It’s a major Syrian seaport, 320 km north of Damascus. Like most of the other cities of the Levantine coast, Lattakia has played its role in entertaining most of Syria’s conquerors.
It was a Phoenician village nearly a millennium before Christ but fell to the Assyrians and then the Persians who made it part of their fifth satrapy. In 333 BC Alexander took it to become a major town of the Seleucid Kingdom under Seleucos I Nicator (311 – 181 BC).
Named in honor of the mother of Seleucos (later modified by the Romans to Laodicea), it played a vital role in Seleucid and Roman times. In addition to serving as a port, it was particularly known for its wine and is mentioned by Strabo as the main supplier to the Alexandrian market. Mark Anthony, whose eventful relationship with Cleopatra sent him storming up and down this coast, won the town’s temporary support by granting autonomy and some remission of taxes.
The Crusaders again put it on the fault line between Christian and Muslim. It was taken by Raymond Count of Toulouse, even before Antioch was fallen. The city, along with Jeble, was included in 1126 in the dowry of Alice, daughter of King Baldwin of Jerusalem, who made an unsuccessful bid to assume the regency of Antioch.
Saladin took and pillaged it in 1188 and it remained a Muslim enclave on the coast under Aleppo’s control until 1260, then it was returned to the Principality of Antioch. Still, it remained a Crusader enclave but reverted again to Arab hands in 1287 under Qalaun’s series of victories following the taking of Marqab in 1285.Lattakia under Ottomans became merely a dependency of Tripoli (Lebanon) or Hama.
Its fortunes revived in the 17th century through the silk and tobacco trade and by the 18th century it had again become a major port, comparable to Smyrna or Tripoli. It could not sustain this role in the 19th century due to competition from Beirut and Tripoli. By the beginning of the 20th century, it was a fishing village (population 7000) with a silted up harbor.
It resumed a more prominent role under the French when it was the capital of the Alawite state set up for much of the Mandate period.
In the southern part of the old city, one of the few surviving indications of the town’s past glory is the four-sided gateway (tetraporticos), erected at the eastern end of one of the main transverse streets (decumanus). The French scholar Sauvaget reconstructed the plan of Roman Laodicea in a study completed by the thirties. The city was based on a grid laid out on a long axis (1.5 km) in the area between the sea (and port) on the west and a low range of hills on the east. The decumanus was off course colonnaded on both sides as the Roman pattern in most of Roman colonies in Syria.
Lattakia has a sizeable Greek Orthodox population which has paid considerable attention in recent years to the care and restoration of its churches. The church of the Virgin lies in the suq in the block south of the Archbishop’s office. The original building may go back as far as Byzantine times. Its simple single-nave plan was embellished in the 18th century by an ornate marble iconostasis. A smaller chapel with an econ of the Virgin believed to have miraculous properties is on the right.
The second church is the Church of St Nicolas in Maysaloun St., includes a notable collection of icons of the Syrian school of the 17th and 18th centuries and an ebony wood throne dated 1721. Right of the main nave is a chapel to St Moses the Ethiopian.
Several of the Lattakia’s mosques are worth inspecting. They include the early 13th century Masjid al Kbeir (Great Mosque) and the 18th century Masjid al Jadid (New Mosque), erected by Suleiman Pasha al Azem.
The Museum was opened in 1986 in the building along the seafront which formerly housed the residence of the Governor of the Alawite State during the French Mandate. The building was originally a khan (perhaps 16th century) serving the tobacco trade and later a private residence.
In Jumhuriye (republic) Street stands a group of four elegant monolith columns, topped with Corinthian capitals. This may have been part of the Temple of Adonis whose myth, sourced to the mountainous region of northern Lebanon, was strong in this area.
“In Greek Mythology, Adonis was a human, so beautiful that Aphrodite (Venus in Roman Mythology and Ishtar in Semitic) feel in love with him. Therefore, Zeus, the king of the gods, has decided that he lives a third of the year with Aphrodite and a third at his service and the rest of the year in the underworld. Adonis became an enthusiastic hunter, and was killed by a wild boar during the chase. Aphrodite pleaded for his life with Zeus, who allowed Adonis to spend half of each year with her and half in the underworld.”
Lattakia (اللاذقية) is largest city on the coast, and the fourth largest in Syria overall. With a wide range of accommodation options, it is arguably the best base for exploring the coastal region. While most of the city is quite modern and developed, there are some interesting historical remains from the Roman period as well as some attractive older mosques. The city also has a small museum in an Ottoman-era khan.
Getting There: Lattakia (اللاذقية) has regular bus connections to all major cities in Syria, though if traveling from the east of Syria a connection may need to be made in Homs (حمص) or Aleppo (حلب). There is also a train that connects Lattakia (اللاذقية) to Aleppo (حلب) and offers beautiful scenery along the way.