Tyre, Lebanon: Photos & Images

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Mainland and Artificial Isthmus of Tyre, Lebanon

Tyre, Lebanon: Mainland and Artificial Isthmus of Tyre, Lebanon. Late 19th Century Illustration
Late 19th Century Illustration Tyre, Lebanon: Mainland and Artificial Isthmus of Tyre, Lebanon. Late 19th Century Illustration. Source: Jupiter Images

Located in Lebanon north of Acre but south of Sidon and Beirut, Tyre was one of the most important of the ancient Phoenician cities. Today Tyre contains excavations of ruins dating to Crusader, Byzantine, Arab, Greco-Roman, and earlier eras. Tyre is also referenced quite a few times in the Bible, sometimes as an ally of the Israelites and sometimes in the context of condemning the religious or cultural influences which the Phoenicians were exercising over the Israelites.

Tyre's primary claim to fame, not to mention wealth, was a sea snail which allowed them to produce highly-coveted purple dye. This color was rare and difficult to produce, a factor in its adoption by rulers as a color of royalty. As late as the reign of Roman emperor Diocletian (284-305 CE), two pounds of purple dye sold for over six pounds of gold. Other Phoenician cities also traded in the prized dye, but Tyre was the center of its production and the city with which the product was most closely associated.

Founded some time during the 3rd millennium BCE, Tyre was originally just a small settlement on the coast and an island city just off shore. The Roman historian Justin claimed that Tyre was founded the year after Troy fell to the Greeks by refugees fleeing Sidon after that city was conquered by an unnamed king. This date might be consistent with the repopulating of Tyre after centuries of abandonment, though Justin is clearly talking about the original founding of Tyre which is contradicted by the archaeological record.

Archaeological evidence indicates that Tyre was abandoned, though, during the Middle Bronze Age and only later repopulated some time during the 16th century BCE. Much the same has been found for other Phoenician costal cities, like Sidon, but the reason for this is unknown.

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Tomb of Hiram, King of Tyre

Tomb of Hiram, King of Tyre: King Hiram Led Phoenician City of Tyre to its Golden Age
King Hiram Led Phoenician City of Tyre to its Golden Age Tomb of Hiram, King of Tyre: King Hiram Led Phoenician City of Tyre to its Golden Age. Source: Jupiter Images

During the 1st millennium BCE Tyre experienced its golden age, especially during the reign of Hiram (Ahiram), King of Tyre (971-939 BCE). Hiram was the first to join the off-shore city by filling in the ocean, something he also did along to coast to expand the area of the city itself. Hiram is responsible for a number of other improvements to the city, including cisterns for collecting rain water, enclosing part of the sea to create a stable port and shipyard, as well as a large palace and important temples.

Phoenician traders began to seriously expand their range during the late 8th century BCE, giving the city the nickname "Queen of the Seas," and Tyre became such a successful trading city that it established a number of colonies around the Mediterranean, including the city of Carthage along the northern African coast. Ancient records indicate that many of the trade goods which moved around the Mediterranean passed through Tyrian wareshouses - probably in part because Phoenician traders were among the first to engage in widespread trade at all.

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Hiram, King of Tyre

Hiram, King of Tyre: King Hiram of Tyre Helped King David and King Solomon Build the Temple
King Hiram of Tyre Helped King David and King Solomon Build the Temple Hiram, King of Tyre: King Hiram of Tyre Helped King David and King Solomon Build the Temple. Source: Jupiter Images

King Hiram (Ahiram) of Tyre (971-939 BCE) was made famous in the Bible for sending his own stonecutters and carpenters to David (1000-961) to help in the construction of his palace (2 Samuel 5:11). It's possible that Hiram's father, Abibaal, initiated contact with David - after all, his control of Israel and Judah meant that he also controlled Tyre's rear and indeed most of the inland region behind the Phoenician cities right up to Sidon. It would have been wise to have a peaceful, productive relationship with this neighbor.

Tyre was certainly the principle force behind the Phoenician colonization of the coasts around the Mediterranean. Early on the "colonies" were probably little more than temporary settlements created for the purpose of quickly exchanging goods. Eventually, though, more permanent bases were created. Some scholars think that this change, occurring during the 8th and 7th centuries BCE, were instigated in order to protect commercial interests being threatened by the growing presence of Greek traders. Perhaps the most famous Tyrian colony was Carthage, a city which would go on to become an imperial power in its own right and cause Rome no end of trouble.

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The Jewish Temple Was Built with Help from King Hiram of Tyre

Solomon Building the Temple: The Jewish Temple Was Built with Help from King Hiram of Tyre
Solomon Building the Temple Solomon Building the Temple: The Jewish Temple Was Built with Help from King Hiram of Tyre. Source: Jupiter Images

King Hiram of Tyre not only helped David build his palace but also sent to Solomon (961-922 BCE) famous Lebanon cedars and cypress wood for the construction of his famous temple (1 Kings 9:11, 2 Chronicles 2:3). Both the chief architect and the master workers for the First Temple, constructed under Solomon's rule, were in fact Tyrians. Lebanon's cedar trees were highly prized throughout the Middle East - so much so, in fact, that today only small tracts survive high in the Lebanese mountains.

In exchange for all this help, Solomon transferred to Hiram's control the Galilean district of Cabul. This area included twenty cities, but Hiram doesn't appear to have liked them very much (1 Kings 9:11-14). The agricultural importance of the region was much more important. The grain and olive oil produced here might have allowed Tyre to cease agricultural imports, no minor feat. Tyre's lack of significant inland agricultural resources for itself was an important factor in its lower status when compared to Sidon in the north. Jerusalem itself became a significant consumer of Phoenician goods.

Later Hiram and Solomon joined forces to create a large merchant fleet, piloted by Phoenician sailors. These ships were constructed on the Red Sea and designed for the sole purpose of opening up trade to the east. In theory, they could have traveled as far as India, but precise records for their voyages no longer exist.

At the very least, this demonstrates that economic and political relations between the Israelites and the Phoenicians - who may have called themselves Canaanites in ancient times - could be very close, very strong, and very productive.

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Ruins of the Old Sea Wall of Ancient Tyre

Tyre, Lebanon: Late 19th Century Illustration of the Ruins of the Old Sea Wall of Ancient Tyre
Tyre, Lebanon: Late 19th Century Illustration Tyre, Lebanon: Late 19th Century Illustration of the Ruins of the Old Sea Wall of Ancient Tyre. Source: Jupiter Images

Ithobaal I (887-856) was the first Tyrian monarch to be referred to as "king of the Sidonians" and this title would continue to be used afterward. Ithobaal is best known as the father of Jezebel whom he gave as a wife to king Ahab (874-853) in order to secure stronger trading ties with the Israelite kingdom based now in Samaria. As mother of Ahab's successor, Ahaziah, Jezebel would prove to be an important cultural influence in the Israelite court. Jezebel introduced Tyrian cultural and religious practices which infuriated traditionalists who did not accept any deviations from Hebrew monotheism.

Tyre's principle temples were dedicated to Melqart and Astarte. King Hiram instituted a yearly celebration every spring of the death and rebirth of Melqart. Hiram called this Melqart's "awakening" and it represented the death of nature during the winter and its rebirth in the spring. It's believed that Astarte played some role in Melqart's resurrection, perhaps through a ritual marriage.

Other Phoenician cities had their own deities, almost always a male and female deity ruling together, but Astarte appears often. In Tyre Astarte has an especially warlike aspect, not unlike Athena in Athens, and this may be connected to the rivalry between Tyre and Athens for trade. The introduction of a female consort along Phoenician lines for Yahweh in the Israelite court would have been infuriating for the monotheistic and patriarchal defenders of tradition.

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Ruins of the Ancient Phoenician Tyre Aqueduct

Tyre, Lebanon: Ruins of the Ancient Phoenician Tyre Aqueduct, late 19th Century Illustration
Tyre, Lebanon: late 19th Century Illustration Tyre, Lebanon: Ruins of the Ancient Phoenician Tyre Aqueduct, late 19th Century Illustration. Source: Jupiter Images

Phoenician cities like Tyre worked closely with David and Solomon, but closer political and commercial ties led to greater cultural influence on Israel. This sort of development is common, but for defenders of tradition in the Israelite court, the influence on religion was intolerable.

Ezekiel condemned Tyre in this prophecy:

  • Moreover, the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Son of man, take up a lamentation upon the king of Tyrus, and say unto him, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Thou sealest up the sum, full of wisdom, and perfect in beauty. Thou hast been in Eden the garden of God; every precious stone was thy covering, the sardius, topaz, and the diamond, the beryl, the onyx, and the jasper, the sapphire, the emerald, and the carbuncle, and gold: the workmanship of thy tabrets and of thy pipes was prepared in thee in the day that thou wast created. Thou art the anointed cherub that covereth; and I have set thee so: thou wast upon the holy mountain of God; thou hast walked up and down in the midst of the stones of fire. Thou wast perfect in thy ways from the day that thou wast created, till iniquity was found in thee.

    By the multitude of thy merchandise they have filled the midst of thee with violence, and thou hast sinned: therefore I will cast thee as profane out of the mountain of God: and I will destroy thee, O covering cherub, from the midst of the stones of fire. Thine heart was lifted up because of thy beauty, thou hast corrupted thy wisdom by reason of thy brightness: I will cast thee to the ground, I will lay thee before kings, that they may behold thee. Thou hast defiled thy sanctuaries by the multitude of thine iniquities, by the iniquity of thy traffick; therefore will I bring forth a fire from the midst of thee, it shall devour thee, and I will bring thee to ashes upon the earth in the sight of all them that behold thee. 19 All they that know thee among the people shall be astonished at thee: thou shalt be a terror, and never shalt thou be any more. [Ezekiel 23:11-19]
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Babylonian Assault on Tyre, Lebanon

Foreign Attacks on Tyre, Lebanon: Phoenician City of Tyre was a Tempting Target for Foreign Armies
Phoenician City of Tyre was a Tempting Target for Foreign Armies Foreign Attacks on Tyre, Lebanon: Phoenician City of Tyre was a Tempting Target for Foreign Armies. Source: Jupiter Images

Named Sur today ("rock"), Tyre was home of a massive fortress that was attacked by every invader who came long - often without success. In 585 BCE, just two years after besieging and destroying Jerusalem, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon attacked Tyre to capture its trading resources. His siege would last thirteen years and would prove unsuccessful - although it was probably around this time that residents of Tyre began to abandon the mainland part of the city in favor of the island city where the walls were said to be 150 feet high. Some believe that Nebuchadnezzar was primarily interested in containing rather than destroying Tyre, but what it clear is that Tyre came through largely unscathed and with significant autonomy - a much better fate than what Jerusalem experienced.

Alexander's successful siege was the most famous attack on Tyre. By this point in time, 322 BCE, Tyre was actually located on a small island just off the coast, a fact which made it very powerful. Alexander got around this by building a causeway right up to the city gates using rubble from the destruction of all the buildings on the mainland. This undated drawing depicts Tyre from the mainland, showing the artificial isthmus connecting the two.

According to some account, as many as 6,000 defenders were summarily executed and another 2,000 crucified. Most of the rest of the city's population, more than 30,000 men, women, and children, were sold into slavery. Alexander would destroy the city walls completely, but it didn't take long for new residents to raise them again and restore most of the city's defenses. Under later Greek rulers Tyre would commercially and regain some measure of autonomy, but it was locked into a course of extensive Hellenization. Before long most of its customs and culture would be replaced by the Greeks, a process which occurred all along the Phoenician coast and bringing to an end the distinctiveness of Phoenician culture.

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Triumphal Arch of Tyre, Lebanon

Triumphal Arch of Tyre, Lebanon: Reconstructed Arch from the Ancient Phoenician City
Reconstructed Arch from the Ancient Phoenician City Triumphal Arch of Tyre, Lebanon: Reconstructed Arch from the Ancient Phoenician City. Source: Jupiter Images

The Triumphal Arch of Tyre is one of the city's most impressive archaeological relics. The arch stands over a long avenue which has a necropolis on either side and sarcophagi dating as early as the 2nd century BCE. The Triumphal Arch had fallen apart but was reconstructed in modern times and today is fairly close to what it probably looked like for the ancient world.

The site is named Al-Bass and along with the arch and necropolis are the remains for large aqueducts which carried water to the city as well as the largest, best-preserved Roman hippodrome in the world - larger even than the Circus Maximus in Rome herself. This hippodrome is very unusual in that it is built of stone rather than the usual brick and the acoustics are so good that whispers carry very well from one side to the other.

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Artificial Isthmus of Tyre, Lebanon

Tyre, Lebanon: Illustration of the Artificial Isthmus of Tyre, Lebanon, c. 1911
Tyre, Lebanon: Illustration c. 1911 Tyre, Lebanon: Illustration of the Artificial Isthmus of Tyre, Lebanon, c. 1911. Source: Jupiter Images

The first Christian church was founded in Tyre not long after the death of Stephen, the first martyr of Christianity. Paul stayed here for a week with some of his disciples on his return from this 3rd missionary trip (Acts 21:3-7). There may have been some connection to Christianity earlier than this, though, because the gospels claim that people from Tyre travelled to hear Jesus preach (Mark 3:8; Luke 6:17) and that Jesus travelled near Tyre to heal the sick as well as preach (Matthew 15:21-29; Mark 7:24-31).

For many years Tyre was an important center for Christianity in the Holy Lands. During the Byzantine era, Tyre's archbishop was the primate over all bishops throughout the Phoenician region. During this time Tyre was still an important commercial center and this continued even after the Muslims took control of the city.

Crusaders starved Tyre into submission in 1124 and thereafter made it one of the most important cities in the Kingdom of Jerusalem. Tyre had, in fact, long been a center of commerce and wealth, something which successful conquerors always left untouched. Tyre became a rallying point for Crusaders after Saladin captured most of their cities in 1187. Tyre was finally recaptured from the Crusaders by the Mameluks in 1291 and thereafter remained in Muslim hands until it passed into the modern state of Lebanon after World War I.

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Relative Locations of Jerusalem, Tyre, Sidon, Beirut, Other Cities

Map: Relative Locations of Jerusalem, Tyre, Sidon, Beirut in Modern Israel, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon
Lebanon & Israel Map: Cities in Modern Israel, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon Map: Relative Locations of Jerusalem, Tyre, Sidon, Beirut in Modern Israel, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon. Source: Jupiter Images

Today Tyre is the fourth largest city in Lebanon and one of the nation's largest ports. It is also a very popular destination for tourists who are eager to see what the city has to offer in terms of history and archaeology. In 1979 the city was placed on the UNESCO World Heritage list.

The city of Tyre has suffered greatly in modern times. The Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) made it a base in the 1980s so Israel caused extensive damage to the city through artillery attacks when they invaded southern Lebanon in 1982. After this, Israel transformed Tyre into a military base, leading to numerous terrorist attacks by Palestinians trying to drive the Israelis out. Israel dropped numerous bombs in and around Tyre again during the 2006 invasion of Lebanon, leading to civilian deaths and extensive property damage.

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Cline, Austin. "Tyre, Lebanon: Photos & Images." ThoughtCo, Mar. 16, 2017, thoughtco.com/tyre-lebanon-photos-and-images-4123230. Cline, Austin. (2017, March 16). Tyre, Lebanon: Photos & Images. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/tyre-lebanon-photos-and-images-4123230 Cline, Austin. "Tyre, Lebanon: Photos & Images." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/tyre-lebanon-photos-and-images-4123230 (accessed January 21, 2018).