Tartus is the largest
port city on the Syrian coast and largest city in Tartus Governorate
with an estimated population of 118,000 inhabitants as of 2004. The
majority of the population is ethnic Levantine Arab. However, there are
about 3,000 people of Greek origin who reside mainly in the town of Al
Hamidiyah just south of Tartus.
Since the start of the
Iraqi War, a few thousands Iraqi nationals now reside in Tartus.
The city lies on the
eastern coast of the Mediterranean sea bordered by the Alawite Mountains
to the east. The island of Arwad, the only inhabited in Syria, is
located a few kilometers off the shore of Tartus.
Tartus occupies mostal
a flat area, surrounded to the east by hills composed mainly of
limestone and, in certain places around the town of Souda, basalt.
The climate is
Mediterranean, with short winter months and a moderate temperature from
April to October. The hills to the east of the city create an
alternative environment and climate. Tartus is known for its mild
weather and high precipitation. Humidity in the summer can reach 80%.
The History of Tartus
goes back to the 2nd millennium BC when it was founded as a Phoenician
colony of Aradus. The colony was known as Antaradus (from Greek "Anti-Arados
> Antarados"] Anti-Aradus, meaning "The town facing Arwad"). Not much
remains of the Phoenician Antaradus, the mainland settlement that was
linked to the more important and larger settlements of Aradus, off the
shore of Tartus, and the nearby site of Amrit.
The city was favored by
emperor Constantine for its devotion to the cult of the Virgin Mary. The
first chapel to be dedicated to the Virgin is said to have been built
here in the 3rd century.
Muslim armies conquered
Tartus under the leadership of Ayyan bin al-Samet al-Ansary in 636.
In 1123 the Crusaders
built the church of Our Lady of Tortosa upon this site. It now houses
this altar and has received many pilgrims. The Cathedral itself was used
as a mosque after the Muslim reconquest of the city, then as a barracks
by the Ottomans. It was renovated under the French and is now the city
museum, containing antiquities recovered from Amrit and many other sites
in the region. Nur ad-Din retrieved Tartus from the Crusaders for a
brief time before it was lost again. In 1152, Tortosa was handed to the
Knights Templar, who used it as a military headquarters. They engaged in
some major building projects, constructing a castle with a large chapel
and an elaborate keep, surrounded by thick double concentric walls.
The Templars' mission was to protect the city and surrounding lands,
some of which had been occupied by Christian settlers, from Muslim
attack. The city of Tortosa was recaptured by Saladin in 1188, and the
main Templar headquarters relocated to Cyprus. However, in Tortosa, some
Templars were able to retreat into the keep, which they continued to use
as a base for the next 100 years. They steadily added to its
fortifications until it also fell, in 1291. Tortosa was the last outpost
of the Templars on the Syrian mainland, after which they retreated to a
garrison on the nearby island of Arwad, which they kept for another
The historic centre of
Tartus consists of more recent buildings built on and inside the walls
of the Crusader-era Templar fortress, whose moat still separates this
old town from the modern city on its northern and eastern sides. Outside
the fortress little historic remains can be seen, with the exception of
the former cathedral of Notre-Dame of Tartus, from the 12th century. The
church is now the seat of a museum. Former President Hafez Assad and his
predominantly Islamic administration had promised to return the site to
the Christians as a symbol of deep Christianity in Syria, however he
died before this promise was executed. Assad's son, President Bashar
Assad, has claimed to honor his father's promise.
Tartus and the
surrounding area are rich in antiquities and archeological sites.
Various important and well known sites are located within a 30-minute
drive from Tartus.
Here is a list of some
of the main attractions of the city:
The old city of Tartus.
Margat Castle, north of the city.
The historic Town of Safita.
Arwad island and castle.
The ancient cathedral of Our Lady of
Tortosa, now used as the city museum.
Beit el-Baik Palace.
Hosn Suleiman Temple.
Mashta Al Helou resort.