Latakia or Latakiyah ( اللَاذِقِيَّة Al-Ladhiqiyah) 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. Its population in 2009 was 650,558 and consisted of Sunnis, Alawites and Greek Orthodox Christians.
Though the site has been inhabited since the second millennium BCE, the modern-day city was first founded in the 4th century BCE 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 State of Alawites in 1922, proclaiming its independence a number of times until reintegrating into Syria in 1944.
The location of Latakia, the Ras Ziyarah peninsula, has a long history of occupation. The Phoenician city of Ramitha was located here, known to the Greeks as Leukê Aktê 'white coast'. Ramitha dates at least to the second millennium BCE and was a part of the kingdom of Ugarit a few miles further north. As Ugarit declined at the end of the second millennium BCE, the better natural harbor facilities at Ramitha increased its importance.
The settlement became part of the Assyrian Empire, later falling to the Persians, who incorporated it into their fifth satrapy, Abar-Nahara, beyond the river. It was taken by Alexander the Great in 333 BCE following his victory at Battle of Issus over the Persian army led by Darius III, beginning the era of Hellenism in Syria.
After the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BCE, Northern Syria fell under the control of Seleucus I Nicator. He founded the city of Laodicea on the site, one of five cities named after his mother Laodice. Laodicea became a main center of Greek culture and one of the new satrapal headquarters. It was the main harbor for Apamea, linked with a road across the Alawi mountains. Laodicaea became a major port, second only to Seleucia Pieria. It formed a tetrapolis, with Antioch, Seleucia Pieria and Apamea linking the four main cities of Seleucid Syria into a union known as the Syrian tetrapolis.
The city was described in Strabo's Geographica:
It is a city most beautifully built, has a good harbour, and has territory which, besides its other good crops, abounds in wine. Now this city furnishes the most of the wine to the Alexandreians, since the whole of the mountain that lies above the city and is possessed by it is covered with vines almost as far as the summits. And while the summits are at a considerable distance from Laodicea, sloping up gently and gradually from it, they tower above Apameia, extending up to a perpendicular height.