Latakia; Lattakia or Latakiyah ( Syrian pronunciation: ), is the principal port city of Syria, as well as the capital of the Latakia Governorate. In addition to serving as a port, the city is a manufacturing center for surrounding agricultural towns and villages. According to the 2004 official census, the population of the city is 383,786. It is the 5th-largest city in Syria after Aleppo, Damascus, Homs and Hama, and it borders Tartus to the south, Hama to the east, and Idlib to the north.
Though the site has been inhabited since the second millennium BC, the modern-day city was first founded in the 4th century BC under the rule of the Seleucid empire. Latakia was subsequently ruled by the Romans, then the Ummayads and Abbasids in the 8th–10th centuries. Under their rule, the Byzantines frequently attacked the city, periodically recapturing it before losing it again to the Arabs, particularly the Fatimids. Afterward, Latakia was ruled by the Seljuk Turks, Crusaders, Ayyubids, Mamluks and Ottomans. Following World War I, Latakia was assigned to the French mandate of Syria, in which it served as the capital of the autonomous territory of the Alawites. This autonomous territory became the Alawite State in 1922, proclaiming its independence a number of times until reintegrating into Syria in 1944.
Ancient settlement and founding
Early Islamic era
Crusader, Ayyubid, and Mamluk rule
In circa 1300, Arab geographer al-Dimashqi noted that there was no running water in Latakia and that trees were scarce, but the city's port was "a wonderful harbor... full of large ships." In 1332, the Moroccan traveller Ibn Battuta also visited Latakia in his journeys.
In 1888, when Wilayat Beirut was established, Latakia became its northernmost town.
In the Ottoman period, the region of Latakia became predominantly Alawi. The city itself, however, contained significant numbers of Sunni and Christian inhabitants. The landlords in the countryside tended to be Sunni, while the peasants were mostly Alawi. Like the Druzes, who also had a special status before the end of World War I, the Alawis had a strained relationship with the Ottoman overlords. In fact, they were not even given the status of millet, although they enjoyed relative autonomy.
French Mandate period
An extensive port project was proposed in 1948, and construction work began on the Port of Latakia in 1950, aided by a US$6 million loan from Saudi Arabia. By 1951, the first stage of the construction was completed, and the port handled an increasing amount of Syria's overseas trade.
A major highway linked Latakia with Aleppo and the Euphrates valley in 1968 and was supplemented by the completion of a railway line to Homs. The port became even more important after 1975, due to the troubled situation in Lebanon and the loss of Beirut and Tripoli as ports.
In 1973, during the October War (Yom Kippur War), the naval Battle of Latakia between Israel and Syria was fought just offshore from Latakia. The battle was the first to be fought using missiles and ECM (electronic countermeasures).
During the Syrian Civil War, the city was reportedly attacked by the Syrian army on the 14 August 2011. Activists claimed that 25 people died during the attack.
Latakia is the home of Russia's largest foreign electronic eavesdropping facility.