Beqaa National Heritage

The Beqaa’s enduring legacy is its valley which has drawn many civilizations and communities to cultivate its soil. The Romans have built their largest and most exquisite temple here whose remains have been very well preserved. Arab civilizations, the Umayyad in particular, have also dwelt in this region leaving behind significant remains for researchers and the curious alike to appreciate. The region’s natural beauty is another attraction of its own which one can discover by visiting its eco-tourism locations.

Aanjar

(58 kilometers from Beirut)

Aanjar is exclusively the Umayyad period, going back to the early 8th century A.D., thus making it completely different from any other archaeological experience you’ll have in Lebanon.

Unlike Tyre and Byblos, which claim continuous habitation since the day they were founded, Aanjar flourished for only a few decades.

Today’s name, Aanjar, comes from the Arabic Ain Gerrha, “the source of Gerrha,” the name of an ancient city founded in this area during Hellenistic times.

Aanjar has a special beauty. The city’s slender columns and fragile arches stand in contrast to the massive hulk of the nearby Anti-Lebanon mountains–an eerie back-ground for Aanjar’s extensive ruins and the memories of its short but energetic moment in history.

The Umayyads, the first hereditary dynasty of Islam, ruled from Damascus in the first century after the Prophet Mohammed from 660 to 750 A.D. They are credited with the great Arab conquests that created an Islamic empire stretching from the Indus Valley to southern France.

Skilled in administration and planning, their empire prospered for 100 years. Defeat befell them when the Abbasids–their rivals and their successors-took advantage of the Umayyad’s increasing decadence.

What attracted the antiquities experts to Aanjar was not so much the ruins themselves as the information they held. Beneath the impersonal grayness of Aanjar, the experts suggested, lay the vestiges of the eighth century Umayyad dynasty that ruled from Damascus and held sway over an empire.

That idea was particularly interesting because Lebanon–that unique crossroads of the ages–boasted ample archaeological evidence of almost all stages of Arab history with the exception of the Umayyad.

Early in the excavation, engineers drained the swamp. Stands of evergreen cypresses and eucalyptus trees were planted and flourish today, giving these stately ruins a park-like setting.

To date, almost the entire site has been excavated and some monuments have been restored. Among the chief structures are the Palace I and the Mosque in the south-east quarter, the residential area in the southwest, the Palace II in the northwest and the Palace III and public bath in the northeast.

Nearly 60 inscriptions and graffiti from Umayyad times are scattered on the city’s surrounding walls. One of them, dated 123 of the Hegira (741 A.D.), is located in the western wall between the fourth and fifth tower from the southwest.

Today visitors enter through the northern gate of the site, but as the main points of interest are at the southern half of the city, it’s better to walk up the main street to the far end of the site. You are walking along the 20-meter-wide Cardo Maximus (a Latin term meaning a major street running north and south) which is flanked by shops, some of which have been reconstructed.

At the half-way point of this commercial street a second major street called Decumanus Maximus (running east to west) cuts across it at right angles. It is also flanked by shops. In all, 600 shops have been uncovered, giving Aanjar the right to call itself a major Umayyad strip mall.

The masonry work, of Byzantine origin, consists of courses of cut stone alternating with courses of brick. This technique, credited to the Byzantines, reduced the effects of earthquakes.

At the city’s crossroads you’ll have your first hint that the Umayyads were great recyclers. Tetra pylons mark the four corners of the intersection. This configuration, called a tetra style is remarkably reminiscent of Roman architecture.

Along both sides of the streets you’ll see evenly spaced column bases and mostly fallen columns that were once part of an arcade that ran the length of the street.

The columns of the arcade are by no means homogeneous; they differ in type and size and are crowned by varying capitals. Most of them are Byzantine, more indication that the Umayyads helped themselves to Byzantine and other ruins scattered around the area.

The great or main palace itself was the first landmark to emerge in 1949 when Aanjar was discovered. One wall and several arcades of the southern half of the palace have been reconstructed.

Make a point of visiting:

Ain Gerrha, Aanjar’s major spring is located 3 kilometers northeast of the ruins.

Majdal Aanjar. A Roman period temple sits on a hilltop overlooking this village, which is one kilometer from Aanjar.

The Mausoleum of El-Wali Zawur is the burial spot of a religious personage from medieval times. Until the early 1980s fertility rites were held here.

Kfar Zabad. Roman temple ruins and a cave with stalactites and stalagmites. Special equipment needed for the cave.

Getting There …
Aanjar is situated just off the highway to Damascus not far from the Syrian Border.

Ain Harsha

(92km from Beirut / 48km from Chtaura)

One of the best preserved temples on Mount Hermon, Ain Harsha is built of local limestone and blends in so well that it is virtually camouflaged among the rocky crags and boulders. A large stone (broken in two) in front of the temple, carries an inscription in Creek that dates it to 114-115 AD.

The temple was restored in 1938-39 and the west wall – the side you see as you approach – is so perfect it is easily mistaken for modern. Around the temple are more remnants of ancient habitation, including sarcophagi.

Getting There …
From Chtaura (on the Beirut-Damascus highway – 44km from Beirut) drive in the direction of the border post with Syria, (Masnaa), but turn right toward Rachaya just before the post. Continue through the villages of Dahr El-Ahmar and Labia to Ain Arsha village whose high-walled terraces wind their way around the curves of the hillsides. From here you have to walk for about 40 minutes. The rocky, exposed path from the top of the village leads to the temple.

Baalbeck

(Lebanon’s greatest Roman treasure – 85 km from Beirut)

Baalbeck can be counted among the wonders of the ancient world. The largest and most noble Roman temples ever built, they are also among the best preserved.

Towering high above the Beqaa plain, their monumental proportions proclaimed the power and wealth of Imperial Rome. The gods worshipped here, the Triad of Jupiter, Venus and Mercury, were grafted onto the indigenous deities of Hadad, Atargatis and a young male god of fertility. Local influences are also seen in the planning and layout of the temples, which vary from the classic Roman design.

Over the centuries Baalbeck’s monuments suffered from theft, war and earthquakes, as well as from numerous medieval additions. Fortunately, the modern visitor can see the site in something close to its original form thanks to work in the past hundred years by German, French and Lebanese archeologists.

Baalbeck is located on two main historic trade routes, one between the Mediterranean coast and the Syrian interior and the other between northern Syria and northern Palestine. Today the city is an important administrative and economic center in the northern Beqaa valley.

Baalbeck’s temples were built on an ancient tell that goes back at least to the end of the third millennium B.C.. Little is known about the site during this period, but there is evidence that in the course of the 1st millennium B.C. an enclosed court was built on the ancient tell. An altar was set: in the center of this court in the tradition of the biblical Semitic high places.

During the Hellenistic period (333-64 B.C.) the Greeks identified the god of Baalbeck with the sun god and the city was called Heliopolis or City of the Sun. At this time the ancient enclosed court was enlarged and a podium was erected on its western side to support a temple of classical form.

Although the temple was never built, some huge structures from this Hellenistic project can still be seen. And it was over the ancient court that the Romans placed the present Great Court of the Temple of Jupiter.

The temple was begun in the last quarter of the 1st century B.C., and was nearing completion in the final years of Nero’s reign (37-68 A.D.). The Great Court Complex of the Temple of Jupiter, with its porticoes, exedrae, altars and basins, was built in the 2nd century A.D. Construction of the so-called temple of Bacchus was also started about this time.

The Great Temple or ‘Jupiter Temple”: The first view the visitor has of Baalbeck is the six Corinthian columns of the Great Temple thrusting 22 meters into the skyline. Built on a podium seven meters above the Court, these six columns and the entablature on top give an idea of the vast scale of the original structure.

The complex of the Great Temple has four sections: the monumental entrance or Propylaea, the Hexagonal Court, the Great Court and finally the Temple itself, where the six famous columns stand.

The Great Court, built in the 2nd century A.D., covered an area 134 x 112 meters and contained the main installations of the cult. Structurally, the court is a platform built on the leveled-off top of the ancient artificial tell. The tell was consolidated on the eastern, northern and southern sides by vaulted substructures, and on the western side by the temple’s podium.

These substructures supported the porticos and exedra around the Court and were used for stables and storage. Two huge structures stand in the center of the Great Court: a restored sacrificial altar and a tower with only the lower courses remaining.

The tower, dating from the beginning of the 1st century A.D., was probably built to allow the worshipers to view the proceedings from the top. It was flanked by two solitary columns of gray and red granite. Two pools for ritual washing, decorated with relief carvings, were placed north and south of both altar and tower. These structures were destroyed when a Christian basilica was built on the site at the end of the 4th century.

The Little Temple or the so-called Temple of Bacchus: Next to the Jupiter complex is a separate building known as the Temple of Bacchus. Constructed during the first half of the 2nd century A.D., it has been remarkably well preserved.

While the Great Temple was dedicated to the public cult of the Heliopolitan Triad, the little temple was apparently consecrated to a mysterious and initiatic cult centered around the young god of Baalbeck.

This god was identified as a solar and growth deity, whose birth and growth promised regeneration and eternal life to the faithful. Wine and other drugs, such as opium may have been used by the worshipers and it was the carvings of grapes and poppies on the main door jamb and some carved Bacchic scenes, which suggested the temple’s identification with Bacchus.

The 15th century tower 3t the corner of this temple is a good example of the Mamluke fortifications of Baalbeck. From the top of the tower a view can be had of the surrounding area.

The Round Temple or the so called Temple of Venus: The gem-like temple southeast of the acropolis was built in the 3rd century A.D. Its design and size, as well as its orientation towards the Great Temple set it apart from the other Baalbeck temples. These attributes also help identify it as the temple of the Fortune of Baalbeck, that is the tutelary divinity of the City, under the protection of its great gods. It was not by accident that during the Byzantine period it was converted into a church dedicated to Saint Barbara, who is the patron saint of Baalbeck to this day.

Near the Temple of Venus are the remains of “The Temple of the Muses”, dating from the beginning of the 1st century A.D.

There are a number of other Roman remains and Islamic sites to visit in Baalbeck and its immediate neighborhood.

The Great Mosque: In front of the acropolis entrance, this mosque dates from the 7th-8th centuries of the Omayyad period.

Public buildings: At Boustan el Khan south of the temples are important remains of public baths, a market and probably a bouleuterion, or assembly place.

Ras El-Ain: Here are traces of a Roman shrine and nympheum as well as remains of a Mamluke mosque built in 1277.

Quarries: At the southern entrance of town is a quarry where the stones used in the temples were cut. A huge block, considered the largest hewn stone in the world still sits where it was cut almost 2,000 years ago. Called the “Stone of the Pregnant Woman,” it is 21.5 m x 4.8 m x 4.2 m in size and weighs an estimated 1,000 tons.

Qubbat al-Amjad: On Sheikh Abdallah Hill are the remains of the Zawiya-Mosque and tomb of Sheikh ‘Abdallah al-Younini.

City Gate: Northwest of the Acropolis near the army barracks lie the remains of a Roman city gate, part of the fortifications that surrounded the city.

Qoubbat as-Saadin: Not far from the City Gate is a two-room mausoleum built in 1409, which served as a burial place for the Mamluke governors of Baalbeck.

Qoubbat Douris: at the southern entrance of town is the site of an octagonal structure composed of eight Roman granite columns.

Getting There …
From Beirut get on the Beirut-Damascus highway heading east towards the Bekaa. Once you arrive in Chtaura take the road in the direction of Zahle and continue driving for 41km until you reach Baalbeck.

Deir Al-Ashayer

(1250m – 94km from Beirut)

The majestic remains of a Roman temple stand in the center of the village of Deir Al Ashayer. Over the years, the village has grown close to the temple, but a walk around the immediate area will reveal the village’s creative re-use of temple elements. The large temple has fine stonework and much remains to be admired. Molded entrances frame the doorway. The stairway has vanished as well as most of the porch, but several well preserved stretches of enclosure wall can still be seen southeast of the temple.

Getting There …
From Chtaura (on the Beirut-Damascus highway – 44km from Beirut) drive along the Beirut-Damascus road toward the Syrian border. Just before the border post, turn left and continue for 8km until you reach Yanta where you will have to turn left. 2km later take the left fork and continue for half a kilometer, then make a sharp right turn, proceeding for 15km.

Deir Mar Maroun

(141km from Beirut / 97km from Chtaura)

Mar Maroun Monastry (Saint Maroun) is a rock-cut structure in three levels. It is said to be the temporary refuge of the successors of Saint Maroun, founder of the Maronite Christian sect in the fourth century AD. Below these remains is the Assi river, the classical Orontes, with its blue-tinted water.

Getting There …
Take the road from Baalbeck north toward Hermel. Deir Mar Maroun is ten kilometers before the town of Hermel and 56km away from Baalbeck.

Dekweh

(61km from Beirut / 17km from Chtaura)

Just behind this small village, inhabited by sheep herders and farmers, is a renovated temple set in its own yard. With its four walls intact up to roof level and the corners of the pediment still in situ, it is an excellent example of a temple in nearly complete condition.

A path on the hillside behind it leads up to an ancient necropolis — a ten to fifteen-minute walk. Two cave openings are immediately accessible. The larger cave has live arched vaults, two stone sarcophagi, and a number of tomb niches. The second cave is smaller with two arched niches.

Getting There …
Take the Damascus Road from Chtaura (on the Beirut-Damascus highway – 44km from Beirut) turning right at Merj through Haoush El Harimeh then left at Khiara. The village of Dekweh is another 2km further on.

Hermel Pyramid

(134km from Beirut – 90km from Chtaura)

A 2,000 Year Old Monument in the Middle of Nowhere, located ten kilometers before the town of Hermel, this twenty-seven meter-high monument on top of a hill can be seen for miles in every direction.

Three of its faces are carved with hunting scenes that suggest the pyramid-topped structure is a tomb, probably of a Syrian prince of the first or second century BC.

Getting there…
From Baalbeck, head North towards Ras Baalbeck – Hermel. You are expected to Drive 40km. The Pyramid is located 10 km before the town of Hermel.

Kamed El Loz

(115km from Beirut / 71km from Chtaura)

Kamed El-Loz, 3000 years old, is rich in precious archeological traces but unfortunately where excavations haven’t been pursued in a regular manner.

Its rare vestiges are restricted to the ruins of a monument, earthenware and metallic pottery of a forlorn date, which were collected in more than twenty caverns and exhibited at the national museum of Beirut. Some historians have gone even as far as to support that Kamed El-Loz is older than Byblos or any well-known archeological place.

Getting There …
From Chtaura (on the Beirut-Damascus highway – 44km from Beirut) drive on toward the Syrian border. Just before the border post, turn left and continue for 8km until you reach Yanta.

Ksarnaba

(1200m – 64km from Beirut)

The temple, found at the upper part of the village, has been partly restored and is notable for the monumental staircase at the eastside. This is one of the Lebanese temples that has pilasters along the external walls.

The brightly minaret of the village mosque appears through the stark columns of the Roman Temple in another picturesque display of modern and ancient coexistence.

The top of the hill is full of cisterns, tanks, platforms, rooms and steps, all hewn from solid rock from Greco-Roman times or earlier. This solid-looking temple structure was used as a fortress long after Roman days. A Latin inscription can be seen inside although it is impossible to read. About a 100m before the temple and a little to the southeast are two circular high places of ancient Semitic worship.

Getting There …
From Chtaura take the Baalbeck road turning left at Ablah. The Ksarnaba road is on the left and is well marked.

Niha

(61km from Beirut – 17km from Chtaura)

The larger temple, approached by a monumental staircase, is imposing in its size and beauty. Restoration work by the General Directorate of Antiquities gives an idea of its original appearance, although not all elements are in their original places. To the left of the first flight of stairs is a well preserved relief carving of a priest making an offering. A cornice around the top is worth examining. The much smaller temple nearby, dedicated to the Syro-Phoenician god Hadaranes, is interesting for its delicately carved doorway which stands nearly complete.

A steep rural roadway. usually traveled by foot, takes you up 300 meters to Husn Niha, or the ”fortress of Niha”. Here you will find two partially preserved Roman temples. Niha is illuminated at night thanks to arrangements by the Ministry of Tourism.

Getting There …
From Chtaura drive along the Beirut-Damascus road toward the Syrian border. Just before the border post, turn left and continue for 8km until you reach Yanta where you will have to turn left. 2km later take the left fork and continue for half a kilometer, then make a sharp right turn, proceeding for 15km.

Rashaya

(45km from Chtaura)

This is where Lebanon’s early national leaders, including Bshara El-Khoury and Riad El-Solh, were held by French mandate authorities during the 1943 rebellion that triggered Lebanon’s independence. Their prison was an eighteenth century citadel that can be visited today. The Lebanese Army, which is now temporarily stationed at the castle, will assign a guide to show you around the old vaulted chambers and the rooms where the Lebanese patriots were held.

The town of Rashaya, in a remote corner of Lebanon, has been only lightly touched by the modern building boom affecting most of the country. On its cobbled main street, small shops sell old fashioned oil stoves, reflecting the needs of this chilly mountain town where the giant Mount Hermon (snow-covered six months of the year) looms overhead.

On the Way to Rashaya from Chtaura try to take the route through the hilltop town of Sultan Yaqub, where there are spectacular views of the valley below.

Turn right at Marj and continue through Khiara toward Sultan Yaqub. This town, visible for miles around in every direction, also makes a good landmark.

The Souks of Rashaya were recently restored by the Ministry of Tourism. Here, a dozen artisans are busy in their workshops creating jewelry of particular charm.

Getting There …
From Chtaura drive along the Beirut-Damascus road toward the Syrian border. Just before the border post, turn left and continue for 8km until you reach Yanta where you will have to turn left. 2km later take the left fork and continue for half a kilometer, then make a sharp right turn, proceeding for 15km.

Temnine Al-Fawqa

(21km from Chtaura)

This little vaulted sanctuary situated besides a stream and surrounded by pine and cypress trees, was built during the Roman period in honor of a local god of flowing water, the figure of this god appears on a very mutilated stone plaque.

Inside the small structure is a shaft 4 meters deep which takes the water to an underground cistern.

Getting There …
Take the road from Chtaura to Ablah via Zahleh, then turn at the left fork at Ablah. After about 4km turn at the sign for Temnine Al Fawqa.