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Banias or Baniyas is a city of northwestern Syria, located at the foot of the hill of Qalaat el-Marquab, 55 km to the south of Latakia (ancient Laodicea) and 35 km north of Tartus (ancient Tortosa), and a Catholic titular see under the Latin name of Balanea, which is presently vacant.

It is famous for its orchards and its export of wood. Today it is best known for its oil refinery. It still contains citrus fruit orchards surrounded by green hills. On one of the hills is the imposing Margat Citadel, a huge fortress of black basalt stone.

In Phoenician times, it was an important seaport, known to the Greeks as Balemia. The city of Balanaea, its Latin name, was a colony of Aradus (Strabo, XVI, 753), and was placed by Stephanus Byzantius in Phoenicia, though it belonged rather to the former Roman province of Syria. Its first known bishop was present at the Council of Nicaea in 325 (Lequien, Oriens Christ., II, 923). From that time to the sixth century the names of three other bishops are known. At the latter date it was a suffragan of Apamea, the metropolis of Syria Secunda.

When Emperor Justinian established a new civil province, Theodorias, with Laodicea as metropolis, Balanaea was incorporated with it, but continued to depend ecclesiastically on Apamea, till it obtained the status of an exempt bishopric. This was its condition in the tenth century, when it was directly subject to the Patriarch of Antioch.

The Crusaders created there a Latin see, of which a bishop is known about 1200 (Lequien, III, 1189); the river near by it served as a boundary between the Kingdom of Jerusalem and the principality of Antioch. The Franks called it Valania, according to the Greek pronunciation, the Muslims Bulunvoas. Owing to the unsafe conditions of the country, the Latin bishop lived at Margat, a neighbouring castle of the Knights Hospitallers.

Balanaea, today called Baniyas or Banias, is a little village; it was the residence of the kaïmakam of an Ottoman district. It numbered in the early 20th century about 1,550 inhabitants, 1,200 Maronites and 230 non-Catholic Christians; they cultivate chiefly onions, olive-trees and a fine tobacco. The roadstead is excellent, but is visited only by small boats.



Main References: www.wikipedia.org, www.eastern-coast.com, The Syrian, Britannica, Encarta and Columbia encyclopedias ....


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