Tuesday, December 3, 2013

#745 Baalbek, Lebanon

Tourist entrance into Baalbek - The portico bears the inscription
'For the safety and victories of our lord, Caraculla.'
I think the most impressive Roman ruins I have ever seen were in Lebanon. In the Bekaa Valley, far from coastal Beirut and old Byblos (#840), lies fertile farmland, wineries and other riches that helped to make Baalbek superior. Definitely the most impressive site in Lebanon, it is also one of the most impressive in the Middle East. Called the 'Sun City' (Heliopolis) by Alexander the Great, it was a place famed for the mystic powers of its courtyard complex which was built of a size to rival those in Rome.

Originally a Phoenician settlement dating back to the 3rd millennium BC, the first temple was built to the god Baal, from which we get its name and derive fascinating yet horrific sacrifice and ritualistic prostitution stories. It's a prime location for a settlement with two nearby springs and its between two local rivers. as well as being on the east-west and north-south trade routes between the coast and desert Palmyra (#952). It was visited by Pompey the Great, Julius Caesar (who renamed it for his daughter Julia) and construction on the Roman temples began in around 60BC, which continued for centuries under Nero, Antonius Pius, and Caracalla. Some historians speculate that the grand-ness of the temples was a contrast to the emerging religion of Christianity and to show off the political and civilizing power of Rome. It was representative of the struggle as work halted with the back-and-forth tug of war between religions, and after 379, Theodosius converted the temples into a basilica, but as pagan rituals continued, Justinian had parts of the temples destroyed and the pillars moved to become part of the Aya Sofia in Istanbul (#969). It was an important enough site to be sacked by the Arabs (in 748) and Tamerlane (in 1400) and visited by Kaiser Wilhem II (in 1898), but it was also ravaged by nature with significant earthquakes (in 1158, 1203, 1664 and 1759) which also caused damage and exodus of the population.

The First (Hexagonal) Courtyard:
Fifty meters  deep, with the famous bas-relief of Jupiter Heliopolitan found 7km from Baalbek, this area would have been surrounded by columned portico.

The Second Great/Sacrificial Courtyard:
With an arcade of 84 columns each harboring areas for statues and decorative niches and two pools (with decorations showing Trions, Nereids, Medusas and Cupids), this is area held many important discoveries. The basilica in the center was completely dismantled by the French archaeologists to reveal a huge altar.
The High Temple (of Jupiter):
Over 300m long, 10 columns by 19 columns (for a total of 54), with an enormous staircase that allowed it to rise high above all the surrounding buildings, this is the most impressive building in Baalbek. It's columns are the largest in the world (22.9m high with girth of 2.2m) and were thought to have been built by giants in ancient times. Only six remain standing in original form, and the building blocks used to construct the temple are some of the biggest anywhere (one alone is 19.5m by 4.3m). The views over the Temple of Bacchus are superb.
The Temple of Bacchus (actually a temple to Venus):
Bacchus, said to be connected to Baal of old and his consort Astarte (Venus/Aphrodite), the rituals of the era performed in their honor shocked visitors with public sexual displays and prostitution within the temple, not to mention wine! Completed around 150 AD and very well-preserved, this temple has some of the most beautiful decoration that exists in the Roman world. Though called the 'small temple' in antiquity it is larger than the Parthenon in Athens. 30 flights of stairs with 3 landings lead up to the main area of portico with 8 columns by 15 columns along the sides. Decorated with lions, bulls, Mars, winged Victory, arrow -appointed Diana, Vulcan with hammer, Bacchus and Ceres with a sheaf of corn, it is very beautiful and diverse.
Source: Lonely Planet Syria & Lebanon 2nd Edition 2004

No comments:

Post a Comment