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Baalbek

One of the most important ruins of the Roman Empire

Address

Baalbek, Bekaa, Lebanon

GPS: 34.007197618373, 36.206267399078

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Baalbek is an ancient site located 85 kilometres from Beirut in Eastern Lebanon. Its ruins overlook the fertile agricultural plain of the Beqaa Valley (El Bekaa). The construction of this city is attributed to the Phoenician civilization towards the end of the 3rd millennium BC. It was renamed Heliopolis, the “city of the sun”, by the Greeks in the first century BC (Hellenistic dynasty of the Seleucids). They were followed by the Romans, who annexed the city to integrate it into the province of Syria, and transformed Baalbek into an important place of worship. This jewel of the ancient world developed at the gateway to the main trade and caravan routes between East and West.

The visible ruins of Baalbek date back to the 3rd-century BC after the conquest of the territory by the Macedonian king, Alexander the Great. They are among the greatest ancient wonders of the Middle East and the Roman Empire. It was during the reign of Julius Caesar in the 1st-century BC that the city reached its golden age. A series of temples and sanctuaries were erected to form the most illustrious group of Roman temples. Their massive foundations, of unparalleled proportions, are mainly dedicated to Bacchus, Venus and Jupiter (the divine triad of ancient Rome). They attracted many pilgrims from all over the Roman Empire. According to specialists, the city of Baalbek has the largest ancient columns and stones ever extracted and cut by man (including a set of three colossal stones called trilithon). Of these, the fabulous Temple of Bacchus and the massive columns of the Temple of Jupiter remain and remind us of the greatness of the place in Roman times.

Baalbek has seen various monuments built and then destroyed in its history. These episodes occurred with the advent of Christianity in the 4th-century (coinciding with the building of a basilica), the Arab occupation in the 7th-century (during which a fortified citadel and a mosque were built) and the military conquests of the city (including the Mongols in the 13th-century who laid waste to its richness). Altered by the wear and tear of time, earthquakes, wars and looting, the ruins of Baalbek were discovered in very poor condition following a German archaeological expedition launched by Emperor Wilhelm II in 1898 while the region was under Ottoman rule. It was not until the second half of the 20th-century that restoration missions carried out in cooperation with the Directorate General of Antiquities of Lebanon rebuilt the ruins of Baalbek to their former glory. Since 1956, the site has been the setting for one of the largest music festivals in the Middle East, which has contributed broadly to the international renaissance of this Lebanese sanctuary.

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  • A little-known site which contains the largest constructions of the Roman Empire
  • The exceptional state of conservation of the Temple of Bacchus built in the 2nd-century AD (it is surrounded by 40 Corinthian columns, each almost 20 metres high)
  • The Great Court (ancient place of sacrifice) was once surrounded by some of the most prominent stone columns in the ancient world
  • The giant columns of the Temple of Jupiter (one of the most fabulous Roman temples ever built where only 6 of the 54 original Corinthian granite columns remain)
  • The Temple of Venus (also called the Circular Temple or Nymphaeum) which is the only building in Baalbek with this type of architecture
  • The monoliths of the trilithon (“Three Stones”) including the Stone of the Pregnant Woman; the limestone quarry at Sheikh Abdallah Hill and the Kyales quarry
  • The many remains of this ancient place of worship: the Propylaeum (monumental staircase), huge stone blocks, temples, fortifications, a mosque and a Byzantine church
  • The colourful landscapes of the Beqaa Valley (El Bekaa)
  • The Baalbeck International Festival, a cultural event organised every summer with music, dance and theatre performances in the magnificent setting of the ruins of Baalbek
  • The site of Baalbek has been inhabited continuously for 10,000 years (from Neolithic period).
  • The name of the city derives from Baal (or Ba’al), a Phoenician deity of the sun and the storm symbolising fertility.
  • The ruins of Baalbek contain the “Stone of the Pregnant Woman”, one of the largest stones carved by human hands in the world. This colossal monolith is over 20 metres long, 4 metres high, 4 metres wide and weighs about 1,200 tons. This alone would be twice as heavy as all of the stones standing at Stonehenge (United Kingdom). Another stone block weighing 1,000 tonnes can also be seen at the site of the Roman quarries in the Beqaa Valley.
  • During the reign of Julius Caesar, the Roman Empire doubled in size. This great Roman leader, who ruled in the 1st-century BC, is said not to have lost a single military battle. Caesar was assassinated on the orders of political conspirators in the Senate, including Brutus and Cassius.
  • Founded in 1956, the Baalbeck International Festival offers classical, jazz, modern and oriental music concerts as well as dance, theatre and opera performances. It is held every year during July and August in the historic setting of the Roman ruins of Baalbek. The organisation of this flagship event was interrupted by the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990) and it was not until 1997 that the festival was revived. Due to the instability in the region, some performances have been relocated to Beirut, as was the case in 2006, 2013 and 2014. But it is in its original location that the artistic performances are enhanced by the majestic proportions of the temples of Bacchus or Jupiter. Each year, Lebanese talents perform in the company of world-renowned cosmopolitan artists. This festival plays a major role in promoting tourism and Lebanese culture throughout the world.
  • Baalbek is very close to the Syrian border. Check with your foreign ministry to assess safety conditions (the area may be under terrorist threat, subject to attacks or kidnappings).
  • Take advantage of your stay to discover the many other ancient remains located on the outskirts of Baalbek: the Al-Kiyyal quarry, the Ras El-Ain spring (ideal site for a picnic) or the ruins of Bustan al-Khan (“the khan’s garden” and its 12-columned portico).

Where to eat

  • Al Jawhari Sweets
    (oriental sweets)
  • Al Shams Restaurant
    (large popular table)
  • Casino Nmeir
    (on the river bank)

Where to go

  • Château Ksara
    (old wine estate)
  • Anjar
    (city full of mysteries)
  • Qadisha Valley
    (cradle of Christian monasteries)

Where to stay

  • Palmyra Hotel
    (worthy of a history museum)
  • Kanaan Group Hotel
    (modern and practical)
  • Hotel Massabki
    (beautiful surrounding nature)

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