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
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."