Originally a Phoenician town thought to have been inhabited since 9000 BC, Baalbeck was a place of pilgrimage for the Sky God ‘Baal’ and his Queen of Heaven ‘Astarte’
Today, it is a part of the
controversial but beautiful
Bekaa Valley of modern day
Lebanon, located between the
Litani and Orontes (Al Aasi)
rivers at an altitude of 1,170
meters, above sea level. For
residents of the Levant, it is
the intersection between the main east-west and north-south
trading circles of the region. For me, it is a marvelous example
of historical architecture that I was delighted to discover for
myself one hot and sunny afternoon last June.
I had heard many a mention of this metropolis, but was yet to
stand before the impressive row of age-old pillars. Finally, wellhydrated,
guidebook in hand and my energetic sister by my side,
we set off on an 85 km mini expedition by road from Beirut to our
destination. Excitement slowly started to build as we approached
– we were about to see an important piece of the past, practically
in our backyard! Unfolding ourselves from the car, we were
welcomed by caretakers of the municipality, who pointed us in
the right direction. We had arrived at Baalbeck – a UNESCO World
Heritage site, as of 1984.
Immediately, our attention was drawn to the pale orangesandy
color of the immense and somewhat irregularly shaped
rock structures. There was a steep flight of steps to the main
grounds above, challenging us. Climbing to the top, our minds
were immediately transported to the 1st millennium BC. In
Alexander the Great’s reign, in 334 BC, Baalbeck was known as
Heliopolis (City of the Sun) and in 47 BC, it was Julius Caesar’s
Roman colony, in what is now Syria.
“Excitement slowly started to build as we approached – we were about to see an important piece of the past, practically in our backyard!”
Once the site of rituals like ‘sacred prostitution’ and bloody
other forms of worship, this was the foundation of the three
famous temples – of Jupiter, Bacchus and Venus – an extended
project begun in 60 BC, built by 100,000 slaves and finished 120
years later. The Temple of Jupiter originally featured 54 of the
largest such columns in the world – 22.9m high and 2.2 m thick.
Only six have survived the ravages of time and the elements.
As for the historically beautiful Temple of Bacchus, there are 30
steps just to get to the entrance. The perimeter consists of 23
columns and there are still faintly visible primeval scenes – lions and bulls, cornucopias and Roman gods such as Mars and
Diana, which demonstrates the artistic expertise and mindset
of the people of that time.
In the years that followed, there was a back and forth power
struggle for control over the complex between various rulers
and their respective religions.
Despite all the destruction between pagan parties of rule
and Christians as well as natural causes, the ruins of Baalbeck
are rather remarkable, and remain an example of the world’s
best-preserved Roman temple designs.
Coming back to the present and now that you may have
been enticed to embark on your own explorations of the
intriguing old town of Baalbeck, it is important to have on the
right adventure gear to protect yourself from the heat and
of course, minimize the chances of scrapes as you scramble
mountain-goat style for that perfect photo opportunity
between the mammoth stones and hard-to-reach nooks.
Baalbeck takes center stage
In 1956, then Lebanese President Camille Chamoun
officially named and declared the Baalbeck
International Festival, a government institution. It
is held in the most unique venue of the ruins of the
Temples of Bacchus and Jupiter and has featured
international and local plays; opera, pop and jazz
concerts, dance performances by the likes of Caracalla,
shows from the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and
By pubic transport
Mini buses from the Cola intersection: 4,000 LBP/Person
Chartered Buses 9,500 LBP – 44,500 LBP
All travel agencies offer tours to Baalbek.
Where to eat & stay
Riviera Restaurant +961 6 370296
Palmyra Hotel +961 6 370011
Hotel Jupiter +961 6 376715
Admission to the ruins is 12,000 LBP (children under 8
enter free) and the site is open to the public as early as
8:30 am to sunset; around 7:00 pm during the summer
season. If you would like a personal tour, guides
charge about 20,000 LBP an hour, or you can choose to
wander wherever your curiosity takes you.
Five Star Tours +961 1 347773
Kurban Travel +961 1 614914
Wild Discovery +961 1 565646
R. Rida International +961 4 718790
Lebanon Taxi +961 76 464617
Allo Taxi 1213 (from within Lebanon)