The Triumphal Arch (reconstructed)
Remains of ancient columns at Al Mina
excavation site – supposed palaestra
Rectangular theatre at Al Mina
The modern south part of Tyre
Tyre originally consisted of two distinct urban centres: Tyre itself, which was on an island just off shore, and the associated settlement of Ushu on the adjacent mainland. Alexander the Great connected the island to the mainland by constructing a causeway during his siege of the city, demolishing the old city to reuse its cut stone.
The original island city had two harbours, one on the south side and the other on the north side of the island. It was the two harbours that enabled Tyre to gain the maritime prominence that it did; the harbour on the north side of the island was, in fact, one of the best harbours on the eastern end of the Mediterranean. The harbour on the south side has silted over, but the harbour on the north side (see Tyre harbor photo at top of page right) is still in use.
In ancient times, the island-city of Tyre was heavily fortified and the mainland settlement, originally called Ushu (later called Palaetyrus, meaning "Old Tyre," by the ancient Greeks) was actually more like a line of suburbs than any one city and was used primarily as a source of water and timber for the main island city. Josephus records that the two fought against each other on occasion, but most of the time, they supported one another because they both benefited from the island city's wealth from maritime trade and the mainland area's source of timber, water and burial grounds.
Bronze and Iron Ages
Tyre was founded around 2750 BC according to Herodotus and was originally built as a walled city upon the mainland. Tyre's name appears on monuments as early as 1300 BC. Philo of Byblos (in Eusebius) quotes the antiquarian authority Sanchuniathon as stating that it was first occupied by Hypsuranius. Sanchuniathon's work is said to be dedicated to "Abibalus king of Berytus"—possibly the Abibaal who was king of Tyre.
There are ten Amarna letters dated 1350 BC from the mayor, Abimilku, written to Akenaten. The subject is often water, wood and the Habiru overtaking the countryside of the mainland and how that affected the island-city.
The commerce of the ancient world was gathered into the warehouses of Tyre.
Tyrian merchants were the first who ventured to navigate the Mediterranean waters; and they founded their colonies on the coasts and neighbouring islands of the Aegean Sea, in Greece, on the northern coast of Africa, at Carthage and other places, in Sicily and Corsica, in Spain at Tartessus and even beyond the pillars of Hercules at Gadeira (Cádiz).
Tyre became one of the more powerful cities in Phoenicia. One of its kings, the priest Ithobaal (887–856 BC), ruled Phoenicia as far north as Beirut, and part of Cyprus. Carthage was founded in 814 BC under Pygmalion of Tyre (820–774 BC). The collection of city-states constituting Phoenicia came to be characterized by outsiders and the Phoenicians as Sidonia or Tyria. Phoenicians and Canaanites alike were called Sidonians or Tyrians, as one Phoenician city came to prominence after another.
The city of Tyre was particularly known for the production of a rare and extraordinarily expensive sort of purple dye, produced from the murex shellfish, known as Tyrian purple. The colour was, in ancient cultures, reserved for the use of royalty or at least the nobility.
Phoenicians from Tyre settled in houses around Memphis in Egypt, south of the temple of Hephaestus in a district called the Tyrian Camp.
Tyre was often attacked by Egypt and was besieged by Assyrian king Shalmaneser V, who was assisted by the Phoenicians of the mainland, for five years. From 586 until 573 BC, the city was besieged by Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon until it agreed to pay a tribute.
A naval action during the siege of Tyre (332 BC). Drawing by André Castaigne
The Achaemenid Empire of King Cyrus the Great conquered the city in 539 BC and kept it under its rule until 332 BC.
The Persians then divided Phoenicia into four vassal kingdoms: Sidon, Tyre, Arwad, and Byblos. They prospered, furnishing fleets for Persian kings. Phoenician influence declined after this.
Alexander the Great laid siege to the city, conquered and razed it in 332 BC. In 315 BC, Alexander's former general Antigonus began his own siege of Tyre, taking the city a year later.
In 126 BC, Tyre regained its independence from the Seleucid Empire.
Tyre was allowed to keep much of its independence, as a "civitas foederata", when the area became a Roman province in 64 BC. Tyre continued to maintain much of its commercial importance until the Common Era. The Tyrians, or "people of Tyre" during the Roman period, extended their areas of hegemony over the adjoining regions, such as in northern Palestine, settling in cities such as Kedesh, Mount Carmel and north of Baca.
It is stated in the New Testament that Jesus visited the region of Tyre and Sidon and healed a Mark 7:24) and from this region many came forth to hear him preaching (Mark 3:8; Gospel of Luke 6:17, Matthew 11:21–23). A congregation was founded here soon after the death of St. Stephen. Paul the Apostle, on his return from his third missionary journey, spent a week in conversation with the disciples there. According to Irenaeus of Lyon in On the Detection and Overthrow of the So-Called Gnosis, the female companion of Simon Magus came from here.
The famous "Arch of Hadrian" and one of the best hippodromes in the region were constructed during the Roman empire.
In 395 Tyre became part of the Byzantine Empire. The city remained under Byzantine control until 638, when it was occupied by the Arabs.
Early Muslim period
In the Revolt of Tyre (996–998), the populace of the city rose against Fatimid rule, led by an ordinary sailor named 'Allaqa - but were brutally suppressed in May 998. In 1086 it fell into the hands of the Seljuks who lost it in 1089 to the Fatimids.
After the first failed siege in 1111, Tyre was captured during the aftermath of the First Crusade on July 7, 1124 and became one of the most important cities of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. It was part of the royal domain, but there were also autonomous trading colonies there for the Italian merchant cities. The city was the see of a Roman Catholic archbishopric, whose archbishop was a suffragan of the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem; its archbishops often acceded to the Patriarchate. The most notable of the Latin archbishops was the historian William of Tyre.
After the loss of the First Crusader Kingdom in the wake of the 1187 Battle of Hattin and the reconquest of Acre by Richard I of England on July 12, 1191, the seat of the kingdom moved there, but coronations were held in Tyre. In the 13th century, Tyre was separated from the royal domain as the Lordship of Tyre.
In 1291, Tyre was retaken by the Mamluk Sultanate.
The Ottoman Empire conquered the region in 1516-17 and held it until World War I.
The modern state of Lebanon was declared in 1920.
The present city of Tyre covers a large part of the original island and has expanded onto and covers most of the causeway, which had increased greatly in width over the centuries because of extensive silt depositions on either side. The part of the original island not covered by the modern city of Tyre is mostly of an archaeological site showcasing remains of the city from ancient times.
After numerous attacks and reprisals involving the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), including an assassination attempt on Israeli ambassador Argov, Israel invaded, as part of the so-called 1978 South Lebanon conflict, and Tyre was badly damaged. It was damaged again in the 1982 Lebanon War between Israel and the PLO. The city was used as a base by the PLO and was nearly destroyed by Israeli artillery. After the 1982 war, the city was the site of an Israeli military post. In late 1982, and again in November 1983, buildings housing Israeli headquarters were destroyed by bombs, causing dozens of deaths in both cases and known in Israel as the First and Second Tyre Catastrophes. The 1983 explosion by a suicide truck happened only 10 days after similar attacks, the 1983 Beirut barracks bombings of US Marines and French paratroop barracks. Israel and the US blame Iran and Hezbollah for all explosions, but they have denied any involvement.
During Israel's invasion in the 2006 Lebanon War, several rocket-launching sites used by Hezbollah to attack Israel were located in rural areas around the city. At least one village near the city was bombed by Israel as well as several sites within the city, causing civilian deaths and adding to the food shortage problem inside Tyre. Shayetet 13 (Israeli naval commandos) also raided Hezbollah targets within the city.