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 Home > National Heritage > Beqaa > Baalbeck 
 

Baalbeck - Beqaa
(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.

 

THE TEMPLES IN HISTORY

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.

 

Baalbeck - BeqaaTHE SITES

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.
 

 
AROUND THE TOWN

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.  (
See Beqaa Map).
  

 

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