The Best Roman Ruins in the world!
Would anyone in their right mind travel to within a kilometre of the Syrian Border just to look at some old Roman Temples? Perhaps not - but that's exactly what we did!
The ancient city of Baalbek lies about 90 kilometers to the east of Beirut in Lebanon, close to the border with Syria. Known as “Heliopolis” in Roman times, this city hosts some of the best and most accessible Roman Ruins that I’ve ever seen. However, don’t let the short distance fool you – it’s still quite a schlep to get there and back from Beirut, and if you’re planning a day trip, I’d strongly recommend you get started early. Unfortunately for us, we didn’t know this beforehand and we started from Beirut around 11am. Eventually it took us around 2.5 hours to get there, including a brief stop for lunch.
We were staying in the Kempinksi Summerland Resort in Beirut and we simply got them to arrange a driver for us for the day. The Kempinski is worth a quick mention. We stayed there for a few days over Christmas in 2018 and it is a very nice property. It is perhaps a little out of town, but the property itself is great – very modern, clean and funky. It hosts a beautiful pool and a very well equipped gym. Most importantly, the breakfast restaurant will even rustle you up a serve of bacon if you ask them nicely – a rarity in the Middle East!
Anyway, we were picked up in the morning by our driver and we started the schlep to Baalbek. Along the way there are quite a number of security checkpoints manned by the army. This is a bit unnerving to start with, however as they are there for your protection, you quickly get used to them. We stopped for a falafel wrap after about 90 minutes before travelling the final distance to the ruins.
The final stretch runs parallel to the mountains that are basically the border with Syria. Along that stretch we saw numerous tent camps of refugees who had made the crossing from Syria hoping to find work.
Once we arrived at the ruins in Baalbek we were greeted by various assortments of street vendors hawking Hezbollah t-shirts, camel rides and “genuine” Roman artefacts. The entry fee to the site is a couple of bucks – I don’t remember exactly, but it was minimal – and then you’re all set! I can safely say that the long drive is well worth the effort! Imagine being able to clamber all over the Acropolis and explore every nook and cranny – well that’s exactly what you can do in Baalbek. But the temple complex in Baalbek is larger and in better condition than the Acropolis!
The 2 main temples in Baalbek are the Temple of Bacchus and the Temple of Jupiter. The Temple of Bacchus was most likely commissioned by Roman Emperor Antoninus Pius (r. AD 138-161). Not much is recorded about it’s history and it was not until 1898-1903 that a German expedition excavated two of the large temples and began reconstructions on the site. In the mid-1970s the Lebanese civil war broke out and protections of the site ceased as Al-Biqā became a stronghold for Palestinian, Hezbollah and Syrian forces. In 1984 the ruins at Baalbek were inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Preservation of the site began in the 1990s following the end of the war.
The German Archaeological Institute's Orient Department has done a number of archaeological excavations and research on The Temple of Bacchus and the entire temple complex. The site is continually being researched and assessed, such as documentation of reliefs and sculptures, archaeozoological research on fauna in the ruins, urban development and its relationship to Baalbek.
The Temple of Jupiter is the largest temple of the Roman world. The temple served as an oracle and was dedicated to Jupiter Heliopolitanus. It is not known exactly who commissioned or designed the temple, nor precisely when it was constructed. Work probably began around 16 BC and was nearly complete by about AD 60. It is situated at the western end of the Great Court of Roman Heliopolis, on a broad platform of stone raised another 7 m (23 ft) above the huge stones of the foundation, three of which are among the heaviest blocks ever used in a construction.
I have visited many Roman ruins in my travels – including Rome, Bath, Carthage, Sofia, Algiers and Split – but these ruins in Baalbek, I think, are the best and most accessible ruins anywhere in the world. I must admit, I am somewhat conflicted by this because as much as I love exploring these sites, I also want them to be preserved for future generations. I can remember visiting Angkor Wat in Cambodia in 2004. In those days there were not so many tourists, no boardwalks and no roped off areas at all. Andrew and I were able to completely explore the temple complex without restriction. However, if were not for those restraints, the Temple would be far the worse for wear than it is now. I can also remember playing as a kid, around the stones of Stonehenge – also not possible these days. Having said that, for the time being, you are free to climb all over the temples of Baalbek. This gives you a unique perspective on the size, complexity, and intricacy of the site as well as an insight into the brilliance of the construction of those long dead engineers.
Take a look at our YouTube video about Baalbek.
Lynn and Andrew Mitchell are 50-something travellers who enjoy travelling in comfort through some pretty interesting places. We started Einhorn Travel Accessories because of our passion for travelling the world, seeing amazing things and enjoying unique experiences together. We believe our extensive travel gives us a unique perspective, and we understand how important it is to have the right gear. We source travel accessories from around the world and offer them on one site. We would really appreciate you visiting our store and making a purchase or two.
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