Driving up into the mountains is a pleasant experience, and very popular with the locals at the weekends. They take picnics or go to restaurands on Balloran Lake. The mountains are afforested, and there are small villages. Local produce like mountain honey and oregano are on sale.
The forests cover the slopes of the valleys, and views down into the valleys and across to Turkey can be spectacular.
The roads are good, otherwise the twists and turns are quite frightening.
Ugarit is an ancient site about 6 km outside Latakia. The site, which is in ruins, covers 27 hectares. The ruins are of a royal fortress, a palace and two main temples, as well as minor buildings.
The site is open from 9am -6pm in summer, and 9am - 4 pm in winter. There is an entrance fee, but because I had trouble climbing the steep steps I knew there was no way I could stumble over uneven ground to tour the site. However, I was able to look over the site from a platform beside the ticket office. The most obvious thing to notice was an arched tunnel or entrance near the base of the wall.
The beach is at the northern end of Latakia. It is made of shell sand and there are rocks where children like to play.
Unfortunately the part we were able to visit was polluted with plastic bottles, shoes and other rubbish.
Views to the lighthouse and Rotana Hotel were good, and nearer by were boats anchored in a sheltered part of the bay.
In summer it can be crowded.
Crusader castles sound romantic. But, castles like this one had a defensive purpose, and because of this were built on rocky hills where invaders would be less likely to launch a surprise attack.
Qalaat Salah ud Din , or Soane's Castle dates to the first millenium AD. It is on top of a mountain , overlooking green forests.
The castle fell into the hands of the Crusaders , and was owned by Robert Soane under Roger, Prince of Antioch. but was liberated in 1188 AD by Saladin, and remained in the hands of Muslim Baibars up until Qalaun.
The main features of the castle include the moat, the needle where the drawbridge rested, the bastion, stables, water cistern and citadel. There is a Crusader church, two Byzantine chapels and a later mosque.
The Saladin Castle is situated atop a mountain. The access road is steep and winding. Obviously, the original intention of the inhabitants of the castle were to fend off unfriendly forces.
The castle is mostly in ruins but some structures like defensive walls, towers, a mosque etc. are still standing. A draw bridge used to exist, but all that remains now is a lone standing rock (like a needle). Also marvelous is the view around the castle - enjoy the green scenery, mountains and caves. Somewhere afar you can also spot a lake. You may enjoy a cup of coffee in the coffee shop overlooking the ravine below.
The castle should only be explored by those with strong and healthy limbs (without any assistance from a crutch) as climbing is required. Some of the steps are quite steep and dangerous. Handrails are not always provided (some are in fact damaged). Safety was obviously not a main priority. Becareful while exploring the surroundings. You wouldn't want to drop off a cliff!
Entrance fee is SYP150 for foreigners.
There are some first class (although in need of some refurbishment and maintenance) seafront hotels with rather pricey beach clubs just outside the city centre. It takes about 15 minutes by taxi or minibus to get there. Pictures below are of the Le Meridien hotel. Pool is fine and clean, staff is friendly and speaks some English but the beach in front of the hotel is dirty and water is quite polluted.
The Temple of Dagan was the second most important of the five temples in Ugarit. Although it is smaller then the Temple of Baal and largely overgrown, it is much better preserved, so you can still see the walls of the temple's two courtyards.
Dagan or Dagon meant grain in Ugaritic, and Dagan was the god of agriculture, so there would almost certainly have been sacrifices on the altar here. The first reference to this god was in Mari texts in 2500 BC. In the Old Testament, Dagon is mentioned as the god of the Philistines and Samson destroyed a temple of Dagan in his last act of strength.
The Temple of Baal was the most important religious building in Ugarit. It stands on a mound, in the north-west of the Acropolis, overlooking the city. It must once have been a massive temple complex as it originally covered an area of 1 sq km.
It is now largely overgrown and in ruins and it is difficult to make out even the basic outline of the structure, from the scattered rubble that remains. But excavations have revealed that there was a stone staircase leading up to a courtyard, then another entrance to the cella or holy altar. If religious practices here were similar to those at the Temple of Baal in Baalbeck, then there would have been ritual sacrfices here.
Most objects found at Ugarit have been removed and taken to various museums. Possibly the most notable exception is the giant stone vase still standing in the corner of the room where it was first discovered. It makes a nice connection to the people who drank water from this vessel thousands of years ago.
The most significant building in the residential area is the House of Rapanou. This was a 34-roomed villa, where a great library of clay tablets was discovered. From these we know that the owner of the house was a highly-educated diplomat named Rapanou. His library contained encyclopaedias, with lists of animals, deities, weights and measures , as well as Sumerian, Hurrian, Babylonian and Ugaritic dictionaries.
You approach Ugarit, usually on foot, after getting dropped off at the turnoff from the main coastal road, along a quiet country lane. The site is at the end of the road, on your right. There are a couple of basic openair restaurants opposite. The stone entrance gate to the city is the first thing you see, but you should go up the steps to the left of it to the ticket office where you pay your admssion fee.
The large area of ruins down to your right is the Royal Palace. It has ninety rooms, including the Throne Hall, Banquet Hall and Reception Hall. It's worth clambering down through the place to reach the city entrance gate. then back up to a well-marked path that leads through the city.
In the middle of the site you come to the city centre and the beginning of the residential area. There you will find the Stone Vessel Building and House of Rapanou, where one of Ugarit's libraries of clay tablets was discovered. As you head up through that, the ruins become increasingly overgrown. The Acropolis area, with the Temples of Baal and Dagan, is covered with bushes and long grass.
There are mapboards and signposts indicating the most important buildings.
Qa'la'at Salah ad-Din, also known as Saladin's Castle or Saone, is one of the most impressive castles in the Middle East. T.E. Lawrence said, "I think it is the most sensational thing in castle building I have seen". It is nowhere near as well-preserved as Krak des Chevaliers, but it has a more dramatic setting, high up on a mountain ridge in the midst of forested mountains and ravines.
The first fort was constructed here by the Byzantines in the 10th century, but most of the castle you see today was built by the Crusaders in the 12th century. It takes its modern name, however, from the fact that in 1188 Saladin conquered it after a siege lasting just two days, following which it was always an Islamic stronghold.
Ugarit, known in Arabic as Ras Shamra, is one of the most underrated archaeological sites in the Middle East. It was the first port city in the history of the world. There was a town here as far back as 8,000 years ago and it was the most important city on the Mediterranean more than 2,500 years before the birth of Christ, and during its peak, from 2000 to 1.500 BC, it became wealthy from its trade with the Egyptians and the Minoans and was at that time the most developed city in the western world, with a great royal palace, temples, a piped water system and libraries which utilised one of the world's first alphabets.
In 1200 BC, however, it was destroyed by the invading Philistines. The site lay forgotten until a local farmer discovered an old tomb here in 1928. The site was then excavated by a team of French archaeologists led by Claude Shaeffer.
The site itself sprawls over a large area, about half of which is still overgrown. There are pathways which will take you all around the site and signposts in English describing the main buildings. I found it fascinating.
Opening hours: 08.30-18.30 (summer); 08.30-16.30 (winter)
Lattakia was the home city of President Hafez Al-Assad, who ruled Syria for 30 years until his death in June 2000, although he was actually born in the nearby village of Qardaha.
There is a grand statue of him in front of the school that he attended. It reminded me of the famous statue of Saddam Hussein that the Americans pulled down in Baghdad.
The Museum of Lattakia houses some of the most interesting artefacts for those who study the history of languages. Well, many museums in Syria have such remains because the Syrian and Lebanese coast was the base for the Phoenicians - the traders par excellence of the Mediterranean Sea. Their trade necessitated a written language and this language evolved and/or was assimilated into some modern writing forms.
By the way, the Phoenicians are also thought to be among the ancestors of the Maltese and so their history has a certain appeal for me.