2010
01.22

SYNOPSIS:  AN EXCURSION SOUTH TO THE UNESCO PROTECTED SITE OF TYRUS/TYRE/SOUR

You know it’s going to be good if the UNESCO gives it the stamp of a world heritage site.  So I went to Tyre today. Tyre is the name that is known to the English-speaking world.  The Germans call it Tyros.  The Lebanese refer to it as Sour.

It is the Southern most accessible town to foreigners.  The South is a declared stronghold of Hezbollah and is a predominately Shia area.  It was hard hit during the Israeli invasion a few years ago.  Interesting for me to hear from Setareh:   No matter who is targeted, when the Israelis attack, all of Lebanon pulls together single-mindedly against Israel, even though otherwise there are differences between people and perhaps even political divides.

It is clear, that in any attack from the outside, people will be hit who are not at fault, or not specific enemies.  Areas here are simply too densely populated and too mixed.  Even in an almost exclusively Shia town such as Sour, there is a Christian quarter…

My target in Tyre however, were the ancient ruins.  Layers of history, again.  From Phoenician beginnings to Hellenistic, Roman, and Byzantine remains.  There are three areas in town.  Two rather small ones, which impress through their location right next to the ocean.  How ancient columns stand against a blue sky – yes, I had 70 degrees and sun shine again! – and when you turn around, how the same columns become one with the skyline of minarets and modern high rises – is very photogenic.

A walk through the Christian quarter is fun.  Tiny alleys zigzag through a crowded neighborhood in which houses are at times no more than 3 feet apart.

Along the way to the main attraction, I stepped into a Muslim graveyard and took a few pictures.  Three minutes later an old man on a motorbike pulled up next to me and started to address me in German!  He told me not to take pictures ever again in a Muslim cemetery!  I apologized profusely and we parted on friendly terms.   A few minutes later, crossing the harbor – a man asked me my nationality.  When I told him I was German he smiled and said :  “You look German”  I think he made that up.  🙂

I walked 45 minutes through dusty, muddy, unpaved, crowded streets thinking I was lost.  A real challenge everywhere in Lebanon is that you may have a map with street names, but they hardly ever correspond to the street signs…  Some signs give you a district, others a number, others a name – but the name may have changed from the one on your map…  So, it’s instinct again and following the “yellow big road” – in other words, just keep the general direction going and guess the approximate time of arrival and it should take you where you need to be.

But beware!  When I was 5 minutes away from the site I asked a person on the street for final confirmation.  He tried to sent me an hour the opposite way!  That is the just the way it is.  Locals seem often rather clueless when it comes to the touristy sites.  I noticed that in Beirut with the synagogue and a few times in between.

But, I digress!  Back to the ruins:

The third compound is the most splendid of all.  I have to admit that only in Ephesus, at the coast of Turkey, have I been equally impressed with a classical excavation site.  The setting of this area is just wonderful.  Tree-lined alleys and greens everywhere take you away from the dust and hustle into a tranquil world far, far away.  For once it is quiet.  For once there are no exhaust fumes.

One can literally start to dream about the ancient people who may have strolled along the main shopping avenue or were among the 20,000 who attended a race at the largest hippodrome in antiquity.  Words don’t do this justice, so I promise to spend a few hours and at least get a couple of tiny thumbnails up to illustrate this site.

Another gorgeous day!  Not even as much as a cloud in the sky.

Public transportation worked out like a charm again.  In fact, I figured out another element of the complex system:  Mini-buses.  I took the public bus out from Cola intersection in Beirut along the cost, stopping for every soul along the way.  It took a while…  On the way back I stumbled on the mini-bus hub.  Like vendors at a busy market crying out their wares, the bus drivers stand next to their mini-buses shouting their destinations.  I wish I had had my recorder with me.

Just try to pictures this:  “Beirut-Beirut-Beirut-Beirut” (at least four times), in harmony with “A Sour, A Sour, A Sour, A Sour”,  intermingled with  “Saida, Saida, Saida, Saida” and a few other cities!  It’s the bus hub concert going on all day.  Once you have crammed 15 people into a mini-bus, the bus takes off and the next one starts to fill up.  Who needs a schedule.  The schedule creates itself according to supply and demand.  The mini buses take the highway and zoom you are back to Beirut – same price!  Well, I learned something again about history and about Lebanese life.  I am happy.

And tonight Setareh is having a party with her friends at her apartment.  I will join them.  So for now:

Good night.

2 comments so far

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  1. Hi ET,
    I’m busy catching up with you. Havn’t been able to read in a few days. Glad to hear you are catching on to local customs and taking many pictures 🙂 We will have to make a poster of Lebanon buses like we did Pakistan. Keep that in mind!
    I want to know if the man who stopped you told you why you cannot take pictures in a Muslim cemetary? What is the superstition? If he didn’t, you’ll have to find out!

    Keep safe and dry.
    ~Corey

    • I don’t know what that man’s motivation was. He most likely did not base this on any religious prohibition. As far as I know there is none as the Sunni guys reaction in Tripoli shows.