Baalbek, “City of the Sun”, Lebanon

Baalbek, “City of the Sun”, Lebanon

Despite its diminutive size (only 10,452 sq. km.), the Republic of Lebanon is a country within the Middle Eastern region with a long and rich history dating back more than 7,000 years. The country’s greatest treasure, Baalbek, can be counted among the wonders of the ancient world. Also called “Heliopolis” (City of the Sun), Baalbek, located atop a high point in the fertile wine-growing Bekaa Valley northeast of the capital city Beirut, is a large achaeological complex, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, that encompasses the ruins of an ancient Roman Empire – the largest temple ever built and also among the best preserved in their original forms through years of restoration work done by German, French and Lebanese archaeologists. These temples functioned as important places of worship until Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire.

The temple complex at Baalbek is made up of the Temple of Jupiter and Bacchus Temple adjacent to it, the Temple of Venus and Mercury.

One of the principal structures on the site is the Temple of Jupiter built by Julius Caesar in 15 B,C. Jupiter is the god of sky and thunder and King of the Gods in ancient Roman religion and mythology. Rising above a wide flight of stairs, the temple of Jupiter is the principal temple and the largest sanctuary in the Roman world but today only six (6) Corinthian columns of the original 54 are still standing due to earthquakes.

The best preserved and grandest Roman temple ruins in the world is the Temple of Bacchus, the Roman God of wine and intoxication and giver of ecstasy, with its walls adorned by 42 Corinthian columns comprising its peripheral colonnade – 23 have toppled, despite suffering serious damages in 2006 Israeli-Lebanese War.

It must be remembered that in July 2006 the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers by the Hezbollah militants triggered a 34-day conflict between Israel and Lebanon.

A short distance away from the main ruins is the tiny exquisite Temple of Venus, the Roman goddess of love, sex, beauty, and fertility, a circular shrine with many fluted columns, built on a horseshoe-shaped platform with a big square entrance.

Only a flight of stairs remains of the fourth temple on a hill dedicated to Mercury, the Roman goddess of finance, gymnastics, thieves, merchants and commerce.

Baalbek is also famous for its Baalbek International Festival, the largest of Lebanon`s many arts festival and the oldest (first took place in 1955), and also most prestigious in whole Middle East. The festival which has evolved into a major international event is held among the Roman ruins of Baalbek and takes yearly during the the months of July and August featuring music (including opera, jazz, pop, and world music), poetry, dance, and theatre.

TRIVIA: Lebanon is the first Arab country to permit private radio and TV.

Over ten million Lebanese now live abroad (two-and-a-half times its population).