There are a number of stunning examples of Roman structures that must been experienced when visiting Tyre. Highlights include the ancient Greek columns, believed to have been part of gymnasium and the nearby theatre, both which are part of the Al Mina excavation site. The 20 metre high Roman Triumphal Arch, which was actually reconstructed in 551 AD after being destroyed by an earthquake is an amazing sight to behold and well worth the trip. However the shining jewel in Tyre’s archeological crown is the Roman Hippodrome. Dating back to the second century, this arena once held 30,000 people and although only part of the seating stands are still intact, you can get a great idea of what it would have been like to watch the chariots thunder around the 480 metre long track. If you fancy picking sides, it’s interesting to know that when races were held there people seated on the western side were known as ‘The Blues’ and supporters on the eastern side were known as ‘The Greens’, and there are inscriptions in the old clubhouse that refer to a victory by the greens, if you can read Latin. The Roman Hippodrome can be easily found by following the highway that runs through the town; from there you can take a short walk west towards the port area for the Al Mina site.
Someway out of town - but well worth the drive - the ruins of the crusader Beaufort Castle (https://www.facebook.com/BeaufortCastle) would not be considered time wasted. The castle was built sometime in the 12th century, although it had been used as fortification prior to that. In decades that followed it was occupied by a number of different forces, including Saladin who took it from the crusaders following a long period of resistance in 1190. Such is the strategic importance of Beaufort Castle that it has been used in pretty much every conflict up to and including the 20th century. Today, only the ruins remain, but as you look out across the stunning landscape of rolling hills and majestic valleys it’s easy enough to understand why this place has been so important to so many different forces. The name of the site comes from the French ‘beau fort’ (meaning ‘beautiful fortress’) rather than similar sounding (but differently spelled) British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour whose name still rings around much of contemporary Middle Eastern politics. Travelling by car is your only real option to the site, and from Tyre this will take you around an hour but the journey as well as the destination is enjoyable.
By: James Haines-Young