You may wish to see an introductory page to this section first.
The Lebanon (above) and the Anti-Lebanon (below) ranges seen from the platform of the Temple of Jupiter Heliopolitanus, the largest temple of Baalbek, which is shown in another page
Balbeck is supposed to be the ancient Heliopolis,
or City of the Sun; for that the word imports. Its
present Arab, which is perhaps its most ancient
name, inclines to the same importance. For Baal,
though it imports all idols in general, yet it is very
often appropriated to the sun, the chief idol of this
Henry Maundrell - A Journey from Aleppo to Jerusalem at Easter - 1697
We came into the plain of Baalbeck, which is about eight miles broad, extends a considerable way to the south, and much farther northwards, where it opens into a plain. Baalbeck stands on the east side of that plain which is between Libanon to the west, and what is commonly supposed to be part of Antilibanon to the east, and consequently was in that part of Syria, which was called Coelesyria proper. The river Asi or Orontes, rises in this plain about eight hours north of Baalbeck, near a village called Ras. The mountains to the east are very near the town.
Richard Pococke - A Description of the East and Some Other Countries - 1745
Look over the walls, to the green groves of white-stemmed poplars; and over them to the distant Lebanon, a shimmer of mauve and blue and gold and rose. Look along the mountains to the void: the desert, that stony, empty sea. Drink the high air. Stroke the stone with your own soft hands. Say goodbye to the West if you own it. And then turn, tourist, to the East.
Robert Byron - The Road to Oxiana - 1937 - Macmillan & Co. (read Byron's description of Shiraz and other Persian cities).
Temple of Bacchus, once the "famous temple of Baalbek" and the "Temple of Jupiter", seen from the platform of the Temple of Jupiter Heliopolitanus
The famous temple of Baalbeck, which has been so often mentioned
by travellers, is a most exquisite piece of workmanship, on which the
utmost art has been bestowed; (..) it is built of a fine white stone, that approaches very near to the
nature of marble, but grows yellow when exposed to the air. (..) This fine temple is deservedly admired as one of the most beautiful
pieces of antiquity that remains. Pococke
At eleven o'clock, our eyes fell upon the walls and columns of Baalbec, a noble ruin whose history is a sealed book. It has stood there for thousands of years, the wonder and admiration of travelers; but who built it, or when it was built, are questions that may never be answered. One thing is very sure, though. Such grandeur of design, and such grace of execution, as one sees in the temples of Baalbec, have not been equaled or even approached in any work of men's hands that has been built within twenty centuries past. The great Temple of the Sun, the Temple of Jupiter, and several smaller temples, are clustered together in the midst of one of these miserable Syrian villages, and look strangely enough in such plebeian company.
Mark Twain - The Innocents Abroad - 1869
Temple of Bacchus: front and staircase
The several members of the columns and pedestals of the pilasters, both
within and without, are carried all round the building, and the whole temple
is built as on one solid basement. The ground is risen near to the top of this
basement, both within and without, except on the south side without, where
the basement is seen in all its proportions. Pococke
The design of the temple is similar to that of Artemis at Gerasa (Jerash) in Jordan.
Temple of Bacchus: reliefs on the lintel and the sides of the portal; this extremely elaborate decoration calls to mind that of Basilica Severiana at Leptis Magna in Libya
Nothing can be imagined more exquisite than
the door case to the temple. Almost every member of it is adorned with the finest carvings of flowers and
fruits, the frieze, particularly, with ears of corn, most beautifully executed. Pococke
The Temple of Jupiter is a smaller ruin than the one I have been speaking of, and yet is immense. It is in a tolerable state of preservation. Twain
The building is usually called the "temple of Bacchus", but in fact we do not know for certain whether it was dedicated to the god of wine at all. The decoration of the portal is the main element pointing to him because of the grapevines and of the small figures of maenads and satyrs. When Pococke visited the site it was the temple, as the adjoining larger ancient ruins had not yet been identified as a temple because of the fortifications which stood above them. In 1867 Twain was told that the larger temple was dedicated to the Sun and the smaller one to Jupiter, but in the early XXth century a number of inscriptions were found which made it clear that the larger temple was dedicated to Jupiter Heliopolitanus, so to both Jupiter and the Sun.
Temple of Bacchus: (much restored) relief on the lintel (identical to that at the Shrine of Jupiter Baetocece in Syria); (inset) detail of a plate in Pococke's book
The top of the door case consists of three stones; the middle
stone is finely adorned with reliefs, as in the drawing: possibly the
eagle which is carved on the door case might represent the sun, to whom
this temple was dedicated. The winged persons on each side of it may
signify the zephyrs, or air, which operates with it. And by the several
other particulars may be figured, that the sun produces fruitful seasons
and plenty. The caduceus, which the eagle has in its claws, may be an
emblem of commerce and riches, which are the consequence of this
bounty of nature. Pococke
When I visited Ba'albek, in 1856, the central block or keystone of the lintel, weighing some sixty tons, had slipped down about two feet. When Pococke sketched the ruins this portal was in a perfect state, but in the earthquake of 1759 A.D. it sunk down between the two others. It is now supported by a pillar of rough masonry which entirely covers the body of the eagle carved on the soffit.
Henry H. Jessup - Picturesque Palestine 1881
The interpretation of the relief by Pococke was based on the assumption that the temple was dedicated to the Sun. The temple is dated 150 AD so it was built during the reign of Emperor Antoninus Pius which was characterized by peace and prosperity, so a possible interpretation is the following one: the eagle represents Rome, the caduceus held by the eagle is a symbol of Mercury as bringer of peace; the two young winged figures are Morning/East and Sunset/West. So overall the relief is a celebration of the peace in the Empire, but there are other interpretations.
Temple of Bacchus: one side of the interior of the cella; it shows that the giant or colossal order with pilasters/columns spanning two stories was not unknown in antiquity (this does not mean that Michelangelo "copied" this cella when he designed Palazzo dei Conservatori)
Within the temple, the ornamentation was elaborate and colossal. What a wonder of architectural beauty and grandeur this edifice must have been when it was new! And what a noble picture it and its statelier companion, with the chaos of mighty fragments scattered about them, yet makes in the moonlight! Twain
The interior of the cella is divided into two parts, the nave measuring ninety-eight feet by sixty-seven, and the sanctum, or adytum, occupying thirty-six feet of the west end. It has no windows or apertures for light. (..) The nave of the cella has six fluted attached columns on each side, between which are two rows of niches, the lower row with a circular scalloped top and a bracket beneath, and the upper with triangular pediments, or tabernacles, forming canopies for the statues. (..) An exquisitely more beautiful view than that from the east of the portal looking in upon this lavish treasure-house of sculpture cannot be found in the East or the West. Jessup
The two plaques celebrate in German and Arabic a visit by Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1898 who in the following years promoted a series of archaeological campaigns.
Temple of Bacchus: interior of the cella seen from the adytum
Having seen a few months before the ruins of Tedmor, a comparison between these two renowned remains of antiquity naturally offered itself to my mind. The entire view of the ruins of Palmyra when seen at a certain distance is infinitely more striking than those of Baalbec, but there is not any one spot in the ruins of Tedmor so imposing as the interior view of the temple of Baalbec. (..) The architecture of Baalbec is richer than that of Tedmor.
Johann Ludwig Burckhardt - Travels in Syria and the Holy Land - 1822
The sanctum, or holy place for the altar, was about five feet above the main floor of the cella, and thirteen steps led up to it. At each end of the steps a door led down to the vaults, from which the priests uttered their mysterious oracular responses (as at the Temple to Serapis of Pergamum which also has such a large cella). Jessup
There is an entrance to the arched vaults on each side. (..) I went down into the vaults by the light of wax candles; they consist of two rooms; going into the inner vault I was startled to see a dead body lie in its clothes; the murder was committed about six months before by a Greek for the sake of his money, and the body was never removed. Pococke
Temple of Bacchus: ceiling of the portico; the image used as background for this page is based on another detail of the ceiling; you may wish to see images of the ceiling of the Temple of Bel at Palmyra
The portico is covered with large stones hollowed
arch-wise, extending between the columns and the
wall of the temple. In the centre of each stone is
carved the figure of some one or other of the heathen gods, or goddesses, or heroes. The covering
of the whole fabric is totally broken down, but yet
this I must say of the whole, as it now stands, that
it strikes the mind with an air of greatness beyond
any thing that I ever saw before, and is an eminent
proof of the magnificence of the ancient architecture. Maundrell
The pillars are all of one stone. The covering of the portico round consists of single stones laid across, and adorned with reliefs in several compartments. Pococke
Temple of Bacchus: a fallen stone of the ceiling of the portico with a relief portraying Queen Cleopatra with the asp (a small viper) which killed her
The columns are sixty-five feet high and support a sort of porch or roof, which connects them with the roof of the building. This porch roof is composed of tremendous slabs of stone, which are so finely sculptured on the under side that the work looks like a fresco from below. One or two of these slabs had fallen, and again I wondered if the gigantic masses of carved stone that lay about me were no larger than those above my head. Twain
The reliefs of the ceiling depict gods and other mythological or historical figures, but their identification is not very easy because many of them are worn out.
Temple of Bacchus: (left) mosaic depicting Bacchus from a villa near Baalbek; (right) XIXth century graffiti
One might swear that all the John Smiths and George Wilkinsons, and all the other pitiful nobodies between Kingdom Come and Baalbec would inscribe their poor little names upon the walls of Baalbec's magnificent ruins, and would add the town, the county and the State they came from and swearing thus, be infallibly correct. It is a pity some great ruin does not fall in and flatten out some of these reptiles, and scare their kind out of ever giving their names to fame upon any walls or monuments again, forever. Twain
The Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion in Greece is another ancient monument with lots of graffiti.
(left) Ruins of a mosque near the Temple of Bacchus; (right) Mameluke portal inside the temple
In the afternoon we walked out to see the city.
But we thought fit, before we entered, to get licence of the governor, and to proceed with all caution. Being taught this necessary care by the example of some worthy English gentlemen of our factory, who visiting this place in the year 1689, in
their return from Jerusalem, and suspecting no mischief, were basely intrigued by the people here, and
forced to redeem their lives at a great sum of money. Maundrell
The Emir Beshir has since the reign of Soleiman Pasha likewise acquired a certain influence over Baalbec and is now entitled to the yearly sum of fifteen purses from this district. The Emir Djahdjah resides at Baalbec and keeps there about 200 Metaweli (a Shia Muslim nomad tribe) horsemen whom he equips and feeds out of his own purse. He is well remembered by several Europeans especially English travellers for his rapacity and inhospitable behaviour. (..) Amidst its ruins are two handsome mosques and a fine bath. (..) I copied a Cufic inscription on the side of a stair case leading down into some subterranean chambers below the small temple which the Emir has walled up to prevent a search for hidden treasures. Burckhardt
In March 2011 seven Estonian cyclists were abducted in the Bekaa Valley, not far from Baalbek. They were released in July and according to Estonian sources no ransom was paid.
Temple of Venus
Coming near these ruins, the first thing you meet with is a little round pile of building, all of marble. It is encircled with columns of the Corinthian order, very beautiful, which support a cornice that runs all round the structure, of no ordinary state and beauty. This part of it that remains, is at present in a very tottering condition, but yet the Greeks use it for a church; and it were well if the danger of its falling, which perpetually threatens, would excite those people to use a little more fervour in their prayers than they generally do; the Greeks being seemingly the most undevout and negligent at their divine service, of any sort of people in the Christian world. Maundrell (who was chaplain to the Levant Company in Syria and despised the customs of the country)
Archaeological area surrounding the Temple of Venus and the Temple of the Muses (in the foreground)
Archaeological excavations have unearthed an almost square area surrounded by a colonnade which contained a small rectangular temple dedicated to the Muses in addition to that to Venus. The latter is dated IIIrd century AD. It is a very fine example of the tendency of Roman architecture to move away from traditional patterns. Art historians set the beginning of this trend during the reign of Emperor Hadrian and label it as ancient baroque because of its predilection for curved lines.
(left) Plate showing the Temple of Venus in Pococke's book; (right) Temple of Apollo at Stourhead, Wiltshire. It was designed in 1765 by Henry Flitcroft who was clearly influenced by Pococke's plate
In the city about half a quarter of a mile east south east of the famous temple, there is a beautiful small temple almost entire, of a very singular architecture, which is now used by the Christians for a church; it is a semicircle. (..) The steps and the basement (..) are only supposed; the ground being risen up to the corniche of the latter, and so it is likewise near the top of the bases under the pediments within (..). The room seems to have had no light but from the door; on each side of which there are two round pilasters. Pococke
(left) Columns near the Temple of Venus; (right) detail of the temple
The Temple of Venus is a beautiful little Corinthian structure, circular within and without, with handsome niches at regular intervals each flanked by two columns, so as to gave the building the appearance of an octagon. Wreaths hang gracefully from the cornice over each niche. The cella is thirty-eight feet in diameter. The number of columns is six, each nine feet distant from the wall. The entablature supported by these projecting columns does not run continuously from column to column, but recedes in a graceful curve almost to the wall of the cella, giving the whole an appearance of lightness and elegance rarely equalled. It is looked upon as the gem of Ba'albek. In the days of Maundrell it was used as a Greek Church, although seriously shattered by earthquakes. The Greeks no longer worship in it, but it is still beautiful, even in decay. It is now called "El Barbara," in honour of St. Barbara. Jessup
Portico of Bustan al-Khan and Mount Lebanon in the background
Bustan al-Khan (the khan's garden) at some distance from the temples is a IInd century AD portico with twelve columns, which may have been the south gate to the area of the shrine. It stands opposite the site of an ancient theatre.
National Museum of Beirut: model of a theatre found at Baalbek
The ruined town of Baalbec contains about seventy Metaweli families and twenty five of Catholic Christians. Burckhardt.
Today Baalbek has a population of about 80,000 which makes it very difficult to enlarge the archaeological area beyond its current perimeter in order to unearth other monuments of the ancient town. The model at the National Museum is assumed to depict a theatre, but it most likely shows an odeon, a smaller building. It actually closely resembles the Roman odeon of Philadelphia (Amman) rather than the adjoining theatre.
Quarry; the black dot indicates the Temple of Jupiter Heliopolitanus and the red dot that of Bacchus
What I wanted in the measures of these stones as to their thickness and
breadth, which is said to be about twelve feet, I presume I found pretty
near in the quarry half a mile from the town, out of which these stones
were doubtless taken. I saw there a stone hewn out, but the bottom
of it was not separated from the rock, which measured sixty eight feet in
length, is seventeen feet eight inches wide, and thirteen feet ten inches
thick. These stones were probably conveyed to the walls on rollers
through the city. (..) The quarry in which this stone lies is very large, and the place is
called St. Elias. Pococke
In the afternoon I made a tour in the environs of Baalbec. At the foot of the Anti Libanus a quarter of an hour's walk from the town to the south is a quarry where the places are still visible from whence several of the large stones in the south wall of the temple were extracted; one large block is yet remaining cut on three sides ready to be transported to the building. Burckhardt
Hajar al-Hibla, Stone of the Pregnant Woman
We went to the quarry from whence the stones of Baalbec were taken. It was about a quarter of a mile off, and down hill. In a great pit lay the mate of the largest stone in the ruins. It lay there just as the giants of that old forgotten time had left it when they were called hence just as they had left it, to remain for thousands of years, an eloquent rebuke unto such as are prone to think slightingly of the men who lived before them. This enormous block lies there, squared and ready for the builders' hands, a solid mass fourteen feet by seventeen, and but a few inches less than seventy feet long! Two buggies could be driven abreast of each other, on its surface, from one end of it to the other, and leave room enough for a man or two to walk on either side. Twain
Move to Temple of Jupiter Heliopolitanus.