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Banyas

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This city is located on the Syrian coast, 55 km to the south of Latakia.It was an ancient Phoenician seaport.The Greeks called it Balemia.It was famous for its orchards and its export of wood.Today it is better known for its oil refinery.It still contains citrus fruit orchards surrounded by green hills.On one of the hills is the imposing al-Marqab Citadel, a huge fortress of black basalt stone.

In all the 90 kilometers between Lattakia and Tartous, the cost road gives us only one glimpse of the sea. This view comes as we approach Banias.

The town appears suddenly, spread round the curve of a small bay formed by the alluvium deposited by a shallow coastal river. It is far from compact in appearance, like so many military centers and ports, and would seem at first glance to depend more on agriculture than on the sea. There are great clumps of trees between the white houses with their pink roofs, and the slopes around enclose the town like a shell. The white domes of tombs mark the tops of some of the surrounding hills whilst the dark masse of the castle of Marqab crowns the highest, set a little way back from the others.

All around the orchards, fields and crops are protected from winds blowing in off the sea, by tall rows of cypresses. From time immemorial Banias has been famous for its gardens and for many years the town drew its wealth from great forests which have completely disappeared today. The port, which lost all its military importance after the re-conquest, depended entirely on its exports of wood. Today it is silted up and used by only a handful of fishing vessels. But, a sign of the times, a gigantic oil tankers are taking their place.

Balanea under the Greeks, La Valénie to the Crusaders, Banias is enjoying a new boom as an oil-pipe-line terminal.

A refinery, its towers dazzling silver in the sun, treats more than six million tons of crude oil every year. Harbor installations have been built out into the sea to permit continuous loading of tankers.

A little beyond this industrial complex, nature takes over once more. A vast stretch of water, half hidden behind dense trees, is the clue to the luxuriance of the plantations - particularly the nearby orange groves. I is fed by an underground spring whose waters flowed to waste, until very recently, into the Sinn - the shortest river in Syria, only 6 kilometers long.

It seems quite likely that the economic revival of Banias could lead to some development of tourism.

History

Like many other towns on the Syrian coast, Banias could attract tourists. If one or two decent hotels were built, and a modicum of resort facilities developed, visitors would certainly stay here.

The beach is narrow but extensive. The surrounding countryside, as we have seen, is attractive. If Banias itself has no picturesque reminders of its past, its hinterland contains many relics - some of them considerable - of the wars between Arabs and Franks. The castle of Marqab is one of the most impressive and the best preserved.

Another important fortress is that at Misyaf. This was the stronghold of the Ismailis; it can be reached in less than an hour by car, taking the attractive Banias-Hama road which skirts deep ravines to climb up to the ridge of the coastal mountain range, before plunging down towards the fertile Ghab.

Almost every ridge and peak in that range was fortified by someone. The "old Man of the Mountains" ruled over the heights for a long while. Unfortunately some of those areas are often difficult of access.

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