News coming out of Syria is not good. Syria’s dictatorial leadership has oppressed the people of Syria and tried to keep them uninformed about world events.
My first visit to Damascus, the capital of Syria, was in 1967 — just a day visit from Beirut. I returned several times during the next decade and made one trip by road from Beirut to Damascus and on to Amman. During that trip I left my camera in the seat of the car when we stopped at the Syrian border with Jordan. When I got back in the car I noticed that my camera back was open. The film had been exposed. I still remember that some of my best photos ever were on that roll. Sort of like the fish that got away.
My only visit throughout the country of Syria was in May, 2002, when a teaching colleague and I spent a week in the country driving to most of the major cities and historical sites.
We drove along the Mediterranean coast from south to north in order to visit Ras Shamra (Ugarit), significant because of what the site revealed about Canaanite culture. This means that we needed to spend the night at Latakia, about 6 or 7 miles south of Ugarit. We stayed at the nice LeMeridien seaside hotel.
Internet use was difficult. I recall dialing long distance from the Commodore Hotel in Damascus to Beirut in order to have dial-up service to AOL. We had set up AOL and Excite accounts, having heard that some hotels would allow one, and some another. AOL generally was not allowed in the country. I have a copy of the short Email we sent home from Latakia.
Today we go to Ebla and on to Aleppo. We are unable to check our mail here. Access to AOL and Excite are prohibited on this server, but the hotel staff was kind to allow us to use one of the office computers. So we can at least let you know we are fine. Hope to have some mail from you when we arrive in Aleppo.
Later from Aleppo I wrote,
Hotel personnel are helpful and friendly. I am not able to go to AOL or Excite to get mail. A backroom manager-type allowed me to use the hotel email to write.
Latakia is not named in the Bible, but the city is important in wider biblical history. In 1967 I purchased a copy of The Middle East, one of the Hachette World Guides, published in 1966. Here are a few facts garnered from that book.
- In the 2nd millennium B.C. Latakia was part of the territory of Ugarit
- Latakia became part of the Assyria empire during the 9th century B.C.
- In 604 B.C. Latakia was controlled by the Babylonians.
- The town became part of the 5th Persian satrapy.
- After the Battle of Issus (333 B.C.) Alexander conquered the city.
- Seleucus I named the city Laodicea in honor of his mother.
- The city later came under Roman, Byzantine, Islamic, Crusader, again Islamic, French, modern Syria, etc.
This late afternoon photo shows the harbor on the north side of Latakia. This is probably not more than 30 miles south of the Syria-Turkey border.
The next photo was made in the center of town. Ross Burns, Monuments of Syria, says,
In Jumhuriye Square (where the Damascus and Ugarit roads start) stand a grouping of four elegant monolith columns, topped with Corinthian capitals. This may have been part of the Temple of Adonis whose myth, sourced to the mountainous region of Northern Lebanon, was strong in this area. (p. 145)
It would not be out of place to suggest that Paul (Saul) sailed by Latakia (Laodicea) when he went from Caesarea to Tarsus (Acts 9:30), and when he sailed from Caesarea to Rome (Acts 27:3-5). Perhaps Barnabas and Saul traveled this way when they took the financial aid from Antioch to Judea (Acts 11:29-30).