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Tartus (Tortosa)

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The second most important Syrian seaport on the Mediterranean (90 km to the south of Latakia).It was called Antaradus by the Phoenicians and Tortusa by the Byzantines.Tortusa was to become one of the main supply ports for the Crusaders and a military base of considerable importance.It was held by the templars, but recovered by Salaeddin in 1188.

The Greatest period in the history of Antaradus, as a Phoenician port on the mainland, annexed to the active island base of Aradus ( Presently isle of Arwad), took place in Byzantine times. The name gradually changed into Tortosa. Crowds of Christians used to come here on pilgrimage to pray in the chapel which was said to have been dedicated to the Virgin Mary by Saint Peter, When the Father of the Apostles was on his way from Jerusalem to Antioch.

An icon was placed here, so they say, by Saint Luke the Evangelist, The same icon that the convent of Sydnaya today claims to posses. Muslim, then Byzantine again around the year 1000, Tartosa was to become one of the main supply ports for the Crusades and a military based of considerable importance, held by the templars. In 1188, Saladin re-conquered the town, but could not capture the keep, surrounded as it was by a board ditch, equipped with advanced engines of war and defended by the best knights of the order. The few remains of the medieval fortress and its double wall are lost in the midst of the present day town and little is left to stir the imagination.

The town itself, however, with its tiny streets and narrow passageways, does convey something of the atmosphere of the medieval city. While the square foundations of several towers are to be seen on the sea front a pointed ~arch gate~ way at the north entrance of the town and some fragments of arises and some sculptured consoles are on one side of a square that correspond to the great hall where the chapter of the templars gathered. Not very much in view of the past importance of Tartosa. The interior is in marked contrast. The medieval rigor is now relaxed. The high central cave divides into hour pointed vaults. The side –aisles with their rib-vaults follow the same patter the stone-work of the three apses in done with the greatest care. The Mediterranean light streams in through the triple window in the façade and through the choir windows on to dedicate pink stone. The Capitals are an imitation of the Corinthian type, but with great variety in the leaf patterns. Broad curling leaves croquets opening out into graceful eglantines, central rosettes with something a small human head in their place.


City History

The greatest period in the history of Antaradus, as Phoenician port on the mainland, annexed to the active island base of Aradus (the present Isle of Arwad) occurred in Byzantine times. The name gradually changed into Tortosa. Crowds of Christians used to come here on pilgrims to pray an a chapel which was said to have been dedicated to the Virgin Nary by Saint Peter, when the Father of the Apostles was on his way from Jerusalem to Antioch. An ion was placed here, so they say, by Saint Luke the Evangelist, the same ion that the Convent of Seidnaya today claims to possess.

Muslim, then Byzantine again around the year 1000, Tortosa was to become one of the main supply ports for the Crusaders and a military bass of considerable importance, held by the Templars.

In 1188, Salah al Din reconquered the town, but could not capture the keep, surrounded as it was by a broad ditch, equipped with advanced engines of war and defended by the best knights of the Order. Tortosa was to remain in the hands of the Franks until 1291. The struggle was then an unequal one, and the last defenders had to flee in a pitiful manner through a postern-gate can still be seen at the foot of the keep leading straight down to the sea. Rwad Island (Arwad) was not liberated until 1302.

The few remains of the medieval fortress and its double wall are lost in the midst of the present-day town and little is left to stir the imagination. The town itself, however, with its tiny and narrow passageways, does convey something of the atmosphere of the medieval city, with square foundations of several towers to be seen on the sea front, a pointed-arch gateway at the north entrance to the town and some fragment of arises and some sculpted consoles on one side of a square that corresponds to the great hall where the Chapter of the Templars gathered. Not very much in view of the past importance of Tortosa.


Tourism Guide

The cathedral :

Purity of line allied with sober material, giving an architectural strength itself the symbol of a living faith, is not this a definition of medieval Christian? It fits the Cathedral of Notre-Dame of Tortosa perfectly. Even the main doorway, which is a piece of reconstruction, blends in fully with the whole building. Five windows with broad embrasures, emphasize by fine colonnettes, are the sole and sufficient ornament of a facade of otherwise military austerity. There is indeed, moreover, something of the fortress about this solid, squat edifice flanked by very salient buttresses and leaning against two towers whose walls are pierced by narrow arrow slits.

The interior is in marked contrast. The medieval rigour is now relaxed.

The high central nave divides into four pointed vaults. The side-aisles with their rib-vaults follow the same pattern. The stonework of the three apses is done with the greatest of care. The Mediterranean light streams in through the triple window in the facade and through the choir windows on to the delicate pink stone. The capitals are an imitation of the Corinthian type, but with great variety in the leaf patterns: broad curling leaves, croquets eglantines, central rosettes with sometimes a small human head in their place…

One of the curious features of the church is found on the second pillar on the left hand side of the nave. Its base is lodged in cubical piece of masonry pierced by a low vault. This is probably the entrance to the old Byzantine chapel through which the pilgrims passed in the 4th or 5th century to make their devotions to the ion of the Virgin and take communion at the altar of Saint Peter.

Antiquity: Ugarit-Ras-Shamra showcase (site near Lattakia); Tal Soukas showcase; bigger showcases for finds made at Amrit (the site is attached to Tartous): lamps, small statues, human figures from the 4th century B.C., prettily draped busts, Venus in terracotta, bronzes, surgical instruments of the Greek-Roman period, etc. In the central apse, a monumental sarcophagus ornamented with rose garlands, pine-needles, representations of Eros, dating from the 2nd century A.D. (rather craftsmanship).

Folklore: In this area with a seafaring tradition, the objects collected here are mainly to do with the sea, fishing and navigation: shells, madreporse, fish models of ships and sailing boats, fishing-nets and fishermen’s clothing; there is an earthenware crater 1.20 meter tall used for carrying wine. There are posters describing the importance of the Isle Aradus (Arwad) for trade and transport in Cananaean times. As a self-governing kingdom, the island also provided a place of refuge for the peoples of the coast at the time of the Assyrian invasions and the refugees were made responsible for keeping the people of Aradus supplied with drinking water. The port and the city that were thus in close relation with the island did not in fact stand on the site of the present Tartous, but occupied a section of the coast 10 km further south; they have gone down in history by the name of Amrit in Cananaean times and later, under Greek influence: Marathos.

Several coastal towns served as "mainland suburbs" for the Aradians on their island stronghold: Paltos (Arab al Mulaq, between Jabal and Banias), Balanea (Banias), Carene (Al Qarniene, south of Banias), Antaradus (Tartous), Enhydra (Tal Qamqa, near the present Lebanese frontiers). The most prosperous, perhaps because closest to the tiny, but beautiful metropolis, was Amrit-Marathos. In the 3rd century B.C., under the Seleucides, the colony made an attempt to free itself from the domination of the Aradians, but the people of Aradus had no hesitation in destroying the town.

Finely decorated cups, elegantly shaped vases, bronze tools and, above all, admirable figurines, whose smile expresses pleasure in life and untrammeled intelligence, testify to the degree of civilization attained at Amrit-Marathos. These souvenirs are assembled (apart from the showcase in the Tartous Museum) in one of the rooms of the National Museum in Damascus. The collection of coins with the head of Tyche stamped on one side, and a Phoenician ship and Marathus’ name in Phoenician and Greek on the other, is particularly interesting.

Outside the museum, a necropolis and a temple are all that appears to remain of the vanishes town.

Seven kilometers south of Tartous (Homs-Tripoli road, then track suitable for motor vehicles to the right), two strange monuments stand on the summit of a tall, overgrown by the heath; they are sorts of towers or landmarks, one of them pyramid-shaped, the other phallic. The local people call them "Maghazel", the spindles. The cylindrical one stands on a base flanked by four lions, unfortunately now rather dilapidated. An intended double crown sits on the top. The other is entirely without ornament. At the foot of these monuments and round about, tombs and burial vaults have been carved out of the rock. Part of the Amrit fort was discovered during recent excavations.

The temple that has been uncovered 1,500 meters or so to the north is no less intriguing. The Al Maabad Temple is thought to date from the 5th century B.C. It consists of a vast sunken area (about 50 meters by 40metres, and 3 meters deep) in the central part of the temple, resting on a rock pedestal. The sanctuary was dedicated to some aquatic deity and was surrounded by water from a sacred spring gushing from an open grotto in the east side of the temple.


Town Around The City

  1. Amrit

  2. Arwad

  3. Dreykish

  4. Safita

  5. UGARIT

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