Baalbek was a Roman city in the Middle East that is still home to some of the biggest and most impressive surviving Roman temples in the world.
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The Middle East has a deep, rich history, with many famous empires rising and falling in the area. The site of Baalbek in modern-day Lebanon is a great example of this. The city was on the periphery of the great Mesopotamian civilizations before the coming of the Romans. Baalbek was certainly occupied during the Bronze Age, as civilizations like the Egyptians and Assyrians battled for control of the region.
During the conquests of Alexander the Great, Baalbek came under the control of the Greeks, straddled between the Ptolemaic and Seleucid kingdoms. In 64 BC, the Roman statesman Pompey annexed Syria, bringing Baalbek under Roman control. The city was briefly held by Cleopatra and Marc Anthony during the civil war with Octavian but reverted to Roman control after Octavian's victory.
At some point in the Roman period, a colony of legion veterans was also settled in Baalbek. This colony was called Colonia Julia Augusta Felix Heliopolitana and is believed to have been established during the reign of Augustus. However, the Romans shortened the name and simply called the city Heliopolis.
Since the Bronze Age, Baalbek had been celebrated as a religious or spiritual center by several civilizations. The Romans were no different, and many prominent Roman figures consulted the oracles at Heliopolis – including Emperor Trajan. During the reign of Septimius Severus, Baalbek was recognized as an ius Italicum city – essentially allowed to consider itself “on Italian soil”.
With so much surviving Roman architecture, it's no surprise that Baalbek is considered one of Lebanon's most important archaeological sites. The main draws are the incredible temples dedicated to Bacchus and Jupiter.
Both temples are huge, with the Temple of Bacchus being the most well-preserved. It's just over 30 m high and 66 m long. The Temple of Jupiter is similarly grandiose, although not as much survives. It was likely completed sometime around AD 60. Both temples feature stunning columns and breathtaking architecture.
Baalbek became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1984, helping to preserve the ruins. Many of the temples are arranged around the massive Great Court, and the site is famous for its ancient monoliths. There's also a Temple of Venus on the outskirts of the site.
Visiting information and tips
The Roman ruins at Baalbek can be reached from the Lebanese capital of Beirut. The site is approximately 2 to 3-hours drive from Beirut. Taxis and minibus services are also available and are available from Cola Junction in the city, but they will cost more. Guided tours operate as well.
The ruins are open all year round, from approximately 8:30 am to 7 pm. Admission is approximately 15,000 Lebanese pounds (about €9).