Tyre (Lebanon)

By the Editors of the Madain Project

Ancient Tyre, a historic city situated on the Mediterranean coast in present-day Lebanon, boasts a rich and multifaceted history that stretches back over thousands of years. Founded by the Phoenicians, Tyre emerged as a significant maritime and trading power in the ancient world, renowned for its purple dye production and seafaring prowess. The city's strategic location and economic influence attracted the attention of various conquerors, including Alexander the Great, who famously besieged Tyre in 332 BCE, ultimately incorporating it into his vast empire.


The archaeological exploration of ancient Tyre has unveiled a treasure trove of insights into its past. Excavations have revealed a diverse tapestry of architectural wonders, from Roman ruins and Byzantine structures to remnants of Phoenician walls. Notable sites include the well-preserved Roman Hippodrome, the City Baths with their sophisticated heating systems, and the Al Mina archaeological site with its intriguing 4th-century arena. These discoveries provide a glimpse into the city's evolution, shedding light on its economic prosperity, cultural exchanges, and the interplay of civilizations that shaped its unique identity over the centuries.

Tyre, Lebanon, is one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world, having been continuously inhabited for over 4,700 years.

The ancient city of Tyre is delineated into two distinct heritage areas; al-Mina and al-Bass. al-Mina, located on what was once an island, features Roman ruins and defensive walls from the Crusader era. In contrast, al-Bass serves as a necropolis—a city of the deceased—boasting a hippodrome and a triumphal arch among its notable features.

Notable Structures


Tomb of Hiram I of Tyre
The "Tomb of King Hiram I" (Tombe de Hiram in French) is a carved burial monument made of limestone situated approximately six kilometers southeast of ancient city of Tyre, close to the village of Hanaouay along the road to Qana. Constructed from limestone blocks and crowned with a massive limestone sarcophagus, this monolithic structure is referred to as Qabr Hiram, alternatively spelled as Kabr Hiram (قبر حيرام) in Arabic, translating to 'the grave of Hiram'.


Today the ancient necropolis of Tyre, also known as the al-Bass Tyre necropolis, forms part of the al-Bass archaeological site, positioned beyond the city boundaries along the road leading to Rome. It flanks both sides of a broad avenue dating back to Roman and Byzantine times and is characterized by the imposing presence of a second-century CE Roman triumphal arch, built during the reign of Roman emperor Hadrian.


The hippodrome of ancient Tyre is renowned as one of the largest and most well-preserved Roman hippodromes in its category across the Roman world. Its somewhat preserved and well maintained seating area (cavea) crowns an extensive gallery. Notably, the starting boxes and segments of the central strip (spina), adorned with an obelisk, which still remain visible. Stone turning posts (metae) that have endured the test of time mark each end of the racetrack. Charioteers were required to complete this circuit seven times, with the most perilous segment of the race being the high-speed rounding of the metae.


Hadrian's Arch
The grand archway in Tyre, located in the al-Bass archaeological area of modern-day Tyre was constructed in the second century CE, likely in honor of the visit by Emperor Hadrian in 130 or 131 CE. This monumental structure, reaching a height of twenty-one meters, features a core made of sandstone, once covered in plaster and displaying evidence of original multicolored paint through a surviving fragment.

Flanking the main arch on both sides are smaller arched gates (today only the southern smaller arch survives) designed for pedestrians. It is now challenging to envision that a facade, potentially adorned with niches for statues, once extended above these smaller arches, reaching the same height as the central section.

On either side of the arch, spacious rooms, presumed to function as guard quarters, were situtated. The southern room had a floor paved with standard stones, while remnants of a mosaic can still be observed in the northern room. These guard rooms suggest that the grand arch served as a marker for the official outer border of the city. Some theories propose that the Large Arch signifies the starting point of the Dam of Alexander, though historical maps from the nineteenth century indicate its location slightly further to the south.


Small Street


Roman Aqueduct
The Tyre aqueduct follows alongside the primary route leading to the city, traversing alongside the hippodrome. Evidently, the arches comprised an arcade that provided access to shops lining the road. The aqueduct sourced its water from al-Ma'shook, situated to the east of Tyre, and from the south at Ras el-Ain and al-Rashidiyeh (today referred to as "Old Tyre"), where the initial water basin at the origin remains intact. This indicates that the water channel spanned a distance slightly exceeding seven kilometers.


Bouleuterion or Arena
The al-Mina archaeological site features a particularly intriguing rectangular structure—an elongated arena most likely from the fourth century capable of accommodating around 2000 spectators. While its precise purpose remains uncertain, some hypotheses propose that it might have functioned as a venue for an ancient water sport or a similar activity.


Byzantine Arch
The eastern entrance of the al-Bass archaeological site in Tyre features a small and simple arch that has undergone significant restoration. Most likely dating back to the Byzantine era, this single arched passageway represents the farthest eastern monument of the ancient city, serving as an entry point to the main road that traverses the necropolis.


Roman Baths
The Roman baths of ancient Tyre, located on the eastern side of the Mosaic Road or the grand alley, were originally constructed in the second century CE and underwent reconstruction in the third century CE. This sizable complex, as was customary, included a Palaestra. The choice of the bathhouse site, situated on the island close to the sea, presented a challenge for ancient engineers due to the moist soil affected by nearby seawater. To address this issue, the entire complex was elevated using arcades. The well-known hypocaustum, or "floor heating" system, was then constructed on top of this elevated structure. With facilities for cold, tepid, warm, and hot baths, the building must have reached a considerable height. Notably, the City Baths were erected atop the ancient Phoenician wall, making it the sole location where remnants of the city conquered by Alexander the Great are still visible.


Mosaic Road
Like many cities in the Roman Near East, Tyre boasted a "colonnaded road", a feature shared with other cities such as Apamea, Berytus, Cyrrhus, Damascus, Diocaesarea, Laodicea, and Palmyra. These grand avenues served as ceremonial routes, utilized for religious processions and to leave a lasting impression on visitors. While it was not uncommon for the sidewalks of such roads to be adorned with mosaics, Tyre distinguished itself by extending this decorative treatment to the main thoroughfare—an uncommon practice during the period. The decision to mosaic the street likely occurred in the final years of the second century. Tyre's steadfast support for Septimius Severus during the civil war of 193/194 CE, where the city defended Severus against Pescennius Niger, resulted in Tyre being sacked by Niger's Moorish forces. In gratitude, Severus may have chosen to honor Tyre in a truly regal manner. The Byzantine period saw the renewal of the pavement.

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