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Ibn Battuta’s journey resumes in Lebanon, the first stop in Tyre, one of the oldest cities in history
The words of Ibn Battuta
Tyre has become proverbial for its impregnability and for its defensive capacity, because the sea surrounds it from three sides and has two doors: one on the mainland and the other towards the sea.Ibn Battuta
The mythical origins of Tyre
Due to its incredible and ancient history, it is not known with certainty when the city was founded, although, according to Herodotus, who visited it in 450 BC, it is likely that it officially became a settlement in 2750 BC. Recent archaeological discoveries have however identified human traces dating back to 2900 BC. However, recent archaeological discoveries have identified human traces dating back to 2900 BC. Having always developed a deep cult for the Canaanite god Melqart, many legends would link the material act of the foundation to the latter, which made it one of the “sacred centers” for the Greek people.
In fact, the latter associated Melqart with Hercules, thus making the city attractive to its myths; it is no coincidence that Europa, a girl seduced by Zeus in the guise of a bull and who will then give name to today’s Europe, was originally from Tyre. Among other things, the Hellenists trace their alphabet which would have been introduced to Greece by Cadmo, brother of Europe and pretender to the throne of Tire.
The sea of Tyre
Although founded in ancient times, the city really only began to thrive in 1700 BC, when the arrival of the Egyptians allowed the inhabitants to make their specialty known throughout the Mediterranean: purple. It was in fact extracted by Tyre through a complicated process that from 8000 molluscs produced just 1 gram of tincture; just for its rarity, the good prospered transforming the settlement into one of the main stages of the whole sea.
With the gradual loss of Egyptian influence and the fall of cities like Alalakh and Ugarit, the city became a real commercial power, so much so that sometimes the Mediterranean Sea was even called “The sea of Tire”. Indeed, thanks to their incredible naval, engineering and metalworking skills, Phoenician knowledge was exported all over to the sea, becoming the dominant one for centuries. With the ascension to the throne of Hiram I, in 980 BC. the city reached its peak, weaving ever stronger relations with the nearby Jewish Kingdom and, above all, starting to found colonies, the most famous of which was Carthage.
Carthage, new peoples and Alexander the Great
In reality, from the very foundation of the latter we can observe how the situation was now increasingly tense in the motherland. Indeed, after the death of Hiram I, a violent power struggle had begun between the royal lineage and the priestly class, so much so that Dido, the material founder of Carthage, was on the run when she settled in North Africa. To complicate matters, then, there was increasing pressure from the Neo-Assyrians, who had long since set their sights on Tire.
The Neo-Assyrians will actually manage to impose their dominion over the city, however their collapse in 609 BC. it will bring many disorders in the whole region, which will first be dominated by the New Babylonians and then, starting from 539 BC, by the Persians. Tire was deeply linked to the new rulers, so much so that when Alexander the Great arrived in the region, the city was one of the few not to submit, so much so that the Macedonian was forced to undergo a siege of 7 months. The arrival of the Hellenic conqueror, besides being catastrophic for the settlement, also profoundly changed the planimetry; Tire had always been an island, the Greek’s victory turned it into a small peninsula.
Roman and Byzantine Tyre
With the death of the great leader, the city passed under the domination of his successors, then finally freeing itself in 126 BC. . The independence gained allowed it to make an agreement with Rome as an ally rather than as a subjugated city, thus maintaining an incredible autonomy and continuing to flourish for decades to come; during this period the production of flax and garum, a fish-based specialty, also began. Given its importance under the Roman Empire and its proximity to Palestine, it is not surprising that Jesus himself also visited the city, thus generating one of the earliest Christian centers of worship in history.
The greatest glory for the city, however, will come under Adriano, who: allowed it to coin money, built an arch and one of the largest racecourses in the Empire and gave it the title of “Metropolis”; also under Septimio Severo it became the capital of Syria Phoenician. Following the Edict of Milan, the city transformed the Great Temple of Melqart into one of the first churches in history and it was from here that San Frumenzio left to spread Christianity in Ethiopia. With the fall of the Roman Empire, the city continued to flourish under the Byzantines but, due to a series of earthquakes that saw it as a protagonist from 502 to 551, a small decline began that brought it first into Persian and then Arab hands.
Arabs and crusaders
With the arrival of the Umayyads, Tyre will quickly change from Greek and Christian to Arab and Muslim, however keeping its autonomy alive and managing to flourish even stronger. However, since the arrival of the Fatimids, the whole area of Bilad ash-Shami experienced a political situation of great instability, which then culminated with the arrival of the crusaders.
The latter will settle in the city starting from 1124, transforming it into their main fortress in Holy Land, so much so that it will be necessary to wait for 1291 to see it again in Arab hands. Particular that it will be precisely with this conquest that the Europeans will start to discover Asia and the Silk Road again. With the conquest of the Mamelukes, the city initially recovered but, with the collapse of the dye price, the main commercial lung of the city, Tire suffered a rapid and constant collapse, so much so that Ibn Battuta could only observe ruins.
Looking for a rebirth
Under the Ottomans, who in 1516 conquered the whole region of Bilad ash-Sham, things did not go much better but, nevertheless, there were several attempts at recovery. The new conquerors in fact preferred to assign the sovereignty of these regions to the local nobility and this led to many working to see Tire resurrect. The first of all was Fakhr al Din II, the Druzeemir who first pushed Christians and Shiitesto emigrate to this area, in the hope of rebuilding the port of the great city and thus being able to create a dock for his secret allies, the Tuscans. The emir’s plan was in fact to form an alliance with the Christian kingdom and secure his own personal dominion, which however failed miserably.
On the other hand, his attempts to repopulate the area paid off, as TYre soon became the seat of the al Saghir, a Shiite dynasty who recently emigrated to the area but who will become its absolute protagonist. In fact, this family worked for a long time for the well-being of the city, transforming it into a safe haven for every fleeing co-religionist. At the same time, thanks to the efforts of Bishop Euthimio Saif, it also became one of the centers of the Melkite Church.
The Ottoman fall and the arrival of the French
With the decline of the Ottoman Empire, Tyre and its surroundings were increasingly influenced by France, increasingly interested in Lebanon as “protector of Eastern Catholics“. This pushed the transalpines and entered the region with increasing vigor, which however saw strong internal unrest for the new Young Turks policy. The latter, having encouraged a revival of Turkish nationalism, pushed this area to become one of the centers of pan-Arabism, which will give rise to various rebellions that will contribute to the fall of the Sublime Porte in the Near East.
Following the Treaty of Sevres, the whole country became part of the “French Mandate of Syria and Lebanon”, causing enormous discontent among the people of Tire. This, now with a clear Shiite majority, had in fact hoped that King Faisal I could create an Arab kingdom of Syria, a dream which, however, was shattered in the battle of Maysaloun in 1920. However, it must be said that, thanks to the pacifist policy of the Shiite Imam Sharafeddin al Musawi, there was no armed resistance in the city; however, the religious leader was removed from the country due to his strong support for the pan-Arab cause.
Independence and first tensions
In 1943, with the independence of Lebanon, the imam was finally able to return to his homeland, where, however, he attracted the dislikes of the most fervent pro-French, who were increasingly worried by the evolution of the Levantine crisis that saw Paris involved, London and Damascus. The Syrians also aspired to reunite with the Lebanese and this led those who viewed this union with terror to unite, laying the foundations for the First Civil War. Furthermore, the situation became even more complicated with the birth of Israel in “48 and the consequent Nakba, which particularly affected Tire and the south of Lebanon for their proximity to the Palestinian borders.
With the actual birth of the United Arab Republic wanted by Nasser, there were the first outbreaks of revolt, which, combined with: a growing tension between clans, a greater impoverishment of the region and a continuous arrival of Palestinian refugees, gave rise to the Lebanese Crisis of 1958, which ended only thanks to the US intervention. Furthermore, on December 31, 1957, Imam Sharafeddine died and the Shiite community will appoint Musa Sadr, a relative, as the new head of the community, a choice that will greatly influence the whole of contemporary Lebanese history.
The outbreak of the Civil War
The newcomer will in fact prove decisive for the whole local Shiite world, forming a sense of union and community as the latter had never known. With increasing tensions between Palestinians and Israelis, Tire became increasingly linked to its Arab neighbors and this will lead this area to become more and more militarized, also by virtue of various Zionist penetrations on Lebanese soil. With an increasingly marginalized government and an enemy at the gates, in 1975 Musa Sadr will create Amal, a political party that will become known in the news for its militia, one of the protagonists of the Civil War.
That same year the first real clashes began and Tyre, being one of the headquarters of the Palestinian militia and the closest to Israel, immediately became the target of Israel. In 1976 the city suffered the first Zionist naval blockade and in 1978 the Israeli army would penetrate the south of Lebanon occupying it all, except for Tire and its neighborhood, which however suffered heavy losses. The situation became even more complicated in 1982 when, following an attack on an ambassador in London, Israel occupied the area militarily, giving way to the Lebanon War. In 1976 the city suffered the first Zionist naval blockade and in 1978 the Israeli army entered southern Lebanon occupying everything, except Tire and its neighborhood, which in any case suffered heavy losses. The situation became even more complicated in 1982 when, following an attack on one of its ambassadors in London, Israel militarily occupied the area, giving way to the Lebanon War.
The latest tensions and peace
Following some very heavy attacks by Israeli forces, the Zionists withdrew in 1985, while retaining some of their influence through the South Lebanon Army. in the same year, Hezbollah will sharpen the contrasts between allies, thus leading to the “War of the camps”, a particularly dramatic moment of the conflict that especially affected the refugee camps and which saw for the first time a clear division between PLO and Amal (supported by Syria’s Assad). With the 1991 Taif accords, however, peace will dominate in the country but, due to its geographical and political position, Tire and the South of Lebanon will have many difficulties in finding a lasting and steady peace over time.
In 2006, in fact, the tension between Beirut and Tel Aviv resumed to ignite following the launch of some missiles which would then lead to a new Lebanon War, which however lasted just 34 days.
The history of Tire is among the largest in human history, we hope we have not taken too much time, we have tried to insert only the main events, but this place is as old as history itself. See you tomorrow with Sidon, then Beirut, Tripoli and Baalbek.
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