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Lebanon Travel Guide - November 10, 2015, 10h20
 Baalbeck Jupiter temple

You might have wandered the world and contemplated many millennial vestiges, but you cannot remain indifferent when visiting Baalbeck, for these Greeck Roman ruins are gigantic and their beauty is really striking.

Historical Overview

Located 86 km away from Beirut, Baalbeck is believed to have been founded by Phoenicians around the end of the 3rd millennium BC alongside the Bekaa plain. The city benefits then from the presence of two water springs: Ras el Aïn el at the South East and Aïn Lajouj at the East. This environment was very appreciated by all merchants traveling through Mesopotamia, Egypt and the Mediterranean eastern coast. At an elevation of 1150 m, the city was located on the route of caravan people and tradesmen who could then stop and take a rest.

The city was named after the god Baal who, according to Phoenicians who worshipped him, could send rain or drought, and decide on the fertility of earth. Two other divinities were worshipped in Baalbeck: Goddess Atargatis and a young male god of vegetation and livestock.
During the Hellenistic period (333 - 64 BC), the Greeks decided to adore Helios (the Greek Sun God) instead of Baal. Some experts think that it was then that Baalbeck was named Heliopolis (city of the sun). Other experts concur that this name was given to the by the Romans during the Roman rule over the region (since 64 BC).

Baalbeck successively fell to the influence of different civilizations, each of which launched construction works in this sanctuary. Romans wanted to make out of Baalbeck an imposing cult center and gave it today’s appearance. Around 16 BC, they started building the three temples (dedicated to Jupiter, Bacchus and Venus), starting with Jupiter’s. The complex was inaugurated in the 3rd century.

The embellishment works of the site were carried out till the beginning of the 4th century, when Emperor Constantine (307-337) converted to Christianity and pagan cults were abandoned along with the three temples. Over the centuries, these monuments suffered from the lack of maintenance and from earthquakes. The Romans, converted to Christianity, destroyed the pagan statues and built a basilica and a church. The temple of Venus was turned into a chapel. Later on, the site was damaged by the bombings during the different wars that took place in Lebanon. Large scale restoration works allowed giving the site its current appearance.

In 1984, the site of Baalbeck was registered in the UNESCO world heritage program, according to the following criteria: it is “a masterpiece of human creative genius", and offers" an eminent example of a construction type or an architectural or technological complex or a landscape illustrating a significant period of human history."

Baalbek, Lebanon. Heliopolis, the City of the Sun. UNESCO World HeritageThe Remains of Baalbeck Today

The main site of Baalbeck is composed of two temples (Jupiter and Bacchus), two courts and a surrounding wall built under the Arab reign. Outside the main site stands the temple of Venus.

Temple of Jupiter

It is reached by an impressive stairway. The temple was built on several stages: although it was nearing completion under Nero’s reign (54 to 68 AD), the Temple hadn’t been inaugurated until the 3rd century along with the other two temples. Given its measurements (88 x 48 m), it is believed to be one of the largest temples of the Roman world. There are only six remaining columns today, about twenty meters high each and two-meters wide and they give a clear idea of the huge size of the whole sanctuary.

Temple of Bacchus

It is the best preserved of the three temples of Baalbeck. It was built during the 2nd century. It is smaller than the temple of Jupiter (69m x 36 m) but still very impressive. Its columns are about twenty meters high.

Temple of Bacchus

Temple of Venus

This temple is much smaller than the two others. It is also called the circular temple given its circular shape. The road separates the Temple from the rest of the sanctuary. Built in the 3rd century, it is the last temple ever built.

What Can You Do in Baalbeck?

First of all, ask the help of a tour guide. It is the only way to take in the whole beauty of this huge cultural and human site. Then, you can go for a walk through the ruins and make the most of your visit at your own rhythm.
Before leaving the site, don't forget to visit the museum where other vestiges are exhibited.
You can also visit Baalbeck during the months of July and August and attend its international festival, which receives every summer international artists and attract around 40 000 spectators.

#Heritage, #HistoricalSite
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