Baalbek Lebanon

blbkIf Roman ruins are your thing then some of the largest and best preserved buildings from the Roman period can be found at Baalbek in Lebanon.

Situated just 86 kilometres northeast of the capital Beirut, Baalbek is perched atop a high point which overlooks the lush Bekaa Valley. It somehow seems fitting that the great Empire of Rome saw fit to display evidence of its power and wealth at this particular spot as the area surrounding Baalbek, and Lebanon in general, has been one of almost continual conflict for many millennia.

For instance, Baalbek is close to Damascus in Syria than it is to Beirut and Israeli troops have also made excursions into the area, and any visitor should heed any international travel warnings before entering the area.

Once there, though, visitors are in for a real treat, particularly because of its long and remarkable history.

The city of Baalbek originated in Phoenician times as a place of worship to Baal, the Phoenician Sun God. During the Hellenistic period (333-64 B.C.), the Greeks named the city Heliopolis, or “City of the Sun.” However, Baalbek entered its golden age in 47 B.C., when Julius Caesar made it a Roman colony.

The Romans selected this site to construct the largest religious temples in their empire. Over a span of 200 years (60 B.C.-150 A.D.), a succession of Roman emperors oversaw the construction of the magnificent temples to honour the divine Roman trinity: Jupiter, Venus, and Mercury.

The Temple of Jupiter was the largest Roman religious building ever built, and parts of it are simply enormous. The Roman construction was built on top of earlier ruins and involved the creation of an immense raised plaza onto which the actual buildings were placed. The retaining walls constructed to hold the temple are very impressive.

These walls are built of about 24 monoliths at their lowest level each weighing approximately 300 tons. The western, tallest retaining wall has a second course of monoliths containing a row of three stones, each over 19 metres long, 4.3 metres high and 3.6 metres broad, cut from limestone. They weigh approximately 800 tons each.

Following the fall of Rome, stones from the Temple of Jupiter were plundered to build a Christian church which was, in turn, destroyed to that an Islamic mosque could be built. A 19th century earthquake destroyed the mosque and since then teams of archaeologists have attempted to reconstruct the ruins in order to give some hint of their original glory.

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