site located in the Biqa῾ (Bekaa) Valley, 85 km (53 mi.) from Beirut, Lebanon, at an elevation of about 12,540 m. The Biqa῾ Valley, known as Coele-Syria in classical times, is bordered on the west by the Lebanon mountain range and to the east by the Anti-Lebanon range. [See Coele-Syria.] Two springs, Ras al-῾Ain and ῾Ain Lejouj, a short distance away, provided caravans with water in antiquity. Baalbek is strategically placed at the highest point on a well-established trade route from Tripoli that led into the Biqa῾ before proceeding to Damascus or to Palmyra in Syria. Baalbek's name in Hebrew, Ba῾al bi῾ki, means “Baal of tears”; its Greek name, Heliopolis, means “city of the sun.”

The first survey and restoration work at the site was begun by the German Archaeological Mission In 1898 under the direction of Bruno Schulz and the supervision of Otto Puchstein. Later, In 1922, French scholars (René Dussaud, Sebastien Rouzevalle, Henri Seyrig, and Daniel Schlumberger) undertook extensive research and restoration work on the site's temples. The Lebanese Department of Antiquities subsequently continued excavation and restoration under the supervision of Emir Maurice Chehab, director general of Antiquities, and Haroutune Kalayan. [See the biographies of Dussaud, Seyrig, and Schlumberger.]


Test excavations at Baalbek In 1964–1965 revealed the Bronze Age tell beneath the Great Court of the Jupiter temple. Traces of settlements dating to the Middle Bronze Age (c. 1700 BCE) were found. Other minor remains were dated to the Early Bronze Age.

In the third century BCE, when Syria became a possession of the Lagid successors of Alexander the Great who ruled from Alexandria, Baalbek was given the Greek name Heliopolis. The Macedonians must have equated the Baal of the Bekaa with the Egyptian god Re and the Greek Helios, with the purpose of establishing closer religious ties between their new dynasty in Egypt and the eastern Mediterranean world. In the second century BCE, the Seleucids, successors of Alexander who ruled from Antioch, invaded Coele Syria and drove the Lagids back to Egypt. The podium of the Jupiter temple probably dates to this period. [See Seleucids.] Between 100 and 75 BCE, Baalbek was ruled by a hellenized Arab dynasty, the Itureans. In 63 BCE, the Roman emperor Pompey passed through Baalbek on his way to conquer Syria. He was succeeded by his son, who was put to death by Marc Antony. Marc Antony then gave all the Syrian territories, including Baalbek, to Cleopatra. In about 16 BCE, Augustus settled veterans of the same Roman legions in Beirut (Berytus) and Baalbek. It was then that building was begun on great Temple of Jupiter.

In the second century CE, the Great Court, with its porticoes, two altars, and two vast lustral basins, was added to the temple. At the same time construction of the Bacchus temple began. It was completed in the third century, at the same time that the Propylaea were erected and the Hexagonal Court added.

In about 330, Christianity became the official religion of the region and the Byzantine Emperor Constantine closed the temples. Emperor Theodosius destroyed them and tore down the Altar of Sacrifice and the Tower in the Great Court, replacing them with a Christian church in approximately 440. By this time the Temple of Jupiter was probably already in ruins as the result of an earthquake. Numerous architectural elements taken from the Heliopolitan Jupiter temple were reused in building the church.

In 636, after the battle of the Yarmuk River, the entire province of Syria fell to the Arabs. Mu῾awiyah founded the Umayyad dynasty In 661 and took possession of the Byzantine mint at Baalbek, showing the name Baalbek inscribed in Arabic letters on the coins. Thus, the name Heliopolis, which had been in use for about a thousand years, was replaced with its original Semitic name. The temple area was transformed into a citadel and Baalbek fell successively into the hands of the ῾Abbasids, the Tulunids, and the Fatimids. [See Umayyad Caliphate; ῾Abbasid Caliphate; Fatimid Dynasty.]

During the eleventh–twelfth centuries, Baalbek suffered from floods and earthquakes and the passage of several plundering armies. The city fell to Salah ad-Din (Saladin), founder of the Ayyubid dynasty, In 1175. The Mongols arrived in Baalbek in about 1260, sacking it and destroying its mosques; they were soon overthrown by the Mamluks, however. (The Mamluks were enfranchised slaves purchased by the last Ayyubid ruler for his army. They constituted the bulk of his army in general and of his court in particular). Under the Mamluks (and until the Ottoman occupation in the sixteenth century) Baalbek enjoyed a period of calm. The fine architecture of the city's Fortress must be attributed to this period. [See Ayyubid–Mamluk Dynasties.]


The temples of Baalbek have an east–west orientation. A monumental stairway provides access to the platform of the Acropolis. When the Arabs turned this temple area into a fortress, they filled in the spaces between the columns of the portico, which is flanked by two towers. Three doors lead to the Hexagonal Court (see above), which may have been used for introductory rites for the pilgrims. This space was covered by a dome at the end of the third century, transforming it into the Church of the Virgin.

Three gates lead onto the Great Court (1,452 × 1,221 m), built in the second century CE. Important ceremonies and sacrifices were held in front of the facade of the Jupiter temple. The court is an artificial platform built over a huge area (6,600 m) of vaulted substructures that were used for stables and storage. The court contained two altars and two pools and was enclosed by a succession of rectangular and semicircular exedras decorated with niches that must have contained statues.

Temple of Jupiter Heliopolitan.

All the temples of Baalbek are Roman in construction but show considerable Oriental influence in both their art and architecture. The huge Temple of Jupiter (950 × 495 m) was constructed during the Augustan era (first century CE), built as a high podium with mammoth blocks. It was reached by a monumental stairway 86 m above the courtyard. Until the earthquake of 1759, the temple had nine gigantic exterior Corinthian columns; only six remain. These columns and the entablature surmounting them, which consist of a frieze of bulls' and lions' heads connected by garlands, give some idea of the vast scale of the original temple. [See Temples, article on Syro-Palestinian Temples.]

Temple of Bacchus.

The best-preserved Roman temple in the Near East, the Temple of Bacchus was built in the second century CE. There is no evidence for its attribution to Bacchus, except for some motifs in the gateway carvings (grapes and wine leaves) and of the adytum (dancing bacchanti). It was built on a high podium (746 × 386 m). A stairway with thirty-three steps divided into three stages leads to its pronaos. Its exterior portico is made of contrasting plain and fluted columns with Corinthian capitals. Large slabs form the ceiling, which is richly decorated with carved geometric patterns of triangles and hexagons. The latter are filled with busts or portraits.

The entrance to the cella through the monumental gate (more than 139 m high) is one of Baalbek's major beauties. The underside of the lintel depicts an eagle with a caduceus, the symbol of Mercury, in its claws. The interior of the cella is richly decorated with engaged fluted columns that divide the walls into compartments, each with two tiers of niches—the lower with arched pediments and the upper with triangular ones. To the rear of the cella is the adytum, or holy of holies, which is on a higher level, following the Oriental Semitic tradition.

Temple of Venus.

Located southeast of the Acropolis, the Temple of Venus has a unique circular design. Built in the third century CE, its podium and entablature are composed of five concave sections connected by Corinthian columns.

Byzantine modifications and remains.

Toward the end of the third century, when Christianity was officially adopted, the open Hexagonal Court was covered with a dome and converted into the Church of the Virgin. At about the same time, under the rule of Theodosius (379–395), the two altars of the Great Court were removed to make room for the construction of a Christian basilica dedicated to St. Peter. Originally, the entrance was on the east and the apses were placed on the stairway of the Jupiter temple, but this order was later reversed in compliance with Christian tradition. [See Churches; Basilicas.]

Arab period remains.

Within the Acropolis, the remains from the Arab period consist mainly of fortifications, including curtain walls, towers, and battlements that can be seen to the west of the Temple of Bacchus. Between the temple and the curtain walls are the remains of a mosque, living quarters, and storage rooms, all dating to the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. On the southeast of the temple stairway is a fortification tower of the Mamluk period (fifteenth century) with typical Islamic corbeled vaulting over the door.

East of the Acropolis the Great Mosque is on the original location of the Roman Forum. Built during the Umayyad period, it consists of three rows of columns (probably reused) that support arches on which the wooden roof must have rested. Remains of an octogonal minaret were found in the northwest angle of the courtyard.


  • Jidejian, Nina. Baalbek: Heliopolis “City of the Sun.” Beirut, 1975.
  • Kalayan, Haroutine. “Baalbek: Un ensemble récemment découvert (Les fouilles archéologiques en dehors de la qal'a).” Les Dossiers de l'Archéologie 12 (September–October 1975): 28–35.
  • Krencker, Daniel M., and Willy Zschietzschmann. Römische Tempel in Syrien. Vol. 1. Berlin, 1938.
  • Ragette, Friedrich. Baalbek. London, 1980. New panoramic guide with a detailed, step-by-step description, complete reconstruction, a bird's-eye-view of the city, and a comprehensive evaluation of the antiquities.

Leila Badre