Tyre (or Sour in Arabic) is an ancient Phoenician city in southern Lebanon about 83 km south of Beirut, known as the legendary birthplace of Europa and Elissar (Dido). The name Tyre, was first mentioned in the text of some 12th century BC Egyptian letters from Tel Al-Amarinah, which state that the Kingdom of Tyre was under Egypt's command. Tyre was a prosperous city to the extent that the king's castle could be considered as grand as that of the King of Ugarit, a Canaanite city state that was at its political, religious and economic height, at that time.
In ancient times, Tyre and Sidon were said to produce the finest purple dye for garments and amassed great wealth and power from its export. The pigment was extracted from the murex, a mollusk found on the Mediterranean shore. In the 4th century, ounces of this purple dye used to sell for the equivalent of thousands of dollars today. This is why it became known as the "Royal Purple" and was only accessible to the royalty.
Tyre was at the height of its power and glory in the 1st millennium BC and became the most important city on the Phoenician coast. Elissar, the Princess of Tyre, left the city after an inheritance dispute with her brother, Pygmalion. She went on to found the great North African city of Carthage in the 9th century BC. Carthage eventually became the greatest of the Phoenician colonies and rose to challenge the might of Rome. At that time, the inhabitants of Tyre were leading merchants in the ancient World and originated Paper money in the form of Carthaginian-inscribed triangular pieces of leather.
Alexander the Great arrived in Tyre in the year 332 BC, and after a 7 month blockade during which the Macedonian leader built a causeway to cross from the mainland to the island settlement, he burned and destroyed the city. The dam built by Alexander the Great was used to transfer water from Ras Al-Ain springs to the city during the Roman period. In the first century AD, Tyre was the home of a Christian community visited by St. Paul. In the 12th century it became a major stronghold of the Crusaders.
Today, Tyre has some of the World's most fascinating archaeological ruins, mostly from Roman times, but also from the Phoenician, Greek and Byzantine eras. The city itself is distinguished by its large number of old marketplaces, which are similar to those of Sidon: narrow ceiled roads supported by pillars, small shops selling various commodities and a small port that is a gathering place for fisherman, but has witnessed modest development. There are two main areas to visit in Tyre: the inland hippodrome area and the old city on the peninsula. The seaside southern town of Tyre also has a colorful souq, an Ottoman inn and a Mamluk house. The importance of this historical city and monuments were highlighted in 1984 when UNESCO declared Tyre a World Heritage Site.
Europe and the Bull: A Tale of Love and Lust
The Phoenician princess, Europa, was the daughter of Agenor, the King of Tyre who was renowned as Phoenix (i.e. the Phoenician). Accompanied by the daughters of other noble families, she delighted in picking varied blossoms that flourished in meadows along the coast. Absorbed in girlish merriment and happy laughter, Europa caught the roving eye of Zeus, who observed her from Mount Olympus. Zeus was stirred with passion for the beautiful maiden and sent Hermes to drive the king's cattle from the mountain slopes to the meadow where the young girls were at play. Zeus morphed himself into a majestic bull in order to avoid frightening the maids in his true form.
Mingling with the King's herd, he gradually approached Europa in a mild and temperate manner so as not to startle her. Enticed by his grace and beauty, as well as by his gentleness, Europa caressed the bull's powerful neck and placed garlands about his horns. Crouching to lure her closer, the bull exposed his broad back onto which Europa obligingly seated herself. Zeus then rose to his feet and trotted across the meadow toward the shore, taking the princess from her Asian homeland. He swam the broad sea with the frightened Europa on his back. Arriving on the island of Crete, Zeus ravished Europa, who ultimately bore him Minos, Rhadamanthys and Sarpedon. As compensation to her, Europa's name was bestowed on the continent that had received her.