Saving Tyre

Two years ago, a unique event – a lottery that was the first of its kind– caught the attention of much of the world. Newspapers across the globe announced the raffle of a genuine Picasso from the peak of his cubist period.

One lucky winner took HOME Picasso’s famous “Man with Opera Hat,” estimated to be worth $1 million for the price of a lottery ticket, approximately $137.

More importantly, the organization that sponsored the raffle, the International Association to Save Tyre (IASTYR), raised an estimated $5 million to finance research and preservation projects in the UNESCO World Heritage Site on the southern coast of Lebanon. The raffle was one of a lifetime of efforts initiated by the president of the IASTYR, Dr. Maha al-Khalil Chalabi, to save the city she loves.

Tyre, one of the ancient capitals of Phoenicia, founded in 2,750 B.C., contains the vestiges of eight successive civilizations—the Phoenicians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, European crusaders and the Ottomans. It is a “cultural epicenter of human knowledge and accomplishment,” writes blogger Keri Douglas, whose blog, 9 Muses News (9musesnews. com), features new trends in art, business and innovation with a special interest in cultural heritage around the world. 

Saving Tyre for humanity has become the life’s work of Dr. Chalabi. For 40 years, Dr. Chalabi has worked passionately to educate world opinion leaders and authorities about what is at stake – the irreplaceable ancient ruins of a Mediterranean city whose “history is intermingled with all the great events of ancient times,” as described by the association’s website,

Her efforts brought about the founding of IASTYR, the Tyre Foundation, the UNESCO World Heritage designation and an international campaign to support research on protection of Tyre’s archeological sites.

A native of Tyre, Dr. Chalabi grew up among the ruins of this ancient city. Throughout her childhood, her awareness of the importance of the city grew. It was a maritime city for perhaps the world’s first great seafaring civilization, the Phoenicians. It can lay claim to being an early bastion of democracy, as well as a birthplace of the alphabet, the discovery of purple dye and the art of glass blowing. At the crossroads of the ancient world, it became the center of commerce, as well as a Mecca of history and art, and a trophy for successive conquering empires. 

Throughout her adult life, Dr. Chalabi has dedicated herself to making Tyre better known to the public. She graduated in social sciences at the

French faculty of medicine in Beirut, and in political sciences at the faculty of law of Universite Saint-Joseph. In 1972, she launched the International Festival of Tyre, which included artistic, cultural and sports events, including the reenactment of Roman chariot races in the hippodrome of Tyre. 

In 1975, with the outbreak of war, Tyre and her subsoil, holding a 6,000-year-old witness of the city’s greatness, became the scene of violence. Fearful of the danger it faced, Dr. Chalabi alerted various international organizations and, in particular, UNESCO, the League of Arab States and the United Nations. 

“At her insistence, and with the support of the Lebanese ambassador to the United Nations, the Security Council included a paragraph in a resolution dated December 19, 1979, declaring that Tyre formed part of the ‘patrimony of humanity’ and that it was imperative that it be safeguarded.”

“Strengthened in her resolve by these decisions, emanating from the world’s highest political body, Dr. Chalabi decided, together with Lebanon’s permanent delegate to UNESCO, to create the International Association to Save Tyre, which assembles eminent personalities from the worlds of culture and science, all deeply concerned about the future of this ancient metropolis. On May 5, 1980, during the ‘Day for Tyre,’ held at UNESCO’s Paris headquarters, the International Association to Save Tyre received official recognition and Dr. Chalabi was elected Secretary General.” 

Since its establishment in 1980, the IASTYR has conducted a worldwide information campaign. Its aim is to draw the attention of governments, international organizations and public opinion to the considerable importance of safeguarding Tyre for humanity. The United Nations, UNESCO, the European Parliament, the U.S. Senate, the U.K. House of Lords, the League of Arab Nations and other organizations have adopted resolutions to protect Tyre.

A major victory was achieved when, in November 1984, Tyre was added to the World Heritage Site list (Also on the list are the Lebanese cities of Byblos, Baalbek and Anjar). That was the same year that Dr. Chalabi completed her dissertation at Sorbonne “West- East Relations Analyzed through Tyre Travelers – 16th to 19th Centuries.”

In February 2008, Dr. Chalabi created the Tyre Foundation as a financing mechanism to support the work of IASTYR. The Foundation also promotes dialogue among civilizations, cultures and people, through a variety of projects.

In another effort to bring like-minded people in an organization to protect her beloved Tyre, in 2009 Dr. Chalabi founded the League of Canaanite, Phoenician and Punic Cities (LCCPP).

Made up of more than 47 historic cities around the Mediterranean, it is “a real link between sister cities, sharing a common history and culture, and a mutual set of values, the LCCPP promotes effective cooperation for sustainable development, based on the sharing of skills, know-how and experience.”


These three organizations, and Dr. Chalabi’s devoted efforts, all culminate in three types of projects:

  • Activities that support the rehabilitation and protection of ancient sites
  • Encouraging cultural events, education and research that promote the history and heritage of Tyre
  • Supporting the continuation of the artisanal crafts in Tyre, as the core of cultural and human heritage

In a second book, entitled “Phoenician Art, Neo-Phoenician Expressions,” Dr. Chalabi invites readers to discover the Phoenician Art through history, cultural beliefs of the people, but also through the myths and legends.