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Tartus 360° virtual tour
Tartus is a less-visited city in Syria compared to famous places like Aleppo or Palmyra. It is however still worth traveling to this coastline city to discover its striking Medieval heritage. Tartus can also be a good starting point for day-trips to nearby castles.
The most important monument is the church of Our Lady of Tortosa with dimensions of 41m*34,5 metres right in the middle of the fortified town. This church belongs to the most important historic monuments of the Crusader period since it is a typical example of how Byzantine culture influenced Latin architecture. Its style is mostly Gothic, Gothic art influence appears in the decoration of the capitals and columns. Since the church is located close to the city walls, it had to be fortified heavily to withold attacks. Thus four circular towers were attached to the building. Each tower could be used both as a storage room and for defense purpose as well.
1. History of Tartus
City of Tartus has a very long history that goes back to Phoenicians to early 2nd millennium BC. At that time Tartus had only got a secondary role compared to a settlement on the island of Arwad, only 3 kilometers from the present harbor of Tartus. Arwad (in Greek Aradus or Arados) was an excellent base for their commercial operations into both the Orontes Valley and the hinterland as far as the Euphrates and also to Egypt. Thus, referring to the importance of Arwad, Tartus was called as Antaradus meaning anti-Aradus, or the town facing Aradus. Temple ruins of Amrit just a few kilometers from Tartus and excellent human-shaped coffins exhibited in Tartus Museum remind us of the Phoenician period of Tartus.
1.2. Byzantine shrine
Tartus was favored by Byzantine Emperor Constantine and the first shrine dedicated to Virgin Mary is said to have been built there in the 3rd century. The altar of the chapel with an icon painted by Luke the Evangelist is believed to have miraculously survived an earthquake in 487 without any significant damage. During Byzantine times, the city was temporarily renamed to Constantia but it soon got back its old name.
Muslim armies conquered the city under the leadership of Ayyan bin al-Samet al-Ansary in 636. Byzantine Emperor Nicephorus II Phocas successfully retook the city in 968, but it again fell to the Arabs. Finally it was seized by Raymond of Saint-Gilles in 1101 who left the city to his son, Alfonso Jordan in 1105. Crusaders called the city Tortosa and it became the fief of the Count of Tripoli. It was developed into a fortress city and also an important site of pilgrimage. Construction works of the new cathedral, the church of Our Lady of Tortosa began by 1123. The peaceful years came to and end in 1152 when Nur ad-Din, Atabeg of Aleppo briefly occupied the city. It was however retaken soon by the Count of Tripoli who handed it over to the Templars. The warrior monks built a citadel near the harbor and refortified the whole town. The next battle for the city happened in 1188, when Saladin took the entire city except for one bastion. That tower became the stronghold of the Templars who started a counter-attack and finally captured the entire city back. City of Tartus couldn't escape its fate, and as the last outpost of the Templars on the Syrian mainland, it finally fell in 1291.
1.4. Crusader heritage
After the final loss of the city, it was slowly converted according to the needs of its new owners. Crusader fortifications (ie. outer and inner wall structures) were kept, but they were built over by modern houses. The great hall with a small adjacent chapel still stand, but both of them are in a neglected state. The cathedral was first converted into a mosque, later restored by the French government and now it houses the Archeological Museum of Tartus since 1956.
2. When to see
City walls, the great hall and the adjacent chapel can be visited at any time. The Archeological Museum in Tartus Cathedral is open from 9am-6pm between April and September and from 9am-4pm between October and March. It is closed on Tuesdays.