Baalbek Archaeological Site (بعلبك)

Baalbek Archaeological Site (بعلبك)

Location: Beqaa Valley Map

Baalbek (Arabic بعلبك, DMG Baʿlabakk) is a provincial capital in Lebanon with around 80,000 inhabitants and an important center of the Bekaa Valley. The place has been around since the 8th millennium BC. Settled in the 1st century BC, in Roman times its name was Colonia Heliopolis. Baalbek is famous for its massive temple complexes, including the imposing ruins of the Jupiter sanctuary, one of the largest sacral complexes in the Roman Empire, as well as other Roman temples. The six still standing pillars of the Temple of Jupiter are the symbol of Baalbek and - along with the cedar - of the entire Lebanon. The temple complex and the old town of Baalbek have been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1984.


History of Baalbek Archaeological Site

Baalbek Archaeological Site (بعلبك)



The settlement of Baalbek can be traced back to the Pre-Pottery Neolithic (PPNB). The settlement mound (Tell), which is surrounded by the altar courtyard of the Roman Jupiter sanctuary, contains evidence, primarily stone tools, but also organic remains that date back to the 8th millennium BC. can be dated. Continuous settlement can be observed from the ceramics.

Baalbek is the preclassic name of the place, it is translated as “Lord of the Springs” (“Baal of the Bekaa”, the plain as a place of “groundwater, standing water”). However, the name cannot be found in any preclassical text; it first appears in the early 5th century AD in a Syrian copy of the Theophany of Bishop Eusebius of Caesarea and then again on coins from the Ummayad period. Heliopolis means “city of the sun” and is most likely taken from the Egyptian Heliopolis. Since it is a Greek word, it is believed that this name dates back to the Hellenistic period, probably the 3rd century BC dates back to when the landscape of Koilesyria, “hollow Syria”, was under the rule of the Ptolemies.


Roman era

In 63 B.C. the Roman general Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus passed through Heliopolis on his way from Apamea to Damascus. The account of the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus records the first historical event that can be linked to Baalbek. The first mention, however, can be found around the turn of the century in Strabo. His report shows that Baalbek was still part of the territory of the Roman Empire in 15 BC. Colonia Iulia Augusta Felix Berytus, today's Beirut, was established in the 1st century BC. A little later, the name Colonia Iulia Augusta Felix Heliopolis is attested for Baalbek on coins and inscriptions, analogous to Beirut. Veterans from Legio VIII Augusta and Legio V Macedonia were settled. Neither Strabo or Flavius Josephus nor Pliny or Claudius Ptolemy, who also mention Heliopolis, name the city as an independent colonia, nor is there anything reported about the city, its history or its buildings. The place was probably still rather insignificant back then.

According to the testimony of the late antique author Macrobius Ambrosius Theodosius, Emperor Trajan had an oracle given to him by Jupiter Optimus Maximus Heliopolitanus, the main god of Baalbek, before his Parthian campaign, i.e. probably in 114 AD. In order to test the god first, he allegedly sent an empty, sealed letter to Baalbek. When the emperor received a letter back, which was also empty, he was, as it is said, convinced of the god's power and asked again in writing about the success of his campaign against the Parthians. In response, he received back a Roman centurion's broken vine, a votive offering. According to Macrobius, this mysterious answer was interpreted to mean that only Trajan's bones would return, and the emperor actually died on the way back from the campaign in 117 AD. However, most historians consider the story to be a fabrication - Macrobius lived for almost three centuries after the alleged events. The story therefore proves above all that the oracle of Baalbek still enjoyed a good reputation among non-Christians in the 4th century.

The city probably only became really important around the year 200. The Roman lawyer Ulpian reports at the beginning of the 3rd century AD that after the victory of the Emperor Septimius Severus over his rival Pescennius Niger in 194/5, Baalbek was awarded the ius italicum, which was tantamount to a tax exemption for the city, which was now like a Place in Italy was treated. At the same time, coinage began in Baalbek under Severus and continued with interruptions until the reign of Emperor Gallienus. These honors show that Baalbek was on Severus' side in the civil war and was richly rewarded for it. Now it took a rapid upswing. The coins of the 3rd century often show prize crowns with the inscription Certamen Sacrum Capitolinum Oecomenicum Iselasticum Heliopolitanum (“holy and empire-wide games according to Capitoline rules”); These were competitions whose winners had the right to a ceremonial entry into their hometown.

The first church was probably built in Baalbek under Emperor Constantine I, the location of which is unknown; it is possible that it was destroyed again during the pagan reaction under Emperor Julian Apostate. But it was only the edict of Emperor Theodosius I that allowed the Christians to build a basilica in the altar courtyard. For this purpose, parts of the Jupiter Temple and the two tower altars were built in. The temple was already partially damaged, including through violent destruction. The remains of this church stood until 1935. After a long period without cult activity, the round temple was converted into a church in honor of St. Barbara.

Nevertheless, the temples remained active; It was not until 554 that the sanctuary of Sol Invictus Mithras was said to have been burned out and abandoned after a lightning strike. In general, paganism was very long-lasting in Baalbek; there are a whole series of reports that mention martyrs and repeated missionary attempts. For a very long time, non-Christians were the majority here, similar to Harran. Bishops from Baalbek are attested from the 5th century onwards; a Nonnos is uncertain, a Joseph and a Peter are certainly attested at synods in Antioch in 445 and 451. But there is still talk of fighting against pagans in Baalbek in the fifth and sixth centuries. In 579, Emperor Tiberius I bloodily suppressed an uprising by the Old Believers, who were said to have oppressed the Christian minority in Baalbek.


The Roman buildings

The temples
The monumental sanctuary of Jupiter Optimus Maximus Heliopolitanus, the so-called Temple of Bacchus and the small round temple are characteristic of Baalbek. To this day, an attraction for tourism and an important example of Roman architecture for antiquity research, the buildings and the medieval castle formed from them dominated the city for 2,000 years. Another temple dedicated to Mercury has been completely destroyed. A pseudoperipterus was excavated directly in front of the round temple in the 1960s.

The thermal baths
To the southwest of the Jupiter sanctuary is the site of the so-called Bustan al-Khan (Garden of the Caravanserai). Extensive excavation and restoration work by the Lebanese Antiquities Administration took place there in the 1960s and 1970s. Parts of a large thermal bath complex from the 2nd century AD were uncovered, the portico of which was re-erected. Right next to it there was a large peristyle courtyard, which is interpreted as a podium hall, a large banquet facility.

More buildings
There are a number of other ancient buildings in Baalbek. There are remains of the Roman theater beneath the Hotel Palmyra. In the spring basin of Ras al-Ain there is the substructure of another small temple. A Roman gate building is integrated into the wall of a former barracks northeast of the Jupiter sanctuary. Remains of mosaics were repeatedly found during construction work in the urban area, indicating residential development.


Arab era

In September 636, the Arab general Abu Ubaida conquered Baalbek without encountering any significant resistance. He issued the population of Baalbek a letter of protection, so that there were initially no significant changes for the city and the population. A Christian population in Baalbek can be documented in bishop lists from the 11th century onwards.

In the 10th century, Baalbek initially belonged to the Uqail Bedouins. In 975, Zalim ibn Mauhub, the Uqail chief, had to cede the city to the Turkish military leader Alp-Tigin, who eventually lost it to the Fatimids of Egypt. They had to defend Baalbek against the Byzantines and appointed, among others, Anush-Tigin ad-Duzbiri as commander of the city before Baalbek temporarily fell to the Mirdasids (Banu Kilab) in the early 11th century. In 1075 the city came under Seljuk control. In 1139, the Turkish Atabeg Zengi conquered Baalbek and appointed the Kurd Najmuddin Ayyub governor of the city and its surrounding area. His son Saladin grew up there. In the twelfth and 13th centuries, the Jupiter sanctuary and the temple of Bacchus were combined and expanded into a citadel. The Propylaea, the former entrance to the sanctuary, was closed.

The Arabic sources usually describe Baalbek as a rich, beautiful and, above all, fertile city. In the tales of the Arabian Nights, sweets from Baalbek are praised. In 1260 Baalbek was conquered by the Mongols; In the course of the Mamluk counterattack, the city came under their rule.


Ottoman era

In 1517 Baalbek was conquered by the Ottomans. From the beginning of the 17th century until 1851, it was primarily the Shiite Harfusch family that ruled Baalbek. During this period the town's size and importance declined rapidly, and by the 19th century Baalbek was little more than a village. The ruins of Baalbek have been a popular travel destination for the European upper class since the 17th century. Some visitors to Baalbek made drawings and engravings, so knowledge of the site spread quickly. Until 1759, nine columns of the Temple of Jupiter still stood, as drawn by Robert Wood. Then a great earthquake knocked three of them down. On November 10th and 11th, 1898, the German Emperor Wilhelm II visited the ruins of Baalbek during his trip to the Orient. He was so impressed that he immediately commissioned an excavation. After approval from the Turkish authorities, Robert Koldewey was on site at Christmas 1898 to prepare an initial assessment of the goals and effort of the planned excavation. Between 1900 and 1905, under the direction of Otto Puchstein, the sanctuary was finally cleared of the spills and archaeologically examined.



Baalbek as a Hezbollah stronghold
Baalbek's population today is Muslim and largely Shiite. The “Hezbollah” organization was founded here by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard stationed in the Sheikh Abdullah Barracks and initially had its headquarters in the city. Since the late 1980s it has been relocated to Beirut. In 1997 there was an internal split in Baalbek when its former general secretary Subhi at-Tufeili declared a “hunger revolt” in the city and called for a tax boycott. He accused the Hariri government of investing the development funds in prestigious buildings in Beirut, while in Baalbek even the street lighting did not work. Hezbollah operates a hospital in Baalbek. An Islamic college has been empty since the unrest around Tufeili. According to Hezbollah, the team that kidnapped two Israeli soldiers in July 2006 had trained in Baalbek's area. In 2004 there was a martial “exhibition on the resistance movement of Lebanon” organized by Hezbollah at the entrance to the Roman temple district. Baalbek was Lebanon's drug capital, particularly during the civil war (1975-1990), where there were dozens of drug laboratories. The hemp fields thrived in the fertile soils of the Bekaa Valley.

Baalbek International Festival
In 1955, a cultural festival took place for the first time in the temple ruins of Baalbek, which was organized in 1956 by Lebanese President Camille Chamoun as a state cultural institution and has since taken place every year (with a war-related interruption from 1975 to 1996) in July and August under the name International Festival of Baalbeck. Theater and ballet performances as well as concerts in the fields of classical music, world music, jazz, pop and rock take place in front of an audience of up to 40,000 visitors every year. It is the most important cultural festival in the Middle East. Previous highlights have included performances by Plácido Domingo, Hasmik Papian, Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis, Johnny Hallyday, Sting, the New York Philharmonic, the Royal Ballet from London, the Comédie-Française and regular appearances by the Lebanese singer Fairuz. The picturesquely illuminated, imposing ruins offer various venues for 700 spectators (inside the Bacchus Temple) or 2,000 to 4,500 spectators (on the steps of the Jupiter Temple and the Bacchus Temple and between the Jupiter and Bacchus Temples).