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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.
Geography and climate
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%.
Phoenician Antaradus
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.
Greco-Roman and Byzantine
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.[6] 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 decade.
Main sights
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.