The Ruins of Baalbek
|Ruins of Baalbek
Located 86 kilometers from Beirut, the Complex of the Temples of Baalbek is one of the major tourist attractions in Lebanon. According to some archeologists, before Romans, Greeks and Phoenicians, civilizations from the Bronze Age already lived there. However, the most important buildings were built during the Roman Age.
Those ruins of magnificent dimensions were considered a UNESCO world historical heritage site and are visited by more than one hundred thousand tourists per year.
The origin of the name Baalbek has many interpretations. It may have come originally from the Phoenician word Baal, which means “Lord” or “God”. The word may also mean “God from Beqaa Valley” or “God of the City”. In the Hellenistic (323-64 BC) and Roman (64 BC - 312 AD) ages, the name of the city was changed to Heliopolis, or the “City of the Sun”. Jupiter, the god of sky and the sun, became the major god of the complex at that period. Jupiter was probably chosen to replace the ancient Phoenician god Baal, which had many characteristics similar to the Greek god Zeus.
The name Heliopolis, name of Baalbek during the Greek-Roman period, is a reflex of the Greek influence in the area, which began in 331 BC.
The golden age of the Roman construction in Baalbek/Heliopolis began in 15 BC, when Rome settled a legion there and began building the Temple of Jupiter. During the three following years, while the Roman Emperors changed in the throne, in Heliopolis the biggest religious constructions of the Roman Empire were made.
The monuments worked as palaces and worship places until Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire in 313 AD. In the end of the 4th century, Emperor Theodosius destroyed many constructions and statues and built a basilica with the stones of the Temple of Jupiter, putting an end to the Roman city of Heliopolis. The Emperor made the city of Baalbek become an important trade center that attracted merchants and traders from Mediterranean countries, from the north of Syria and the north of Palestine, helping to consolidate the Roman power.
In the year of 634 AD, Baalbek was controlled by Muslim armies. A mosque was built between the walls of the complex, which was transformed into a city. In the following centuries, Baalbek was controlled by several dynasties.
Baalbek was pillaged several times and suffered with major earthquakes. In the 18th century, European explorers began to visit the ruins and in 1898 the German emperor Wilhelm II had the ancient temples restored for the first time. Extensive archeological excavations were also made by the French government and later by the Lebanese Department of Antiquities.
The ruins of Baalbek, which are located on a great hill (1,150 meters high), have a view of the plains and are surrounded by the city of Baalbek and by agricultural fields.
Inside the complex there is a great variety of temples and structures full of fallen columns and sculptures. The main structures in the ruins are the Great Court, the Temple of Baal/Jupiter, the Temple of Bacchus and the circular temple, which is believed to be related to the goddess Venus. The temple of Bacchus (the god of wine and joy) was built in the middle of the 2nd century AD. It is the best preserved Roman temple. The temple of Bacchus is 69 meters wide and 36 meters long and is surrounded by 42 columns 19 meters high.
The temples of Baalbek are considered the biggest and the noblest temples built by the Roman Empire. Nowadays, they are the best preserved temples.