Baalbeck is a city in Lebanon that needs no introduction. One of Lebanon’s most popular tourist destinations, its astounding Temple of Bacchus is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and attracts thousands of tourists every year.
The city’s history spans back to the early Phoenician times and crosses into the reign of Alexander the Great. Like much of Lebanon, the resilience of the ruins in the face of destruction is part of what gives them their beauty. Through multiple empires, rulers, and wars, the temples have managed to not only survive but to keep their magnificence and grandeur intact.
By car: A car is the most convenient mode of transportation to visit Baalbeck. The road is fairly easy: take the mountain road to Zahle and follow the signs to Baalbeck.
By bus: To get to Baalbeck by bus, you’ll need to first take a bus from Jisr el Cola in Beirut to Zahle, the transportation hub in Bekaa, for 2,000 LBP. From Zahle, you can find buses that run to Baalbeck for 2,000 or 3,000 LBP.
WHAT TO DO
Baalbeck Archaeological Site
Though the Temple of Bacchus is the site’s largest ruin, there are actually three ancient temples at the Baalbeck Archaeological Site—the Temple of Venus, Jupiter, and Bacchus. The Temple of Jupiter originally featured 54 of the largest columns in the world, some of which can still be seen today. The Temple of Bacchus is easily one of the best-preserved remains of a Roman temple in the world. It is rumored that its halls were once used for human sacrifice. The mammoth structure took 120 years and 100,000 slaves to construct, and today, its glory is a reminder of the history buried deep within Lebanon’s past.
The sheer size of the Baalbeck Temple is enough to astound visitors. Its ancient columns loom high overhead and support an intricately decorated roof. The carving throughout the temple depicts Roman scenes and history-buffs will enjoy recognizing famous gods and goddesses in the artwork. Take your time meandering these ancient grounds, they are some of the best in the world.
Entrance Fee: 15,000 LBP (10 USD)
Hours: Monday to Sunday; 8:30 am – 7 pm (summer) | 8:30 am – 4:30 pm (winter)
Sayyida Khawla Shrine
Located at the southern entrance of the city of sun, the shrine of Sayyida Khawla, daughter of Imam Hussein and great-granddaughter of Prophet Muhammad. Though the stories vary, it is commonly believed that Our Lady of Baalbeck was laid to rest amongst the orchards in Baalbeck, where her shrine stands today. The stories also claim that people residing close to her shrine have seen divine lights shining between the orchards.
Stone Of The Pregnant Woman
Also known as the stone of the south and hajar el hobla in Arabic, this Roman artifact is one of the largest monoliths excavated. The exact way this stone was carved remains somewhat of a mystery to this day. As for its name, there are several stories behind it. One story claims its name is attributed to the stone’s ability to increase fertility, while others stipulated it was because of a pregnant who claimed she could remove the rock if she was fed. What’s more, more monoliths have recently been found in the area; and they are believed to be even larger than this one.
Baalbeck International Festival
Every summer, the Bacchus Temple tranforms into the most unique venue to welcome the Baalbeck International Festival. To date, it has hosted the biggest names in the Arab world, such as Fairuz and Oum Kalthoum, as well as international and local plays, opera, jazz, rock, pop and dance performances from around the world. The festival has become somewhat of a folkloric event. In fact, back in 1956, the then-president Camille Chamoun declared the Baalbeck International Festival a government institution.
WHERE TO EAT
There are several restaurants just outside the Baalbeck Archaeological Site that offer great mezze and will sustain you for the rest of the day. Try the Baalbeck Palace (+961 8 377 666) or Ananas Restaurant (+961 81 616 406), both of which are walking distance from the site. Just ask a local to guide to point you in the right direction, since their signage is in Arabic. One thing’s for sure, though: one cannot go to Baalbeck and not try their famous Sfiha Baalbackieh.
WHERE TO STAY
Located steps from the Baalbeck ruins, the historic Hotel Palmyra is a beautifully renovated house, complete with terraces, a sunny garden, and a lovely restaurant. The hotel has been open since the 19th century, and has seen its fair share of celebrities, including Nina Simone, Ella Fitzgerald, and even Charles de Gaulle. Today, the hotel is decorated with authentic vintage décor and furniture that is reminiscent of old Lebanese grandeur. Some rooms even offer a view of the nearby Roman ruins. The service, rooms, and overall ambience will make you feel immediately welcome and enamored with Baalbeck’s charm.
L’Annexe is a traditional Lebanese home built in the 19th century that includes five rooms and a patio. Light passes through its arched windows, filling the quarters with an ochre glow. The patio combines colorful fabrics inspired by Arab motifs with the tranquility of a Greek island garden.
Ali and his wife Rima acquired the place in the 1980s and opened L’Annexe’s doors to share their passion for this forgotten city with anyone thirsty for a true voyage into Middle Eastern heritage.