What one sees today is largely Roman. But the area has been inhabited since about 9000 BC. The Phoenicians built a huge temple to their god Baal in the center of the town that had probably been founded by Egyptians. There are a lot of probablies. The biggest questions surround the Baalbek stones. They weigh 100 & 300 tons. That’s really really heavy. The blocks at Stonehenge are a mere 25 tons.
Who, how and why? These giant blocks form cornerstones and retaining walls of the early temple. Modern archaeologist cannot figure out how the builders moved them nor why they used such huge blocks. They are way bigger than what was needed structurally. And way bigger than blocks found anywhere else. Many theorists believe it was a landing pad for alien spaceships. Others claim it was a palace built by King Solomon with the help of genies as a wedding gift for the Queen of Sheba. Maybe. Perhaps Cain built a refuge here to hide from God’s anger after the murder of Able or the block are the base of the infamous Tower of Babel?
Alexander the Great didn’t care. He just wanted the town as part of his empire. So did the Romans who followed him. They used the foundations of the earlier temple to construct their monument to Jupiter. It was a popular pilgrimage destination for centuries. Trajan came to consult the local oracle. Twice! When Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the empire many temples were destroyed. Heliopolis, as the site was then know, was spared this fate. Easy peasy…the buildings were converted into churches. Though they did move some of the columns to Constantinople to become part of the Hagia Sophia. So it remained until the Muslims conquered the area in 637.
They turned it into a fortress, built a mosque and destroyed all the Christian additions. The glory days were over. Byzantine armies sacked the city a few times. So did Fatimid Egyptians. Crusaders were jailed in the fortress then massacred. The area was struck by several earthquakes, the Mongols came and went and a flood destroyed much of the city in 1318.
By the time the Ottomans added the town to their realm it was more or less in ruins. But very picturesque. Quite a history and quite a magnet for tourists. Mostly English, who wanted to see “the best-preserved roman temple in the world’. Robert Wood’s 1757 book the Ruins ofBalbec had a huge influence on the architect Robert Adams. Wilhelm II, the German Emperor visited Baalbek in 1898. He was wowed but worried. Locals were using materials from the site to build their houses; the weather was taking its toll and it seemed unlikely the site could survive much longer.
He sent a team of archaeologists. Experts have working to preserve the area ever since… politics allowing. Hezbollah controls this area and it is only 15 miles from the Syrian border. That said, I felt totally safe and there wasn’t a single moment of apprehension. Jack and I joined the throngs families from the region who had come to admire and be awed. There is security everywhere… but the good kind that actually makes you feel safer. As for Hezbollah… we saw vendors selling t-shirts and caps with their insignia but nothing more than that.