April 25, 2010

3 Temples on a Saturday

Mount Hermon in the south-eastern part of the Beqaa Valley

My friends & acquaintances are not of the cultural kind (“or maybe you do not inspire us to cultural activities,” says a friend who is sitting next to me here). Their interests lie in other areas. They can be found either at burning barricades and demonstrations, in a bar, on 30 kilometer hikes through underbrush filled with ticks and gigantic hairy spiders, or lounging at outdoor picnics. But not one of them will go out and drive 3 hours off-road to see a hump of stones that were once a Roman temple or a Neolithic settlement.
If it is old, we'll visit it & Co

My parents are the opposite; they will visit any lump of stones, regardless of what it once was. And since they are here & stuck because of the Icelandic volcano (“don’t bother calling us for reservations before Monday afternoon”, the airline company said), I intend to make the most of it.

So stone lumps it is. This web site indicates we’ve got 21 Roman temples in Lebanon. I have visited 7 of them, and so am left with a choice of 14 temples. The site gives them a grade; 4 being very well-preserved, 1 being nothing but a pile of stones. However, this gentleman speaks of many more.
Very few cars, no party flags, no campaign posters, no martyrs on the electricity poles, no high rise. It’s heaven out there.

We decided on 3 Roman temples in the southern part of the Beqaa Valley (Baalbeck lies in the northern part). I always thought the Bekaa valley was one large flat valley. Today I found out it’s got lots of little ‘side’ valleys, so to speak, separated from the main valley by hills. And these little (v)alleys are much more beautiful than the Beqaa. Less garbage, less urbanization and almost no traffic. Very authentic agriculture, with little fields separated by stone walls. Pretty much the only traffic we got stuck behind were tractors. And the most liberating part? No party flags on every single electricity post and no campaign posters with pudgy middle-aged man in suits. It looked like a normal country side.
The Beqaa Valley (I hink)
Majdel Anjar Temple
The first temple we visited, the Majdel Anjar Temple (33°42'43.54"N & 35°54'4.95"E) , is pretty well known, and not very interesting. I had already visited it once, and I was more struck by the intricate debris lying around than the temple itself. It is big and all that, but rather roughly hewn and not very refined. At one point in time it was converted into an Arabic fortress, hence the refurbished look.
They don’t get a lot of foreigners there. At the bottom of the village we already heard the little boys on the street shout ‘ajaynab’ to each other, and the track to the mountain top, where the temple lies, began. Seeing foreigners has so much more appeal than a 2,000 year old building.
I didn’t find much information on the structure: ‘1st Century CE Greco/Roman Style Tempel in near North South orientation measuring about 40 Meters by 20 Meters. The remaining walls are nearly 10 meters tall. The columns are all gone. The deity this was dedicated to is not known. (source )

Dakoue Temple
The second temple, in Dakoue, (33°41'29.12"N & 35°52'36.35"E) was much more fascinating. The thing, not that big, is basically lying in some else his garden. Can you imagine putting that one on the market? ‘For sale; house. Comes with 2,000 year old Roman temple in the yard.’ There isn’t much information on this one either.
Again, very little information: 'Small 12 Meters by 7 Meter Temple dedicated to unknown deity. It is in relatively good shape on account of having been used as a house for many centuries'. Source

It is an ‘prostylos style’ temple. Apparently, according to George Taylor, the Roman temples in Lebanon are of three types: the antae, the prostylos, and the peripteral.
In the prostylos temple, the porch is lengthened and the two columns noted in the antae temple are brought forward beyond the line of the side walls. Two more columns provide the corner supports for the beams and the roof, and an architrave joins these columns to the pillars of the side walls.’ Source

Ain Hirshe Temple
The third temple (33°27'13.29"N & 35°47'19.71"E) would have been worth the trip alone already. Set somewhere at the end of the world, near Mount Hermon, the thing is near the village of Ain Hirshe, a town that has streets so narrow and steep, I wonder how come they don’t all have 4 x 4’s. In wintertime, they must be totally isolated from the rest of the world because there is no way a snow plough can negotiate these alleys.
The temple is made from the surrounding rocks, and blends right in. The entrance is facing Mount Hermon

It took us quite some time finding the thing, and people suggested that we wake up the ‘rais el baladiyeh (something like a major) from his afternoon siesta and have him guide us there. That was a bit too much of a good thing. We finally got instructions from a soldier who clearly is used driving a tank, because although he mentioned that ‘the road is easy for your car’ we probably lost every loose part on my vehicle. Sports bras would have been helpful as well. It is a small temple, dating from 115 AD, but in very good condition due to restoration work done on it in 1939.
But the thing is stunning. Funnily enough, it stands with its front to the mountain, and its back to a stunning view over the Beqaa valley. This has a reason  (again, I’m quoting other people here)
The orientation of the temples in the Mount Hermon region is particularly interesting. It has been asserted that the Roman temples which circled Hermon were oriented to the cone-shaped tip of Kasr es-Sebayb, the highest point of the mountain and the site of a sacred enclosure in Roman and pre-Roman time. Source
Small 13 Meter long East West Oriented 115 CE temple dedicated to unknow deity (source)

It seems Mount Hermon, or Jabal el-Shaiykh as it is called in Arabic: جبل حرمون was quite important in (pre)Roman times. The mountain is in the Anti-Lebanon mountain range, and the highest point -2,814 m above sea level - is on the border between Syria and Lebanon, and is under Syrian control. The southern slopes of Mount Hermon have been in Israeli control since the Six-Day War in 1967.
Ain Hirshe is an example of an antae temple, the Roman templum in antis. ‘ The side walls extend the full length of the podium, and form the corner supports for the beams and the roof. Two columns, spaced between the side walls, provide the centre support for the beams and roof; these columns lend considerable dignity to the entrance façade. At Ain Harsha the columns have gone, but their bases can be seen clearly. Source

And that was how far we went. Any further and we would have ended up in Syria. My navigator was giving me ‘unchartered’ territory. One of my readers, I think it was Simon, mentioned that my GPS system is using maps provided by the Lebanese army. Well, that explains why we’ve never won one single war – apart of course from the superior fire power of the other side – it is because we don’t know where we are half of the time.

My Dad checking out a sarcophagus. At the age of 95, you’ve got to be prepared. He particularly liked this model, hewn out of solid rock.


LaZaytouni said...

Wow, who knew there were so many temples in Lebanon?

It's a shame the ministry of tourism does nothing to preserve them or at last place placards with the history of the temples at the sites...

Wishful thinking...


Theo said...

weer een mooi bezoek Siets, en een mooie picknick geloof ik ook, gezien de foto's en commentaren. Ikzelf heb me op de paarden gestort - na ons renbaanavontuur ben ik afgelopen weekend, zoals je wel gezien zult hebben, lid geweest van het team dat Andie naar de 7e plaats in een 71 km.-race door de Wadi Rum bracht. Ook mooi!

Anonymous said...

To old people when they find something standing older then them they are happy.

Your cousion Tom