Baalbek is perhaps Lebanon’s greatest treasure. During Greek and Roman times it was known as Heliopolis, or City of the Sun, though the area had been settled for thousands of years prior. It was made part of the Roman Empire in 64BC as General Pompey conquered the region. Construction of the Temple of Jupiter began shortly thereafter, and the city began to grow because of its location on important trade routes. The temple would take more than a century to complete, and required more than 100,000 slaves. The entire complex was the largest religious building in the Roman Empire. It was intended to show their superiority and get the upper hand on the nascent Christian religion. The result was magnificent, though after Constantine converted to Christianity somewhat moot.
Centuries of neglect, and a few earthquakes, have taken their toll on Baalbek. It was essentially forgotten until the turn of the last century, when archaeological excavations began. The ruins that remain are the best preserved in Lebanon. The Temple of Bacchus has interesting ceiling carvings. The ornate carved friezes and niches are also compelling. The Temple of Jupiter is largely ruined, but the six massive columns that remain evoke a sense of wonder at what the finished product must have looked like. The Temple of Venus is not accessible to visitors. There is a museum onsite which displays roman artifacts excavated here.
The only way to get to Baalbek is by minibus or service taxi. You may want to avoid the trip in winter, when crossing the mountains is very dangerous. Modern Baalbek is a small city of around 75,000 and there are restaurants and hotels if you want to stay overnight. No trip to Lebanon is complete without a trip here. These are some of the best preserved Roman ruins outside Italy.
Location: 85km outside Beirut
Telephone: +961 8 800 252
Hours: Open throughout the year.