The Citadel of Arwad (12 pm)
Historically, the citadel of Arwad dates back to the Phoenicians in the fourth millennium BC. It then became a flourishing kingdom that ruled over the Syrian coast. Over its long history, the island witnessed many wars, including the Battle of Kadesh between the Hittites and the Egyptians in the thirteenth century BC, and the Battle of Salamis between the Persian Achaemenids and the Greeks in 480 BC. Arwad also had several rulers, from Sargon of Akkad in the third millennium BC to Alexander of Macedon in 333 BC. Saint Peter came to Arwad as well and proselytised for Christianity.
Unfortunately, the doors of most rooms in the citadel were closed for reasons unknown to the guards themselves. Whenever you attempt to visit the citadel, the excuse would always be repairs and restorations that have not and will never end. Even the museum inside the citadel – which is supposed to be filled with antiquities that mark the consecutive eras in the history of Arwad, from the Hellenistic period to the Roman, Byzantine, and Islamic eras – was closed as well.
Therefore, I merely whirled around the citadel, and then I went up to the rooftop through a passageway that once led to the citadel’s prison. The French Mandate for Syria (1920-1946) had turned the island into a military base and the citadel into a prison for Syrian rebels who fought the colonial authorities, including the first two presidents of Syria, Shukri al-Quwatli (1943-1949) and Hashim al-Atassi (1949-1951), as well as Fares al-Khouri, who has been one of the greatest Syrian thinkers and politicians.
I left the citadel in deep sorrow, for its history is incredibly rich but I only saw a small part of it.
I continued walking toward the northwest, where houses became more spaced and I could see the water and the herculean wall of Arwad rising in front of me.
The Wall of Arwad, North-Western Beach (2 pm)
The wall of Arwad is really the ruins of the wall that used to encircle the island and was its first defence line. A great part of it was destroyed during the war between the Knights Templar (as the island was their last stronghold) and Egyptian Mamluk Sultan an-Nasir Muhammad Ibn Qalawun in 1302 AC.
As for the two remaining parts of the wall, they face the sea waves on the one hand, and, on the other, the garbage and sanitary wastewater that is dumped here, surrounding what is left of the wall with residues and horrendous smells that do not suit its historic grandeur.
I continued touring the island from north to south, passing through its western beach where the houses emerged on sea rocks that had many cavities. I met a few young men who had exploited one of the rocks and started a local business in it, offering tea and coffee to passersby. One of them invited me to try the coffee.
“At night, we can hear the echo of our footsteps, knowing there are huge cavities under our house. Sometimes we can hear water flowing in the house’s foundations. It is not very safe here and our houses might collapse any minute, but there’s no solution, we can’t leave this place. We’re like fish: we grew up here, the sea is our home. If we leave it we die,” one of the young men said.
Then I was on my way around the island again, watching children playing among the protruding rocks in the sea. I could spot government facilities, such as the Syrian Red Crescent building at the southern beach, which are barely holding up without providing any service. I arrived to where I had started off and, luckily, a boat was about to set sail back to Tartus beach.
I left the island of Arwad with great sorrow and misery. The history of the island makes you want to sail all the way to see it, but when you finally arrive, all you can see is closed doors and a landfill surrounding its shores. The island’s joyful residents were the only sweet memory I kept from my short trip.