Latakia, Syria's main port on the Mediterranean coast, owes its rich history to the successive empires of the Levant that used the strategic geographic location both as a busy trade point and as a first line of defense for the inland colonies. Latakia enjoyed great prosperity under the Roman Empire, as its port gained in importance and rivaled Antioch to its north. The Romans equipped Latakia (Laodicea as it was known then) with a city grid, an aqueduct and colonnaded boulevards. This prosperity continued throughout the Byzantine period before the city began to suffer from natural disasters (repeated earthquakes) and continuous invasions (Persian, Byzantine, Seljuks, Crusaders, Mamluks and Ottomans). The city's Hippodamian grid organizes the neighborhoods along a 1.5 km east-west axis spanning from the hilly inland edge to the port.

As a result of frequent conquests of the city, few monuments of the historic periods remain. Among the fragments are: parts of the Roman Corinthian colonnades, a four way Roman arch (tetraporticus), and a fourteenth century Mamluk tower. There are several well-maintained churches in Latakia including the Byzantine Church of the Virgin and the Church of Saint Nicholas from the seventeenth century. The historic mosques in Latakia are mostly restored and in use, like the thirteenth century Masid al-Kabir (Great Mosque) and the eighteenth century Majid al-Jadid (the New Mosque) that was built by Suleiman Pasha al-Azem.

Latakia lost most of its significance during the Ottoman period as Beirut and Antioch's larger ports better served the empire. It did not develop as a major modern port until the mid-1950s when it was endowed to serve as Syria's main, unrivalled coastal city. In addition to the heavy economic use of the port for the country's import/export exchange, Latakia has in the past 20 years been developed to accommodate the growing desire for recreational facilities.

As the city slowly accommodated a growing number of resort hotels, beaches and chalets, Latakia was selected to host the 1988 Mediterranean Sea Games. Through these games the city gained a complete athletic complex with all the needed sports facilities. The modern Sport City (al-Madina al-Riyadiya), coupled with contemporary resort hotels, reflect a new commercial Latakia with its core industry detached from the city's history.


Burns, Ross. Monuments of Syria: A Historical Guide. London: I.B. Tauris &Co. Ltd. 1992. 145.

Ball, Warwick. Syria: A Historical and Architectural Guide. New York: Interlink Books, 1994,119-123.

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