You may wish to see an introductory page to this section first.
Bridge on the Nahr el-Kalb River
We came to the famous road, which is cut like a terrace on the
west and north sides of the mountain, over the sea, and on the south side of
the river Lycus; the road being, as I conjecture, about half a mile long. (..) This road was formerly called Via Antoniniana; the ascent to it is difficult, and a Latin inscription is cut on the rock, mentioning the name of the road; and
that it was made by the emperor Aurelius. Under this road
runs the river Kelp, as it is called in Arabic. It is the Lycus of the
Greeks, that is, the Dog river; so called, as it is said, from the statue
of a dog, which was formerly there (..) and there is a relief on the rock over the river at the end of the bridge, which is much defaced, and seems to have represented a dog. This river was formerly navigable, though the stream is very rapid. (..) The bridge over the river
has four arches, one of which is large, being built, as they say, by
Feckerdine (Fakhr-al-Din II 1572-1635).
Richard Pococke - A Description of the East and Some Other Countries - 1745
Rocks near the Nahr el-Kalb River: (left) relief of an unidentified Assyrian king; (right-above) inscription celebrating Emperor Caracalla; (right-below) inscription celebrating Mameluke Sultan Barquq (1392-1399)
I saw some small figures of
men in relief, cut in different compartments, but very much defaced
by time; one, I observed, wore a particular cap like the Phrygian
bonnet; probably it was the Persian habit, and may be as old as the time
when the Persians had possession of these countries. (..)
Opposite to the south end of the bridge, is an inscription in an eastern
character, which seemed to be very antient. Pococke
The narrow plain continues as far as the banks of the Nahr el Kelb. I reached this river (..) at the point of its junction with the sea about ten minutes above which it is crossed by a fine stone bridge. From the bridge the road continues along the foot of the steep rocks except where they overhang the sea and there it has been cut through the rock for about a mile. This was a work however of no great labour and hardly deserved the following magnificent inscription which is engraved upon the rock just over the sea where the road turns southward IMP CAES M AVRELIUS ANTONINVS PIVS FELIX AVGVSTVS PART MAX BRIT MAX GERM MAXIMVS PONTIFEX MAXIMVS MONTIBVS INMINENTIBVS LICO FLVMINI CAESIS VIAM DELATAVIT PER (..) ANTONINIANAM SUAM. The last line but one has been purposely erased. (..) According to the opinion of M Guys the French consul at Tripoli which seems well founded the Emperor mentioned in the above inscriptions is not Antoninus Pius but Caracalla as the epithet Britannicus cannot be applied to the former but very well to the latter. Opposite to the bridge is an Arabic inscription but for the greater part illegible.
Johann Ludwig Burckhardt - Travels in Syria and the Holy Land - 1822
The erased line contained a reference to Legio III Gallica which built the road. In 219 its commander revolted against Emperor Heliogabalus, but he was defeated and the legion was dissolved.
View of the plain of Qalaat Faqra and of Mount Sannine from the Tower of Emperor Claudius
Between Kesrouan and Zahle in the Bekaa valley I am informed that in the mountain about six hours from the latter are the ruins of an ancient city called Fakkra or Mezza. Large blocks of stone, some remains of temples and several Greek inscriptions are seen there. Burckhardt
A long and winding modern road branches off from the coastal one immediately north of Nahr el-Kalb. It is popular among the citizens of Beirut because it leads to Mzaar Kfardebian, a large ski resort at an altitude of 1,900m on the slopes of Mount Sannine which is geographically placed in the centre of Lebanon and is visible from Beirut. Before reaching the ski resort the road crosses a small plain at an altitude of 1,500m. In the past (and until recent years) the site was very difficult to reach.
Tower of Claudius; the locals thought it was part of a fortification, thus it was called qalaat (castle)
I reached Mazra. This village is situated at the foot of the highest mountain of Kesrouan and it is where sheep are driven for their summer pastures. (..) The shepherds led me to a small plain on the east side of which stood a low hill. (..) There I was shown the ruin of an almost square tower which was built with very large stones. They were long enough to provide a lintel for an entrance. I noticed two Greek inscriptions, one on the lintel and the other on a corner of the building.
Simplified translation from "Pierre Marie François, Vicomte de Pagès - Voyage autour du Monde - 1782".
The first European traveller to visit Qalaat Faqra and to describe its monuments and inscriptions was François Pagès (1740-1792), a French naval officer who in 1767 decided to travel around the world in a westward direction; he returned to France in 1771 after a long stay in Lebanon.
Pagès annotated the inscription on the corner which was more easily readable and his translation of it is still regarded as being basically right: it says: In the year 355 this monument was built at the initiative of Tholom Rabbonos in charge of the temple to the Highest God. Because the date refers to the establishment of the Seleucid Empire in 312 BC, the tower was built (or rebuilt) in 43 AD.
The inscription on the lintel is difficult to read but the first line is clearly carved and it confirms the dating of the monument as it says: To Tiberius Claudius Caesar and Claudius became emperor in 41 AD. The dedication to Claudius most likely indicates that in 43 AD the area was placed under the direct rule of Rome, whereas until then it was part of a client kingdom, similar to that of Agrippa II at Caesarea Philippi. After careful examination of the lintel archaeologists came to the conclusion that the second line of the inscription contained a dedication to Beelgalasos, a local ancestral god who was associated to Zeus, similar to what occurred at Baalbek and at Deir el-Qalaa.
Great Altar and Tower of Claudius; (inset) a reconstructed small altar which is situated in the lower part of the hill; it brings to mind the Temple of Baal Shamin at Palmyra
Just east of the tower is a heap of ruins, apparently those of a small temple. Some of the stones are carved, as if once belonging to cornices, or pedestals, or the capitals of pilasters.
Edward Robinson / Eli Smith - Biblical Researches in Palestine and the Adjacent Regions - A Journal of Travels in the Years 1838 and 1852
Pagès did not specifically mention the Great Altar but he wrote that from the tower other ruins were visible and his account was confirmed by other travellers. The Great Altar was reconstructed by archaeologists and eventually it clarified the purpose of the tower. The latter was a temple and its upper storey housed the (lost) statues of two gods; the altar was utilized in connection with the temple, similar to what occurred at Baalbek where two tall altars stood in front of the Temple to Jupiter Heliopolitanus.
Karstic limestone rocks which surround the Great Temple
This building is ruined: the columns and most of the walls lie on the ground. It is located inside high rocks which were cut in order to serve as external walls. Pagès
The French traveller went down from the tower to a nearby valley where he noticed ancient stones with inscriptions and evidence of a large temple with many columns.
A singular tract of the usual limestone rocks, runs down S. S. E. beyond the road we had left. This tract is some ten or twelve rods wide. The singularity is, that the strata are perpendicular, and have been worn away by time and weather, so as to present various forms of columns, needles, blocks, and ridges, separated by narrow clefts, chasms, passages, little chambers, and recesses; the whole rising up some twenty or thirty feet or more, and all exceedingly wild and rugged. Robinson & Smith.
The sight of the temple surrounded by a wall of deeply fissured rocks is unique. A visit to the temple shows that whoever built it did not lack resources, so the choice to nest it inside the rocks was not motivated by a practical need; most likely the site was already a natural shrine because its aspect excited the imagination of the first settlers (you may wish to see the Shrine of Dodoni in the mountains of Greece which originated from a large oak).
They told me it was a temple dedicated to the Mother of the Gods at the time of the Ptolemies. The site is known as "Elfogra"(hence Faqra). Pagès
Archaeologists easily came to the conclusion that the temple was built during the Roman rule and they eventually found an inscription mentioning the year 240 AD which approximately corresponds to the period in which the Temple of Jupiter Heliopolitanus at Baalbek was being completed. There is no clear evidence about the god to whom the temple was dedicated. The building was aimed at giving a Roman imperial appearance to a shrine of an ancestral deity, similar to what occurred at a Phoenician shrine at Baetocece in Syria near the border with Lebanon.
I found a very large door with two external porticoes at its side. Inside the door is a large court with a well at the centre; it is divided by a portico similar to the external ones. Then there is a wall and a large hall, but I could not proceed further. Pagès.
The description by Pagès does not mention the marble columns of the temple which were covered by other stones. The layout of the building shows the importance of the court as a holy ground (temenos). Large temenos can be found also at Palmyra and Damascus, in addition to Baalbek; eventually this feature influenced the design of the early mosques, e.g. those of Damascus and of Kairouan.
Great Temple: the temple itself; the image used as background for this page shows one of the capitals
The naos of a classic Greek temple was the hall which housed the statue of the god and had some room for votive offerings, but its size was small in comparison with that of the overall building which usually included porticoes on all sides as at Paestum. Ceremonies were held outside the naos. The Romans increased the size of the naos or cella by reducing that of the porticoes, e.g. in Tempio di Portuno. At Faqra, at the Temple of Bacchus of Baalbek and at that of Serapis of Pergamum, the cellae are really very large and the portico of the front is only an architectural embellishment of the building.
Temple of Atargatis/Church complex (in a charming rural landscape)
Pagès did not identify as parts of a building the scattered stones and architectural elements which eventually allowed archaeologists to partially reconstruct a small temple and an adjoining church at a short distance from the Great Temple. What archaeologists did not find is the evidence of a town, albeit a small one, so it is possible that Faqra was only a holy site for summer festivals, because it was covered by snow in winter.
Temple of Atargatis
Many Greek inscriptions were found in the proximity of the small temple; one of them is a dedication to the goddess Atargatis which mentions King Agrippa II, so the building is dated second half of the Ist century AD. Atargatis was a Syrian/Nabatean goddess, to whom according to archaeologists a sacred fish pond was dedicated at Edessa (but the local traditional account says something else) and a temple at Petra. It is difficult to distinguish the worship of Atargatis from that of Astarte, another Syrian goddess whom the Greeks associated with Aphrodite.
Church adjoining the Temple of Atargatis and having an opposite orientation
The temple eventually became a facility of an adjoining Christian basilica which was built with its stones. No Christian inscriptions have been found in the church or elsewhere at Faqra, which most likely was abandoned as a worship site after 392 when Emperor Theodosius issued a series of decrees to actually implement a 380 edict which declared the Christian faith the sole religion of the Roman Empire.