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Awesome in their scale and mesmerizing in the richness of their decoration, the golden-stoned temples of Baalbek, known to the Greeks and Romans as Heliopolis (the ‘City of the Sun’), have been feted by travellers for centuries. The massive dimensions are humbling; it is like walking through a city made for giants: a breathtaking example of ancient splendour that has endured the ravages of time.
These magnificent remnants of Roman glory, with their colossal columns rising up to pierce the blue sky, are Lebanon’s most famous monuments. They are at their best at sunrise and sunset, when the deep, rich colours of the columns are magically illuminated and you are quite likely to have this holy city to yourself.
Baalbek’s origins go back to the Phoenician period. Situated on the important north-south caravan route through the fertile Bekaa Valley, it clearly occupied a position of importance. However, it was during the Roman era that Baalbek really came into its own. Construction started with the Temple of Jupiter in 60 BC and continued through the reigns of successive emperors with the Great Court complex, the temples of Bacchus and Venus, and finally the Hexagonal Court and the Propylaea. It has been estimated that the project employed more than 100,000 slaves over 10 generations, with artists and craftsmen from throughout the empire brought in to carve the elaborate decorations and numerous statues.Read more
Around 90% of the complex was built from local limestone, but the granite columns were imported from Egypt, shipped to Tripoli and then rolled along stone tracks into the Bekaa Valley via the Homs Gap. Although the exact reasons for its construction remain unclear, Baalbek in its heyday was undoubtedly one of the most important religious centres of the Roman Empire, and such was the scale of the undertaking that even by the start of the Byzantine era in the fourth century AD, parts of it were still uncompleted.