My second archaeological tour in Lebanon would head slightly northwestward from Beirut to Baalbek close to the Syrian border, and in turn, Baalbek is approximately forty miles northwest of the Syrian capital of Damascus.
The history of Baalbek was tumultuous to say the least, like most of the history of the Middle East. There were centuries of tribal warfare and conflict; which were followed with conquest by major groups like the Ancient Greeks, the Romans, the Byzantines, the Fatimid Dynasty Muslims in the 9th century, the Mongols in the 12th century, and the Ottomans until the end of World War I.
Even as late as 2006, there was the Lebanon War in which Israel invaded Lebanon, and moved as far north as the Baalbek area against Hezbollah. None of the blasts in the Lebanon War directly hit the temple complex. However, the concussions of the blasts were enough to cause some destruction to partial collapses in the complex.
Ultimately, three earthquakes in the 11th century, especially the third quake did the most damage to the temple complex.
It is astounding with all that Baalbek endured over the centuries, that parts of the temple complex are among the best preserved Greek and Roman sites in the world.
There were three temples which made up the temple complex. The Romans began building the complex back in the first century A.D. upon the previous foundation sites of the ancient Phoenicians, and later the Greeks, when the site was know as Heliopolis. Various additions were added by various Roman emperors over time.
The three temples included the Temple of Jupiter, the Temple of Bacchus, and the Temple of Venus.
Above is the remains of the Propylaeum, the eastern entrance to the site.
Below is a rendition of what part of the temple complex would look like in a fully restored state.
Below is part of the outer wall of the complex.
The scaffolding in the photo below is being used to prevent the collapse of some columns.
Below is Madeline, or very knowledgeable guide for both the Tyre, Sidon, Maghdouche tour of last week (Post I), and this week's tour. It was a very warm day under the sun. Madeline was a real trooper. Each time we stopped for her to make her presentation, she presented first in French to those who understood French, then in English, and then a third time for the one woman who only understood Spanish.
The largest of the three temples was Jupiter, which was 156.5 ft by 287.9 ft at its base, almost the length of a football field. Except for rubble, some foundation stones, and six pillars still standing; the temple, today, is all but a memory.
According to our guide, Jupiter was the largest temple in the Roman empire. Like the hippodrome in Tyre (see post I); it and the Temple of Jupiter were two of the largest features of their kind in the Roman empire. Today, they are located in what is modern day Lebanon, which indicates the economic and political importance of this area to ancient Roman rulers.
The Temple of Venus was the smallest and last to be built of the three temples. Roman emperor Constantine, razed the temple in the late 300's and had it replaced with a Christian basilica. The basilica was used for worship by Greek Orthodox Christians until the 1800's. All that remains of the Temple of Venus today is rubble, without any standing walls unlike the photos immediately above and below.
Below is the Grand Court Yard, which was three or four acres in size.
Below, in the next three photos, is the Temple of Bacchus, the most preserved of the three temples, and one of the most preserved Greek or Roman ruin from antiquity.
The complex is very large and grand in size. Whether as in the photo below when I am at a higher elevation than the temple, or from a lower level where the structures are towering over me; I felt like a miniature doll, as I was surrounded by the awesomeness of the ruins.
Below is intricate stone engraving found throughout much of the temple complex.
Below is a stone engraving in the the ceiling of the temple.
Below is the magnificence of what once was, and now a shadow of what still remains.
Below is an example of engravings in the ceilings.
The area near Baalbec has low-lying mountains that are white capped. This photo below was shot from a bus window on our way to a stone quarry near the temple complex.
Below is the Stone of the Pregnant Woman. It is one of the largest man-made cut stones in the world, and weighs 1,100 tons. There just happens to be two larger stones in the same quarry. The largest weighs about 1,600 tons, and was discovered in 2014. The stones may have been prepared for further additions to the temple complex--additions which never took place.
The stones in the temple complex are the largest man-made cut stones in the world, by which archaeologists and scientists still speculate as to how the stones were lifted and brought into position from this limestone quarry.
Why is this called the Stone of the Pregnant Lady? There are many myths as to how the stone received its name. Fortunately for her, none of the myths include an arduous labor by which the woman produced the stone.
Above is a local mosque covered in mosaic tiles.
Below is a view of the mosque's dome and its two minarets.
As we departed the stone quarry, we made our way to Anjar. Anjar was founded in the 9th century, and it is the place where ruins remain from the Islamic Umayyad Dynasty.
The town had been abandoned for years. Then in 1938, 5,000 Armenian Christian refugees were brought to settle in Anjar. These refugees were the survivors of the Islamic Ottoman Turks; who through killing, deportation, and starvation exterminated a million-and-a-half Armenian Christians in 1915 during the time of World War I.
Above are the ruins of the Umayyad City, which are nowhere near as well preserved as Baalbak.
After our exploration of the ruins at Anjar, we made our way to Ksara to what is always my favorite time of any day--dinner, and taking a load off my feet. As always, the food was very good, and the restaurant laid out a beautiful spread of tasty Middle Eastern dishes or meze (the Middle Eastern version of tapas), served to accompany alcoholic drinks.
Our final tour of the day, was in Ksara, as we toured the Ksara winery, the only cave winery in Lebanon.
Of course, what good is it to visit a winery without a visit to the tasting room, where we imbibed in various red, white, and dessert wines.
I took a photo below of the very attractive labels on one of their wines, which I actually had at a very elegant restaurant in Beirut. It was to my taste an excellent wine. A brand that I knew would never be found served in Cuenca.
Below, one of the ladies in our tour and myself did our share of attempting to take selfies through the mirror on the other side of the bar opposite us. This photo pretty well worked.
A month after visiting Baalbek and Anjar, on the 24th of June, in the Christian town of Qaa, about forty miles north of Baalbek, four suicide bombers entered the town at dawn. Five people were killed, two of the dead were suicide bombers, and fifteen others were also injured. Later, that same day, four additional suicide bombers entered the town, and an additional thirteen people were injured.
Lebanese officials believe the bombers were ISIS. On the edge of Qaa is a makeshift Syrian refugee camp with a much greater population than Qaa. As the civil war in Syria spills over into Lebanon; Lebanese officials searched the Syrian camps for the terrorists, although some officials believe the terrorists may have slipped into Lebanon from the nearby Syrian border and not directly from the refugee camps.
It was a great honor for me to visit these historic archaeological sites in Lebanon. Unfortunately, I can't help but wonder, after all that these sites have survived for almost two millennia, whether they will survive much longer in the future in light of today's dangerously-charged political climate.
Below is also a link to the priceless historic artifacts and ruins which have been destroyed in the Middle East by Muslim terrorists in the 21st century alone: (Most, but not all of them, have been destroyed in Iraq and Syria alone.)