Cathedral of Our Lady of Tortosa

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Cathedral of Our Lady of Tortosa (Arabic: كاتدرائية طرطوس‎) was a Crusader-era cathedral in the city of Tartus, Syria. It was built by the Crusaders in the mid-twelfth century and functioned as both a fortress and a church. It has been described by historians as the best-preserved religious structure of the crusades. It now serves as the National Museum of Tartus.

History

The Cathedral was built to sanctify the Byzantine pilgrimage site of the Sanctuary of the Virgin Mary, which, according to tradition, was dedicated by St. Peter. A chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary may have existed on this site as early as the fourth century. According to tradition, the place was widely revered that even Muslims are said to have taken their children there in great numbers to receive baptism.

Work on the Cathedral began in the second quarter of the twelfth century, but it was not completed until sometime in the thirteenth. In the 1260s Tartus was threatened by the Mamluks, and the transformation of the church into a small castle began.

Architecture

The Cathedral's fortifications are unique among surviving Latin churches in the Levant. These include two rectangular tower-like sacristies in the north-east and south-east corners of the building. The towers were evidently intended to provide flanking cover. The church also has buttresses attached to the north and south walls, which probably once supported machicolations that were also intended to provide cover. There is also evidence that a pair of towers once rose above the western aisle bays.

The column capitals in the nave show stylistic differences, between Romanesque at the east end to early Gothic at the west. The Cathedral exterior has very few decorative elements apart from the five arched windows on the main facade, and the restored doorway. The interior is more highly embellished, with soaring arches and graceful vaulting.

Present state

The Cathedral today serves as the National Museum of Tartus. The items inside include exquisite jewellery, pottery and statuary from sites such as Ugarit, Arwad and Amrit.

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