2.5 km offshore from Tartous; originally settled as an urban center by the Canaanites, it was a prosperous trading center by the late second millennium. Under the Phoenicians, it became the base for a series of settlements of the coast as far as Jeble and inland almost to Homs and to the cult center at Baetocecea (Husn Suleiman), its seafaring skills gave it an important role in eastern Mediterranean trade in the first half of the first millennium BC.
After the decline of Ugarit, Arwad has become the principle Phoenician commercial power on the Syrian coast, rivaling Sidon in the south of present-day Lebanon.
Tiny though it is, Arwad has had an extraordinary history. Any place that has its origins written up in Genesis must be destined for a role of some significance. As the sole of habitable island off the Syrian coast and the only sizeable natural port between Tripoli and the mouth if the Orontes its inhabitants were able at times to dominate large areas of the fertile coastal region.
It was later taken by the Assyrians and the Achaemenid Persians. St. Paul is said to have stopped there on his journey to Rome. It was a Byzantine naval base but fell to the Arabs late 640, holding out after mainland Syria. The Templars were given custody of the island during the Crusader presence. From Arwad, the Crusaders made their last stand, hanging in until 1302, many years after the fall of the great mainland bastions – the Krak 1271, Qalaat Marqab 1285, Tripoli 1289 – and a decade after the loss of Acre and their last bases in the mainland, Athlit and Tartous 1291.
There are two small castles. The one in the middle of the island represents only part f the 13th century Crusader fort, which is now a museum. The other castle (on the port side) is Arab of Cyprus.
Arwad (ارواد) is Syria’s only inhabitable island, located 2.5 kilometers offshore from Tartus (طرطوس). The densely populated island has a long history dating back to the Phoenician period, but is more well known among Syrians for its numerous fish restaurants. While nothing from the Phoenicians remains, there are two small fortresses on the island, one left by the Crusaders which is open to visitors. This was the final point held by the Crusaders until their withdrawal to Cyprus, and the population of the island has remained Sunni Muslim since their departure.
Apart from the island’s historical attractions, the tight maze of alleyways is fun to explore, and the lack of motor vehicles refreshing (though the hordes of children sometimes overwhelming). On the northwest and northeastern points of the island, local boat-builders can be observed. The island also has an unusually large number of public posters of the president and his late father. A fairly thorough visit of the island can be completed in a few hours, allow a bit more time if planning to dine at one of the seafood restaurants.
Getting There: Ferries between Tartus (طرطوس) and Arwad (ارواد) run until the evening. They depart Tartus (طرطوس) from a small port a couple hundred meters south of the old city. The fare is paid upon return to Tartus (طرطوس). Boats can also be hired from Arwad (ارواد) to visit nearby uninhabited islands.