1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Latakia
LATAKIA (anc. Laodicea), the chief town of a sanjak in the Beirut vilayet of Syria, situated on the coast, opposite the island of Cyprus. The oldest name of the town, according to Philo Herennius, was Ράμιθα or Λευκὴ ἀκτή it received that of Laodicea (ad mare) from Seleucus Nicator, who refounded it in honour of his mother as one of the four “sister” cities of the Syrian Tetrapolis (Antioch, Seleucia, Apamea, Laodicea). In the Roman period it was favoured by Caesar, and took the name of Julia; and, though it suffered severely when the fugitive Dolabella stood his last siege within its walls (43 B.C.), Strabo describes it as a flourishing port, which supplied, from the vineyards on the mountains, the greater part of the wine imported to Alexandria. The town received the privileges of an Italian colony from Severus, for taking his part against Antioch in the struggle with Niger. Laodicea was the seat of an ancient bishopric, and even had some claim to metropolitan rights. At the time of the crusades, “Liche,” as Jacques de Vitry says it was popularly called, was a wealthy city. It fell to Tancred with Antioch in 1102, and was recovered by Saladin in 1188. A Christian settlement was afterwards permitted to establish itself in the town, and to protect itself by fortifications; but it was expelled by Sultan Kala’ūn and the defences destroyed. By the 16th century Laodicea had sunk very low; the revival in the beginning of the 17th was due to the new trade in tobacco. The town has several times been almost destroyed by earthquakes—in 1170, 1287 and 1822.
The people are chiefly employed in tobacco cultivation, silk and oil culture, poultry rearing and the sponge fishery. There is a large export of eggs to Alexandria; but the wealth of the place depends most on the famous “Latakia” tobacco, grown in the plain behind the town and on the Ansarieh hills. There are three main varieties, of which the worst is dark in colour and strong in flavour; the best, grown in the districts of Diryus and Amamareh, is light and aromatic, and is exported mainly to Alexandria; but much goes also to Constantinople, Cyprus and direct to Europe. After the construction of a road through Jebel Ansarieh to Hamah, Latakia drew a good deal of traffic from upper Syria; but the Hamah-Homs railway has now diverted much of this again. The products of the surrounding district, however, cause the town to increase steadily, and it is a regular port of call for the main Levantine lines of steamers. The only notable object of antiquity is a triumphal arch, probably of the early 3rd century, in the S.E. quarter of the modern town. Latakia and its neighbourhood formerly produced a very beautiful type of rug, examples of which are highly prized.
- (D. G. H.)