acre.
The excavations of the Roman neighbourhood and of the Al-Bass Necropolis were carried out in 1946-1975 by Emir Maurice Chehab, Head of the Antiquities Services and Director of the National Museum of Beirut. He had the title of emir because he belonged to a noble Lebanese family. Some medieval and Ottoman buildings were pulled down to unearth the Roman town. Chehab gave priority to the reconstruction of the parts which had a monumental aspect and testified to the wealth of Tyre in the IInd and IIIrd century AD. Chehab's achievements were recognized in 1984 by the inclusion of the two sites he excavated in the UNESCO World Heritage List: The site of the town comprises important archaeological vestiges, a great part of which is submerged. The most noteworthy structures are the vestiges of the Roman baths, the two palaestrae, the arena, the Roman colonnaded road, the residential quarter.
The overall aspect of this archaeological area brings to mind that of Sabratha in Libya, which also is situated near the sea.
Mosaic Road: marble (left) and mosaic (right) pavements
A colonnaded street led from the presumable centre of Roman Tyre to the southern harbour. We can imagine that its purpose was to impress those who first visited the town. It is dated IInd century AD and it might have been restored and embellished after 194 when Emperor Septimius Severus made Tyre the capital of Syria Phoenice, a newly established province, in recognition of the support he received from the town in his fight for power. The fact that also its central passageway was paved with marbles and mosaics indicates that another road for carriages and pack animals linked the harbour to the town.
The use of cipollino which the Romans called marmor carystium became particularly popular in the Roman Empire in the IInd century AD (see Hadrian's Library at Athens and Tempio di Antonino e Faustina in Rome). Because it was quarried very near the sea at Carystus on the island of Euboea it could be easily shipped to all the coastal towns of the Empire, e.g. at Caesarea and Salamis, but cipollino columns have been found also at Bulla in Tunisia and at other inland locations.
Baths built upon an artificial terrace
Large baths were built near the harbour. The Roman architects who designed them had to deal with the sandy nature of the ground and to ensure their stability, they built them upon an artificial terrace. The latter has withstood the ravages of time, while the layout of the baths can only be guessed by the remaining evidence of the heating system of their halls.
A similar fate occurred to the very large Antonine Baths of Carthage.
Reconstructed portico of granite columns of the palaestra adjoining the baths
It was typical of Roman baths to have a palaestra, a large open space where patrons could exercise or just have a walk as at Thuburbo Maius in Tunisia.
Many of the early European travellers who visited Tyre went there to seek confirmation of Ezekiel's curses on the town. Today we know that these curses did not have an immediate effect, because the Roman monuments show that Tyre was a flourishing trading centre well into the IVth century.
We spent this day, the Christian Sabbath, at Tyre. (..) After breakfast, I wandered out alone towards the south end of the peninsula, beyond the city, where all is now forsaken and lonely like the desert; and there bathed in the limpid waters of the sea, as they rolled into a small and beautiful sandy cove among the rocks. I continued my walk along the whole western and northern shore of the peninsula, musing upon the pomp and glory, the pride and fall, of ancient Tyre. Here was the little isle, once covered by her palaces and surrounded by her fleets; where the builders perfected her beauty in the midst of the seas; where her merchants were princes, and her traffickers the honourable of the earth; but alas! "Thy riches, and thy fairs, thy merchandise, thy mariners, and thy pilots, thy calkers, and the occupiers of thy merchandise, and all thy men of war, that were in thee and in all thy company," - where are they? Tyre has indeed become like the top of a rock, a place to spread nets upon!" The sole remaining tokens of her more ancient splendour, lie strewed beneath the waves in the midst of the sea; and the hovels which now nestle upon a portion of her site, present no contradiction of the dread decree: "Thou shalt be built no more!"
Edward Robinson / Eli Smith - Biblical Researches in Palestine and the Adjacent Regions - A Journal of Travels in the Years 1838 and 1852
Largely reconstructed "Square Building"
The dating of this unusual building is debated, altough in general its construction or redesign is set during the IVth century. Its almost square shape brings to mind the bouleuterion of Priene, where the elder of the town held their meetings. It could have been used for gatherings of representatives of the towns of Syria Phoenice or of other political bodies. Other opinions suggest it was a small amphiteatre for boxing fights or maybe cockfights (see a mosaic from Pompeii) which were particularly popular in Hellenized countries.
Floor mosaics in buildings near the shore; that above has a decoration based on small pink flowers which can be noticed in other mosaics of the region
These Bays are in part, defended from the Ocean, each by a long ridge, resembling
a Mole: stretching directly out, on both sides, from the
head of the Island; but these ridges whether they were
Walls or Rocks, whether the work of Art or Nature, I
was too far distant to discern. Maundrell.
The facilities of the harbour itself lie under the water.
William Turner wrote in one of the opening remarks of his book: I have made a rule to write nothing at present of the scriptural history of the places I shall see. So in his description of Tyre he concentrated on other aspects: I shall stay here to-morrow, rather as a compliment to ancient, than from curiosity towards modern. Tyre, as it now contains nothing worth stopping to observe. (..) The Tyrian dye is forgotten almost in name, and Virgil would blush if he were to see the city of which he has represented Dido's father as king.
|You see the kingdom of Carthage. (..) Dido rules this empire, having set out from Tyre,
fleeing her brother. It's a long tale of wrong, with many
windings. (..) Sychaeus was her husband, wealthiest, in land, of Phoenicians
and loved with a great love by the wretched girl,
whose father gave her as a virgin to him, and wed them
with great solemnity. (..) The ghost of her unburied husband came to her in dream:
lifting his pale head in a strange manner, he laid bare the cruelty
at the altars, and his heart pierced by the knife,
and unveiled all the secret wickedness of that house.
Then he urged her to leave quickly and abandon her country,
and, to help her journey, revealed an ancient treasure
under the earth, an unknown weight of gold and silver.
Shaken by all this, Dido prepared her flight and her friends.
Those who had fierce hatred of the tyrant or bitter fear,
gathered together: they seized some ships that by chance
were ready, and loaded the gold: greedy Pygmalion's riches
are carried overseas: a woman leads the enterprise.|
Virgil - Aeneid - Book I - Prose translation by A. S. Kline
(left) Milestone with inscription celebrating Emperor Philip the Arab; (right-above) inscription celebrating a successful boxer; (right-below) detail of a cornice
Tyre was the great Phoenician city that reigned over the seas and founded prosperous colonies such as Cadiz and Carthage and according to legend, was the place of the discovery of purple pigment. Tyre is associated with the important stages of humanity. Astute navigators and merchants, the Phoenicians were reputed to have given birth to the great figures of mythology including Cadmos, credited for the introduction of the alphabet to Greece and his sister, Europa, who gave her name to the European continent. UNESCO
According to Pliny, Tyrian settlers founded also Utica and Leptis Magna. Tyre is usually thought to have been the birthplace of Europa, the beautiful girl whom Zeus, disguised as a bull, carried across the sea to the shores of Crete. This event was depicted in many mosaics throughout the Roman Empire, e.g. in Algeria, in northern Italy and even at Lullingstone, south of London (it opens in another window). Cadmos is best known as an early Saint George because he killed a dragon (and sowed its teeth, from which there sprang a race of fierce armed men).
National Museum of Beirut: statues from Roman Tyre: (left) Emperor Hadrian; (centre) Emperor Septimius Severus; (right) Dionysus; the god is depicted with bull horns which is rather unusual
Metropolis of Phoenicia in past times, sung about for its great beauty, Tyre rapidly became the most important centre for maritime and land commerce in the eastern Mediterranean. The Phoenician remains reflect the power, influence and wealth of the merchants of Tyre who navigated the Mediterranean waters and filled their warehouses with goods from their extensive colonies all around the Mediterranean coasts. UNESCO
In the introductory page you can see some exhibits from Phoenician Tyre at the National Museum of Beirut, namely a stela depicting Pharaoh Ramses II and a stela to Baalshamar.
National Museum of Beirut: exhibits from Roman Tyre: (left) fresco depicting a farmer carrying a basket; (right) terracotta mask of a satyr