March 20, 2016

Baalbeck on a Sunday

The left side of the Temple of Bacchus
I do not know how often I have been to the Roman temples in Baalbeck.
The very first time was on my own, in 1990, on a shitty motorcycle. I was 24. I remember there were no covers over the sewer openings on the road over Dahr el Baidar, a phenomenon I was unfamiliar with at that time. And I was thinking, jeez, this could be really dangerous! I slept in Ablah at a family I had met in Beirut, because there was no light on the road, and it was dark when I wanted to drive back. I was impressed with the temples, but the army truck with Syrian soldiers that started shooting their Kalashnikovs into the air of joy as they passed this young lady on a motorcycle was even more impressive. They’re allowed to do that? I was thinking.
Ahh, luck is with the innocent.
Bacchus temple on the foreground, temple of Jupiter behind it on the left.
I do not know how often I have been there since. I took my Dutch friends there, my parents, family members from abroad that came for a holiday, or just colleagues.
My daughter, in her teens, can already remember 6 times that I dragged her down that road.  I could probably find a job as a guide down there. It was quite astonishing therefore to meet a Lebanese acquaintance of 41 who’d never been there. She’s been in the Beqaa Valley once, to go hiking, but never made it as far as Baalbeck. And so we had another reason to go.
Temple of Jupiter; a temple that is so huge in size that archeologists wonder why so big?  It's not like that were thousands and thousands of potential worshippers, nor was this the center of the Roman Empire.
Even after so many times, there is always something new to see. The fact that this is not one of the biggest, but THE biggest temple complex in the Roman Empire, is amazing in itself. It consists of 3 temples (Jupiter, biggest temple in the Roman empire, Bacchus and Venus) and was built over a times pan of some 300 years. Time clearly did not matter to these people. The temple of Jupiter was never completed, earthquakes sort of shook the structure back down to the ground, and later civilizations built their churches and forts in and out of the ruins.  And still it remains impressive.
What’s also impressive that here you walk through 2,000 year old ruins, some of the most significant ones in the Roman Empire, and you have the place to yourself. There were 7 other tourists. Seven!!
Imagine experiencing that in the Coliseum in Rome. Not.
Carved bands at the entrance of the Bacchus Temple
And it never gets old, although what you see is obviously ancient. This time I noticed the stone carvings, and the writing on the stones. I do not read Latin, or Greek, but would love to be able to decipher the inscriptions. The stones are intricately decorated with sculpted decorations, called detailing, in a time when everything had to be done by hand. They used manual drills, flat chisels and channeling tools. And no, I do not have a PhD in Roman stone sculpting techniques; got it off the internet (source). Impressive that some 2,000 years ago they were able to construct buildings prettier than now, with fewer means and less advanced technology.
Collection of stone carvings
and Latin inscriptions

Sad also to realize that all this superior building knowledge got lost. I just had to call the plumber for the third time; he’s unable to fix the hot water tank. None of the doors in my house close properly but need to be slammed shut, and I will not even mention proper corners in the word work. Sigh.  Those Romans knew how to build. What is puzzling though is, why here? This was not the center of the empire. There were no major cities here, nor a huge population to sustain a temple complex like this. 
Anyway, this Sunday we introduced Baalbeck to a 41 year old Lebanese.


visnja said...

Finally! Baalbeck! Beautiful post, great pics! Thank you.

Anonymous said...

The city of the sun !

It impresses me and saddens me how much Lebanon could be a HUGE tourist attraction if we only had true peace and civility.

Paul zeidan said...

Last summer when we were there, I took our small group to Baalbek and hired a guide. I , also , lament that very few tourist or locals visit, particularly nowadays. we had lunch as well and never ever felt unsafe