Lattakia’s history dates back to at least 1000 BC, when it was a small Phoenician fishing village. Alexander the Great passed through in 333 BC, shortly after his renowned victory over the Persians at Issus, but Lattakia didn’t become a settlement of importance until the arrival of the Seleucids, the dynasty founded by one of Alexander’s generals in the 4th century BC. They gave the town its name, ‘Laodicea’, in honour of the mother of Seleucus I. During Roman times Mark Antony granted the town its autonomy, and in the 2nd century AD it briefly served as the capital of the Roman province of Syria.
A string of serious earthquakes during the 5th and 6th centuries were precursors of troubles to come. Lattakia was badly battered by the Crusader wars, changing hands several times between the armies of the Christians and the Muslims, and it was sacked and pillaged by both.
Lattakia stagnated under the subsequent rule of the Ottomans as other Levantine ports were preferred, and its harbour silted up. Rebellions by the local Alawites against the ruling administration gave the town little chance of regaining its former prosperity. Only when Hafez al-Assad came to power did the fortunes of the town change. There was plenty of local redevelopment, including the largely redundant ‘Olympic’ stadium and international airport. Equally bizarre was the decision to site the new port terminal on the city-centre seafront, effectively placing an immense physical and visual concrete barrier between the town and the Mediterranean Sea, to which Lattakia has traditionally owed its character.