Lebanon's greatest Roman treasure, can be counted among the wonders of the
ancient world. The largest and most noble Roman temples ever built, they are
also among the best preserved.
Towering high above the Beqaa plain, their monumental proportions
proclaimed the power and wealth of Imperial Rome. The gods worshipped here,
the Triad of Jupiter, Venus and Mercury, were grafted onto the indigenous
deities of Hadad, Atargatis and a young male god of fertility. Local
influences are also seen in the planning and layout of the temples, which
vary from the classic Roman design.
Over the centuries
Baalbeck's monuments suffered from theft, war and earthquakes, as well as
from numerous medieval additions.
Fortunately, the modern visitor can see the site in something close to its
original form thanks to work in the past hundred years by German, French and
Baalbeck is located on two main historic trade routes, one between the
Mediterranean coast and the Syrian interior and the other between northern
Syria and northern Palestine.
Today the city, 85 kilometers from Beirut, is an important administrative
and economic center in
the northern Beqaa valley.
The famous six columns
Lion's head decoration
The Temples In History
For centuries the temples of Baalbeck lay under meters of
rubble, obscured by medieval fortifications. But even in ruin the site
attracted the admiration of visitors and its historical importance was
The first survey and restoration work at Baalbeck was begun by the
German Archaeological Mission in 1898. In 1922 French scholars undertook
extensive research and restoration of the temples, work which was
continued by the Lebanese Directorate General of Antiquities.
Baalbeck's temples were built on an ancient tell that goes back at
least to the end of the third millennium B.C. Little is known about the
site during this period, but there is evidence that in the course of the
1rst millennium B.C. an enclosed court was built on the ancient tell. An
altar was set in the center of this court in the tradition of the
biblical Semitic high places.
During the Hellenistic period (333-64 B.C.) the Greeks identified
the god of Baalbeck with the sun god and the city was called Heliopolis
or City of the Sun. At this time the ancient enclosed court was enlarged
and a podium was erected on its western side to support a temple of
classical form. Although the temple was never built, some huge
construction from the Hellenistic project can still be seen. And it was
over the ancient court that the Romans placed the present Great Court of
the Temple of Jupiter.
Aerial view of the
temple was begun in the last quarter of the 1rst century B.C., and was
nearing completion in the final years of Nero's reign (37-68 A.D.). the
Great Court Complex of the temple of Jupiter, with its porticoes,
exedrae, altars and basins, was built in the 2nd century A.D.
Construction of the so-called temple of Bacchus was also started about
The Propylaea and the Hexagonal Court of the Jupiter temple were
added in the 3rd century under the Severan Dynasty (193-235 A.D.) and
work was presumably completed in
the mid-3rd century. The small circular structure known as the Temple of
Venus, was probably finished at this time as well.
When Christianity was declared an official religion of the Roman
Empire in 313 A.D., Byzantine Emperor Constantine officially closed the
Baalbeck temples. At the end of the 4th century, the Emperor Theodosius
tore down the altars of Jupiter's Great Court and built a basilica using
the temple's stones and architectural elements. The remnants of the
three apses of this basilica, originally oriented to the west, can still
be seen in the upper part of the stairway of the Temple of Jupiter.
After the Arab conquest in 636 the temples were transformed into a
fortress, or qal'a, a term still applied to the Acropolis today.
During the next centuries Baalbeck fell successively to the Omayyad,
Abbasid, Toulounid, Fatimid and Ayyoubid dynasties. Sacked by the
Mongols about 1260, Baalbeck later enjoyed a period of calm and
prosperity under Mamluke rule.
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T H E S I G H T
The temple complex of Baalbeck is made up of the Jupiter Temple and the
Bacchus Temple adjacent to it. A short distance away is the circular
structure known as the Temple of Venus. Only part of the staircase remains
of a fourth temple dedicated to Mercury, on Kheikh Abdallah hill.
The Great Temple or
The first view the visitor has of Baalbeck is the six Corinthian
columns of the Great Temple thrusting 22 meters into the skyline. Built
on a podium seven meters above the Court, these six columns and the
entablature on top give an idea of the vast scale of the original
The complex of the Great Temple has four sections: the monumental
entrance or Propylaea, the Hexagonal Court, the Great Court and finally
the Temple itself, where the six famous columns stand.
The Propylaea completed in the mid-3rd century A.D., is approached by a
large semicircle of stone benches and a partially
restored stairway. The
entrance structure has towers at either end and is fronted by 12 granite
columns. An interior stairway goes to the top of the Propylaea where
there is an excellent view of the area.
The Hexagonal Forecourt
Three doors lead to the Hexagonal Forecourt where 30 granite columns
originally supported the entablature.
This six-sided form was built between the Propylaea and the Great Court
in the first half of the 3rd century A.D.
At the end of the 4rth century or the early 5th century, it was covered
with a dome and transformed into a church.
The Great Court
Built in the 2nd century A.D., covered an
The Exedrae around the
area 134x112 meters and
contained the main installation of the cult. Structurally, the court is
a platform built on the leveled-off top of the ancient artificial tell.
The tell was consolidated on the eastern, northern and southern sides by
vaulted substructures, and on the western side by the temple's podium.
These substructures supported the porticos and exedrae around the
Court and were used for stables and storage.
Two huge structures stand in the center of the Great Court: a
restored sacrificial altar and a tower with only the lower courses
remaining. The tower,
dating from the beginning of the 1st century A.D., was
probably built to allow the worshipers to view the proceedings from the
top. It was flanked by two solitary columns of gray and red granite. two
pools for ritual washing, decorated with relief carvings, were placed
north and south of both altar and tower. these structures were destroyed
when a Christian basilica was built on the site at the end of the 4th
The entire Court was enclosed by a succession of rectangular and
semi-circular exedrae or recesses decorated by niches which
contained statues. Surrounding the Court, in front of the exedrae,
was an 84-column Corinthian colonnade of Egyptian granite. on the
exterior walls of the Court the remains of medieval battlements
can still be seen.
Temple of Jupiter
After passing through the Propylaea, the Hexagonal Forecourt and
Great Court, the worshiper at last arrived at the Temple of Jupiter.
This approach to the sanctuary through a series of defined spaces was an
apparent oriental adaptation.
The Temple measures 88x48 meters and stands on a podium 13 meters
above the surrounding terrain and 7 meters above the courtyard. It is
reached by a monumental stairway.
Originally surrounded by 54 external columns, most of these now lie
in fragments on the ground. The six standing columns are joined by an
entablature decorated with a frieze of bulls and lions' heads connected
The Podium is built with some of the largest stone blocks ever hewn.
On the west side of the podium is the "Trilithon", a celebrated group of
three enormous stones weighing about 800 tons each.
The Little Temple or
the "Temple of Bacchus"
Next to the Jupiter complex is a separate building known as the
Temple of Bacchus. Constructed during the first half of the 2nd century
A.D., it has been remarkably well preserved.
While the Great Temple was dedicated to the public cult of the
Heliopolitan Triad, the little temple was apparently consecrated to a
mysterious and initiatic cult centered around the young god of Baalbeck.
This god was identified as a solar and growth deity,
Temple of Bacchus
whose birth and growth
promised regeneration and eternal life to the faithful.
Wine and other drugs, such as opium, may have been used by the
worshipers and it was the carvings of grapes and poppies on the main
door jamb and some carved Bacchic scenes, which suggested the temple's
identification with Bacchus.
Thirty-three steps lead up to the entrance and the whole structure
sits on a platform five meters high. The entrance through the lofty
monumental gate and the view of its ornate interior constitute one of
the loveliest sights of Baalbeck. The stairs on either side of the
doorway may have had some ritual function.
The 15th century tower at the corner of this temple is a good
example of the Mamluke fortifications of Baalbeck. From the top of the
tower a view can be had of the surrounding area.
The Round Temple or the "Temple of Venus"
The gem-like temple southeast of the acropolis was built in the 3rd
Its design and size, as well as its orientation towards the Great Temple,
set it apart from the other Baalbeck temples. These attributes also help
identify it as the temple of the Fortune of Baalbeck, that is the tutelary
divinity of the City, under the protection of its great gods. It was not by
accident that during the Byzantine period it was converted into a church
dedicated to Saint Barbara, who is the patron saint of Baalbeck to this day.
Near the Temple of Venus are the remains of "The Temple of the Muses",
dating from the beginning of the 1st century A.D.
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A R O U N D T H E T O W
There are a
number of other Roman remains and Islamic sites to visit in Baalbeck and its
The Great Omayyad Mosque
In front of the acropolis entrance, this mosque dates from the
7th-8th centuries of the Omayyad period. Built on what was the site of
the Roman forum and later a Byzantine church dedicated to St. John,
the mosque re-uses granite and limestone columns. There is a square
minaret in the north-west corner of the courtyard.
At Boustan el-Khan south of the temples are important remains of
public baths, a market and probably a bouleuterion, or assembly
This ancient spring, now incorporated into modern Baalbeck, has been
a source of water since antiquity. Here are traces of a Roman shrine and
nympheun as well as remains of a Mamluke mosque built in 1277.
At the southern entrance of town is a quarry where the stones used
in the temples were cut. A huge block, considered the largest hewn stone
in the world, still sits where it was cut almost 2,000 years ago. Called
the "Stone of the Pregnant Woman", it is 21.5m x 4.8m x 4.2meters in
size and weighs an estimated 1,000 tons. There is another quarry at Al-Kiyyl,
southwest of town after Qoubbat Douris.
On Sheikh Abdallah Hill are the remains of the Zawiya - Mosque
and tomb of "Sheikh Abdallah Al-Youmn", built under the rule of Al-Amjad,
grand nephew of Saladin and governor of Baalbeck between 1182 and 1230.
It was constructed of stones from the neighboring temple of Mercury.
Northwest of the Acropolis near the army barracks lie the remains of
a Roman city gate, part of the fortifications that surrounded the city.
Not far from the City Gate is a two-room mausoleum built in
1409, which served as a burial place for the Mamluke governors of
At the southern entrance of town is the site of an octagonal
structure composed of eight Roman granite columns. Built during the 13th
century, it was originally covered with a cupola and held an Ayyoubid