Known as Heliopolis - City of the Sun - in the Graeco-Roman world, Baalbek possesses the most magnificent temple complex ever built by Rome. The town's Acropolis lies dramatically at the edge of the fertile Beqaa Valley and the foothills of the Anti-Lebanon Mountains. During Roman times, Baalbek was a centre of Roman religion, luring many pilgrims by its extravagant temples dedicated to Jupiter, Bacchus, Mercury and Venus. As Christianity later swept the empire, Roman attempts to extinguish paganism resulted in the first of many waves of destruction to befall the temples of Baalbek. The arrival of Islam, earthquakes and many foreign invasions led to further destruction. The Moslems, who restored the city's Semitic name, later turned the Acropolis into a fortified castle and, thus, inadvertently preserved significant sections of the Acropolis. It was not until 1898 that Baalbek regained international attention and the focus of archaeologists who worked hard to restore the ancient ruins of Baalbek. The size of the Acropolis, its temples, and their state of preservation make Baalbek one of the best Roman cities around. If you have time to visit only one location outside Beirut, then you must choose Baalbek.
Situated on the Beirut-Damascus road in the Beqaa, Aanjar is one of the few remaining architectural heritages from the Omayyad period in Lebanon. The ancient city was built in 715 AD with Byzantine craftsmanship in the earliest days of the Islamic civilisation, before its signature architectural identity was developed. The city was thus designed on a Graeco-Roman plan with Byzantine architectural elements, while reusing Corinthian columns from nearby Roman ruins. The site itself is very peaceful with great views of the snow-capped mountains in the cooler months. The new town currently has a large Armenian-Lebanese population and was once the base for the Syrian army during their long presence in Lebanon before their withdrawal in 2005. Street signs are tri-lingual, Armenian, Arabic and English. Click on Aanjar to see more.
Anjar is almost entirely Armenian, and thus it should not be a surprise that the largest church in the town is an Armenian one. The fact that the population was settled here in the 1930s means that St. Paul’s is not a historic church – it was not erected anywhere near the same time as the nearby Umayyad ruins – but it is still in the traditional Armenian structure, with its octagonal spire and its clean block forms. I didn’t have the opportunity to enter the church when I visited Anjar, and I’m not sure that it is terribly appreciated that outsiders venture in, but it is still a pleasant sight to photograph.
The Armenians who populate Anjar are the descendants of the survivors of Musa Dag, an incident that occurred in Turkey at the end of the First World War and which is part of the broader genocide disputed hotly by the Turkish state. Musa Dag is a region of Turkey in which Armenians made a last stand against Ottoman troops, fortifying themselves on Musa Dag mountain against besieging Ottoman troops. They held out on the mountain until the French government sent a warship to evacuate the Armenians, after which they were resettled in France as refugees, before being granted permission to settle permanently in the Beqaa Valley. In commemoration of the history of the Armenian families who now occupy Anjar, there is a large monument dedicated to the events at Musa Dag and the assistance provided by the French government.
Anjar’s antiquities are prized not only as a UNESCO world heritage site, but also because they are the only Umayyad remains that have been found in the Lebanese Republic to date. The Umayyad city is remarkable as well for its Roman layout and design, as it combines a number of Umayyad traits (notable in the dichromatic brickwork and the mosque) with Roman streets (the Cordo Maximus), arches and a Roman bath. Visitors are free to wander about the site of the ruins, and to take pictures.
The baths in Anjar stand separately from the main city, and are surprisingly small given the number of houses and public buildings that are found within the remaining walls. They are preserved fairly well, insofar as it is still possible to determine the function of the various rooms. The baths are interesting from the fact that, despite having been built by the Umayyads, they followed a Roman pattern rather than one more typical of baths in other Arab cities.
There are two palaces in the Umayyad city, but it is the Little Palace that is the best preserved. Its arches and walls are partially intact (better than those of the Greater Palace) and they provide an idea of the type of architecture that was employed in constructing the city. They have airy, large arches that permit sunlight and air to enter the palace, and the two-toned brickwork gives a distinctively Arab feel to a style that is greatly influenced by Roman conventions.
As in the cities of the Decapolis (the ten Roman cities of the Levant), the Umayyad city of Anjar has a cordo maximus, or a main road that was, in the past, lined by elegant and imposing columns. While there are few of these columns that are left and that have not been ravaged by time, their placement along the route allows the visitor to imagine just what it would have been like to walk down this road when the city was at its peak.
There are many sites of ruins across the Middle East that provide us with examples of the monumental architecture of the great empires that ruled this region in the first millennium of the common era. These often, however, do not include a great amount of ruins that elucidate the lives of ordinary people, whose houses did not withstand, it appears, the test of time. At Anjar, however, we are left with a plethora of (poorly surviving, but surviving) examples of the small structures that would have been used by ordinary citizens as homes and shops. They do not provide sufficient detail to understand the daily routines of the locals, but at the very least a visitor is still capable of understanding the basic outlay life for the peons on whose backs the empires flourished.
Baalbek is indeed an impressive site. It was first settled as an urban or quasi-urban agglomeration sometime in the 3rd millennium BCE as a Phoenician settlement. It takes its name from Baal, the Phoenician god of storms and thunder, which appears to have outlasted even Greek attempts at renaming the site (they called it Heliopolis, city of the sun). Today, the Baalbek site boasts an impressive number of ruins that are certain to astound even those visitors who have seen the Decapoli. This open air museum puts into perspective just how monumental monumental architecture can be. Its remains can be climbed on, jumped off of and photographed as panoramas and backgrounds.
The first part of the ruins to be encountered is the Octagonal Court, which was built in the 3rd century CE. It was used as a church during the 4th to 6th centuries, but remains its grandeur as a Hellinistic, rather than Christian, monument. It contains 30 columns, all of which provide the visitor with an initial hint of the embellishment that will be seen further on at the site.
The Great Court is the central part of the site, and was meant to be the gathering point for rites and sacrifices. In the center is a massive altar that is flanked by red columns, and that was, later on, converted into the centerpiece of a basilica, traces of which no longer remain. The Great Court is a massively open space, and when visited during the off season, its emptiness can only instill in the visitor a knowledge of the greatness of the engineers and planners of the Greek city.
The court is surrounded by walls in which there are eight rectangular and four semi-circular exedra, each of which features rich details and reliefs that deserve a close examination. These are set off from the main section of the court by crypto-porticos, and were intended to be used as rooms for sacred feasts dedicated to fraternity and community.
Up the staircase from the Great Patio is the Temple of Jupiter, also known as the Temple of the Sun. Far less remains of this temple than of that dedicated to Bacchus, but we are at least able to gather a sense of the original size of the structure from the one row of columns that remain. These are five meters tall and were topped with capital of lions and bulls; some of the collapsed capitals can be seen below by the Temple of Bacchus.
The Propylaea is a series of columns at the entrance to the Baalbek site and thus acts as a sort of welcome to visitors. Only six columns remain standing, of which only four are connected, but it is obvious from what does remain that this must have been an imposing structure, an announcement of the grand scale of the monuments that lay behind the entrance.
Charl digol..had been there....that's enough..for me Old lebanese hotel..you want to go back in...more