The 2012 season led to – among others – three important advances in our understanding of the town of Tyre.
Firstly, in Zone 1, known as the medieval cathedral, the remains of a small building containing a basin were uncovered to the north-east of the cathedral, under vegetation and modern rubbish. The analysis of the structure and the excavation of the few in situ layers revealed two phases of this trapezoidal building measuring approximately 12 metres along its north-south axis by 9 metres from east to west. It has been identified as a building for performing ablutions which was linked to a mosque which was partly underground, buried in the pre-existing levels. Its two successive phases are characterised by individual compartments, latrines and shower rooms (collective and individual), organised around a paved central space which was accessed by a stairs, and which contained a rectangular central basin during the second phase. A sophisticated system of water pipes ensured the building functioned as intended. The last modifications to these pipes, well dated by the pottery evidence, belong to the Fatimid period (end of the 11th century). Analysis of photographs from the earlier DGA excavations, in addition to the examination of the foundations of the Frankish cathedral and the large east-west wall levelled in the south side aisle, demonstrated that the ablutions building leant against the eastern wall of a huge mosque whose last phase was Fatimid. The remains of a swallowtail key brick arch are evidence for this. It appears that the mosque was levelled to make space for the crusader cathedral.
Secondly, in Zone 4, a large proportion of the ruins of an octagonal building was found, though they had been badly damaged. This building occupies the central part of the zone, and is delimited by streets found on three of its four sides. The remains of marble decorations, including liturgical tables and chancels, along with fragments of mosaic floors, in situ or restored, enable us to identify the building, octagonal in shape, surrounded by annexes, as a Proto-Byzantine Christian martyrium from the 5th or 6th century, of a type well known in the Near East. Previous researchers had interpreted the structure as a market or trade centre. Shops and monumental structures were identified to the south-east, on the other side of a colonnaded street which bordered the martyrium.
Lastly, in the central part of the “tiered building” in Zone 2, substantial remains predating the various phases of the thermal baths were excavated and recorded. They appear to correspond to a group of structures oriented differently than the Roman period buildings and which date to the end of the Iron Age (Persian period, 5th-4th centuries BC). This consists of a rectangular, paved structure and a series of walls – some of which have up to three layers of blocks preserved – which form rectangular rooms. It will be necessary to establish the link between the Iron Age “Phoenician” structures and the other contemporary buildings, in particular the temple studied by a team from the American University of Beirut in the north of Zone 7. A religious use can be envisaged. Although the role of this monumental complex has yet to be determined, the chronology is clear. It was abandoned and destroyed in the Hellenistic period, after which more modest and dispersed Hellenistic buildings were constructed on the site.
In Zone 2, north of the “tiered building”, work this season also demonstrated that the network of cisterns, previously thought to have been preserved on only three sides of this building, also continued on its northern side. In this area, substantial Proto-Byzantine modifications and the construction of a large buttressed medieval wall had largely destroyed the evidence.
All of the remains discovered were surveyed by the topographer in order to be integrated into general site map. A number of areas not excavated this year were also recorded and added to the map. Finally, the topographical survey was also used to refine the position of somestone artefacts from the collection currently being studied.