220 km north west of Damascus – about 60 km south of Lattakia; Tartous has been rapidly developed in recent decades as Syria’s second port city, with a number of major industries to the north. It has been connected to the national rail and road grid and the expansion of the city has robbed it of much of its sleepy charm as a small Mediterranean fishing port with its roots firmly planted in the past. The old city retains some of its character and the former Cathedral of Our Lady of Tortosa is one of the most remarkable surviving remains of the religious architecture of the Crusaders outside Jerusalem.
Tartous was originally founded by Phoenicians to complement the more secure but less accessible settlement on the island of Arwad. It was also an important, though secondary after Arwad, center in Seleucid and Roman times. The classical name, Antaradus (anti-Aradus – “the town facing Aradus” or Arwad) reflected this secondary role. Constantine (306 – 337) made it a separate city and his successor, Constantius renamed it “Constantia” in 346 as he favored its Christian inhabitants over the pagans of Arwad. One of the earliest chapels in the Virgins honor was built there before the 4th century. The altar of the chapel is believed to have miraculously escaped destruction by an earthquake in 487. An icon said to have been painted by the evangelist St Luke, was also venerated there.
After passing into Muslim hands with the Arab conquest in the 630s, Tartous was one of the towns the Byzantine Emperor Nicephorus II Phocas retook in his effort to reassert Byzantine sovereignty in Syria in 968. Once again it fell to the Arabs hands, but in 1101, Raymond de Saint Gilles, Count of Toulouse began his concerted campaign to take Tripoli and the areas connecting the coast and the Orontes near Homs. He turned Tartous into a fortress city owing allegiance to Tripoli. The Franks strongly promoted the Marian pilgrimage and after 1123 began construction of the cathedral of Our Lady of Tortosa. The city was occupied by Nūr al din in 1152 then his nephew, Saladin, added Tartous to his victories in 1188.
The Cathedral of Our Lady
Dates entirely from the 13th century improvements to the original Crusader redevelopments. It had lost most of the two towers it had. The plan is three aisled basilicas, each has four bays and ends in an apse, the central one being preceded by a short choir. The eastern towers are still reachable by the passageways off the apses.
It contains a number of objects of interest from various periods, notably: Syro/Phoenician finds; some figures from 5th century Greek colonization; Roman glass; bronze and sculptures; as well as later remains.
The concentric defenses consisted of: outer ditch and town wall; inner ditch and first defense wall around the citadel; main citadel wall in with square bastions; and the central donjon.
Tartus (طرطوس) is the second largest city on Syria’s Mediterranean coast, a provincial capital, and home to an important seaport. It is most well-known for its important role during the Crusades, when it was called Tortosa, but its history dates back to the Phoenician period. It is a well-developed city that has numerous parks and a generally quiet, slow-paced atmosphere. Historical remains include the old town, occupying the interior of the former Crusader castle, and a cathedral from the same period that now houses the city museum. There are numerous hotels in town to suit all budgets, making it a convenient base for visiting other attractions in the region.
Getting There: Tartus (طرطوس) is a major city and provincial capital, and therefore is well-connected by public transportation. Regular buses travel between Tartus (طرطوس) and Lattakia (اللاذقية), Homs (حمص), Damascus (دمشق) and Aleppo (حلب). From more distant cities such as Deir al-Zur (دير الزور), it may be easiest to transit via Homs (حمص).Public transportation around Tartus (طرطوس) is very good, and made even easier by the use of a single bus station for all destinations around the region. While microbuses to and from certain destinations may stop running in the late afternoon, and a couple sites require a bit of walking or hitchhiking, the area around Tartus (طرطوس) is generally convenient to get around.