Baalbek, Lebanon

Baalbek, Lebanon

Originally named Baalbek after the Phoenician deity Baal, when the Greeks arrived to Baalbek’s location about 86 kilometers northeast of Beirut in the 3rd century B.C., they changed the city’s name to Heliopolis or “Sun City”. The Romans followed suit in 15 B.C. Under the rule of Augustus, they soon built extraordinary temples dedicated to Jupiter, Bacchus, and Venus. These still impress visitors of Lebanon nearly two millennia later.

Upon arriving at Baalbek’s ruins you’ll find the ticket office to the main site. From here you’ll be able to see the highly original design of the Temple of Venus. However, it’s out of the reach of tourists. Constructed in the third century, it was built on a horseshoe-shaped platform upon which stood a circular shrine with a square entrance. The façade of the shrine is graced by five niches. Within each of these are representations of doves and shells. Due to this, many believe this is evidence that the shrine was devoted to Venus.

Baalbek City and Its History – Lebanon

This region, which has hosted many civilizations in history, has been continuously developed and in constant change in terms of architecture. It was named Sun City because of the temple built in the name of the Sun God during Roman rule, but the real owner of this city is the Phoenicians.

This region, which has been home to many civilizations in history, has been constantly developed and in constant change in terms of architecture. During the Roman rule, it was named Sun City because of the temple built in the name of the Sun God, but the real owner of this city is the Phoenicians.The period referred to as the Golden period was lived thanks to the Romans, brought many riches in terms of architecture and had many activities. But later wars and invasions brought this city to the point of extinction.

Baalbek is referred to as the city in the Bekaa valley of Lebanon. In 1984, this beauty was realized and protected by Unesco. The Greeks ended the life of the Phoenicians, but their life was not very long. The Romans constantly worn and struggled to take this city and they succeeded. It witnessed many wars and struggles of civilizations during the Roman period. We can say that it was finalized by the Byzantines Emperor Teodosius destroyed a large part of Jupiter temple and made it a church …

This city and the Crusaders, who destroyed the architecture the most, were busy destroying the areas they conquered, and then Timur’s attacks began. Since the Crusaders used this place as a fortress, the architecture was completely destroyed. This region was also conquered by the Ottomans, but when the Ottomans dominated it, Jupiter was now buried in the ground. Currently there are 3 temples in this area, the temples of Jupiter, Bacchus and Venus can be seen and studied. The largest of the temples is the temple of Jupiter, but it cannot be said that this temple is very well preserved, on the contrary, the Baku temple stands out with its well-preserved and well-maintained appearance.

After the region came under Ottoman rule, it was closed to tourists for a while because the soldiers were in this area, but over time, the region was visited by tourists. He could easily stop by and had the opportunity to visit and see. Earthquakes damaged the architecture, but did not wear them too much. The vibrations caused the bombing of the Israeli city of Baalbek in 2006 to damage the architecture and Unesco offered for maintenance.

Baalbek: Lebanon's Sacred Fortress

Only one account of Lebanon’s mythical origins has been left to posterity, and this is the work of Sanchoniatho, a Phoenician historian born either in Berytus (Beirut) or Tyre on the Lebanese coast just before the Trojan war, c.1200 BC. He wrote in his native language, taking his information mostly from city archives and temple records.

In all he compiled nine books, which were translated into Greek by Philo, a native of Byblos on the Levant coast, who lived during the reign of the emperor Hadrian (reigned AD 117-138). Fragments of his translation were fortunately preserved by an early Christian writer named Eusebius (AD 264-340). 44 Some scholars look upon Sanchoniatho’s writings as spurious, but others see them as preserving archaic myths of the earliest Phoenicians.

In his long discourse on the cosmogony of the world and the history of the earliest inhabitants of Lebanon, Sanchoniatho cites Byblos as Lebanon’s first city. 45 It was founded, he says, by the god Cronus (or Saturn), the son of Ouranus (Uranus or Coelus, who gave his name to Coele-Syria, ie. Syria), and grandson of Elioun (Canaanite El) and his wife Beruth (who gave her name to the city-port of Berytus or Beirut).

Sanchoniatho goes on to say that the demi-gods of Byblos possessed "light and other more complete ships", implying they were a sea-faring nation. He also states that chief among these people was Taautus, "who invented the writing of the first letters him the Egyptians called Thoor, the Alexandrians Thoyth, and the Greeks Hermes." 46 He was Cronus’ "secretary", from whom the god gained advice and assistance on all matters.

A confusing sequence of events are described for this period, during which time Cronus is constantly at war with his father Ouranus. There are also marriages, intermarriages and incestuous relationships which produce a multitude of characters, many of whom act as symbols for the expansion of this mythical culture around the Levant and into Asia Minor (modern Turkey). For instance, there is Sidon, the daughter of Pontus, who "by the excellence of her singing first invented the hymns of odes or praises". 47 Like Byblos, Sidon was a Phoenician city-port on the Lebanese coast, while Pontus was an ancient kingdom situated on the Black Sea in what is today north-eastern Turkey.

Finally, it is said that having visited "the country of the south" Cronus "gave all Egypt to the god Taautus, that it might be his kingdom", 48 implying that he was its founder.

Sanchoniatho tells us that knowledge of the age of the demi-gods of Byblos was handed down for generation after generation until it was given into the safe-keeping of "the son of Thabion. the first Hierophant of all among the Phoenicians". 49 He in turn delivered them up to the priests and prophets until they came into the possession of one Isiris, "the inventor of the three letters, the brother of Chna who is called the first Phoenician." 50

There is much more in Sanchoniatho’s mythical history, but the basic message is that a high culture with sea-faring capabilities established itself at Byblos before gradually expanding into other parts of the eastern Mediterranean. More curious is his assertion that the god Taautus, the Phoenician form of the Egyptian Thoth or Tehuti and the Greek Hermes, was some kind of founder of the Egyptian Pharaonic culture which began c.3100 BC.

Was Sanchoniatho’s work simply fable, based on the Phoenicians’ own maritime achievements, or might it contain clues concerning an actual high culture that existed in the Levant during prehistoric times?

Journey to Byblos

Certainly, the implied link between Egypt and Byblos is real enough. In the legend of Osiris and Isis, as recorded by the Greek biographer Plutarch (AD 50-120), the evil god Set tricks Osiris into a wooden coffin which is sealed before being set adrift on the sea. It is carried by the waves until it finally reaches Byblos, where it comes to rest in the midst of a tamarisk bush, which immediately grows to become a magnificent tree of great size. Inside it the coffin containing the body of Osiris remains encased. The king of that country, on seeing the great tree, has it cut down and made into "a pillar for the roof of his house". 51 Isis learns of what has happened to her husband and is able to attain entry into the palace as a handmaiden to one of the king’s sons. Each night she takes on the form of a swallow to fly around the pillar. After a fashion she convinces the queen to give her the pillar, which is then opened to reveal the body of Osiris. 52

Byblos is the clear name used in Plutarch’s account, but for some reason noted Egyptologists such as Sir E.A. Wallis-Budge have seen fit to identify this place-name with a location named Byblos in the Nile Delta, even though Plutarch himself adds that wood from the pillar, which was afterwards restored by Isis and given to the queen, "is, to this day, preserved in the temple of Isis, and worshipped by the people of Byblos". 53 In my opinion, setting this story in the Nile Delta makes no sense whatever, especially as the coffin was said to have been "carried (to Byblos) by the sea". 54

Lucian, the celebrated Greek writer (AD 120-200), spoke of the Isis-Osiris legend and connected it specifically with Byblos in Lebanon, adding that "I will tell you why this story seems credible. Every year a human head floats from Egypt to Byblos". This "head" apparently took seven days to reach its destination. It never went off course and came via a "direct route" to Byblos. Lucian claimed that this once yearly event actually happened when he himself was in Byblos, for as he records "I myself saw the head in this city". 55

What exactly Lucian witnessed, and what was really behind this head tradition is utterly unfathomable, particularly as Lucian states that the head he saw was made of "Egyptian papyrus". 56 In Christian times a St Kyrillos also apparently witnessed the event, but said that "what was borne towards him by the wind looked like a small boat". 57 All that can be said with any certainty is that this peculiar tradition appeared to preserve some kind age-old twinning between Egypt and Byblos, perhaps during the mythical age of the gods, the Zep Tepi, or First Time. As has been ably demonstrated by recent works from Hancock, Bauval et al, this believed mythical age, when gods ruled the earth, appears to have been an actual stage of human development pre-dating Pharaonic Egypt by many thousands of years. 58

Yet how might this new-found knowledge of the relationship between Egypt and Byblos relate to Baalbek?

Firstly there appears to have been a strong link between Isis-Osiris legend and the mountains north-west of Baalbek. It was said that Isis took "refuge" (presumably at the point in the story when the king and queen of Byblos discover she is daily incinerating their child on a blazing fire!) in the lake of Apheca, the ancient name for Lake Yammouneh some 32km distance from Baalbek, "and thus lived in Lebanon", or so recorded the Baalbek archaeologist and historian Michel M. Alouf. 59

The more obvious answer, however, appears to be an apparent twinning that existed between Heliopolis in Egypt and Heliopolis in Lebanon. The fifth-century Latin grammarian Macrobius wrote specifically on this subject in his curious work entitled Saturnalia. He stated that a "statue" was carried ritually from Heliopolis in Egypt to its Lebanese name-sake by Egyptian priests. He adds that after its arrival it was worshipped with Assyrian rather than Egyptian rites. 60

Some authors have suggested that this statue was that of the Egyptian sun-god, presumably Re, while others say it was a representation of Osiris. 61 In addition to this statue story, there was also a strong tradition, recounted by Macrobius and others, that the Egyptian priests actually erected a temple at Baalbek dedicated to the worship of the sun. 62 If so, then what special place did this ancient location, sacred to Baal, hold to the Heliopolitan priesthood in Egypt? Might this transmission of religious ideas from Egypt to Baalbek have been connected in some way to the once yearly arrival of an Egyptian ‘head’ at Byblos, and to Osiris’ fateful journey inside a sealed coffin?

Titans and Elohim

Aside from the suggested link with the Egyptian culture, the writings of Sanchoniatho throw further light on this apparent pre-Phoenician culture existing in the Levant during prehistoric times. He says that the "auxiliaries" or "allies" of Cronus, presumably in battle, were the "Eloeim" a misspelling of the term Elohim, the sons of whom (the bene ha-elohim) were said to have been a divine race that came unto the Daughters of Man who subsequently gave birth to giant offspring known as the Nephilim, or so records the Book of Genesis and various uncanonical works of Judaic origin. 63

Elsewhere I have put forward the hypothesis that the Sons of the Elohim — who are equated with the angelic race known as the Watchers in the apocryphal Book of Enoch, as well as in recently translated Dead Sea literature — were a race of human beings. Evidence indicates they established a colony in the mountains of Kurdistan in south-east Turkey sometime after the cessation of the last Ice Age, before going on to influence the rise of western civilisation. Their progeny, the Nephilim, were half-mortal, half-Watcher, and there is tentative evidence in the writings of Sumer and Akkad to suggest that the accounts of great battles being fought between mythical kings and demons dressed as bird-men might well preserve the distorted memories of actual conflicts between mortal armies and Nephilim-led tribes. 64 [See New Dawn nos. 40-42]

Might Cronus — who or whatever he represents — have employed the services of the bene ha-elohim in the wars against his father, Ouranus? In Greek mythology the Nephilim are equated directly with the Titans and gigantes, or ‘giants’, who waged war on the gods of Olympus and, like Cronus, were the offspring of Ouranus. In many ancient writings preserved during the early Christian era, stories concerning the Nephilim, or gibborim, ‘mighty men’, of biblical tradition are confused with the legends surrounding the Titans and gigantes. All blend together as one, and not perhaps without reason. The giants and Titans are said to have helped Nimrod, the ‘mighty hunter’ construct the fabled Tower of Babel which reached towards heaven. On its destruction by God, legends speak of how the giant races were dispersed across the bible lands. 65

According to an Arabic manuscript found at Baalbek and quoted by Alouf in his informative History of Baalbek "after the flood, when Nimrod reigned over Lebanon, he sent giants to rebuild the fortress of Baalbek, which was so named in honour of Baal, the god of the Moabites and worshippers of the Sun." 66 Local tradition even asserts that the Tower of Babel was actually located at Baalbek. 67

The involvement of Nimrod in this legend is almost certainly a misnomer, born out of the belief that only super-humans of myth and fable could ever have built such gigantic stature, in the same way that either named giants or mythical figures, such as Arthur, Merlin or the devil are accredited with the construction or presence of prehistoric monuments in Britain. Moreover, stories of giants exist right across Asia Minor and the Middle East, and these are often cited to explain the presence of either cyclopean ruins (such as the Greek city of Mycenae, the cyclopean walls of which were said to have been built by the one-eyed cyclops — hence the term ‘cyclopean’ masonry) or gigantic natural and man-made features.

On the other hand, the alleged connection between giants, Titans and Baalbek is quite another matter. It is feasible that, if the Watchers and Nephilim (and therefore the Titans and gigantes) are to be seen as a lost race of human beings, any presumed pre-Phoenician culture in Lebanon could not have failed to have encountered their presence in the Near East. If so, were alliances forged with them, wars fought alongside them?

Might the ancient skills and brute strength of these human races of great stature have been employed in grand engineering projects such as the construction of the Great Platform? Remember, the Titans were said to have been born of the same loins as Cronus, and in alliance with their half-brother, they waged war against their father Ouranus. Yet family alliances of this type can go wrong, for according to the various ancient writers on this subject, 68 after the fall of the Tower of Babel and the dispersion of the tribes, a war broke out between Cronus and his brother Titan. An early Christian writer named Lactantius (AD 250-325) records that Titan, with the help of the rest of the Titans, imprisoned Cronus and held him safe until his son Jupiter (or Zeus) was old enough to take the throne. Does this imply that the Titans deposed Cronus and took control of the Byblos culture until the coming of Zeus, or Jupiter? What influence might this forgotten race have brought to bear on the development of Lebanon’s pre-Phoenician culture? More importantly, when might any of this have taken place?

Far off in Hell

According to classical mythology, the Titans were eventually defeated by Jupiter and his fellow Olympian gods and goddesses. As punishment, they were banished to Tartarus, a mythical region of hell enclosed by a brazen wall and shrouded perpetually by a cloud of darkness. The gigantes, too, were linked with this terrible place, for they are cited by the first-century Roman writer Caius Julius Hyginus (fl. c.40 BC) as having been the "sons of Tartarus and Terra (ie. the earth)". 69

Although Tartarus has always been seen as a purely mythical location, there is reason to link it with a Phoenician city-port and kingdom known as Tartessus (Tarshish in the Bible) that thrived in the Spanish province of Andalucia during ancient times.

The evidence is this — Gyges, or Gyes, was a son or Coelus (ie. Ouranus) and a brother of Cronus he was also seen both as a gigante and a Titan (demonstrating how they were originally one and the same race). 70 He seems to have been one of the main figures in the later wars between his titanic brothers and the Olympian gods under the command of Zeus, and may simply have been Titan under another name.

Classical writers such as Ovid (43 BC-AD 18) wrote that Gyges was punished by being banished to the prison of Tartarus. Yet an account of this same story given by a Chaldean writer named Thallus, states that instead of being banished to Tamrus, Gyges was "smitten, and fled to Tartessus". 71 If this is a genuinely separate rendition of the same story then it means that Tartarus was another name for Tartessus.

The immense antiquity of Tartessus is not in question. The Greek geographer named Strabo (60 BC-20 AD) claimed that it possessed "written records" going back a staggering 7000 years. As a sea-port it is believed to have been situated on a delta of the Guadalquivir River, even though no trace of it remains today. It is also synonymous with another ancient sea-port known as Gades, modern Cadiz. E.M. Whishaw in her important 1930 work Atlantis in Andalucia uses excavated evidence of neolithic and possibly even palaeolithic sea-ports, sea-walls, cyclopean ruins and hydraulic works around the towns of Niebla and Huelva on the Andalucian coast to demonstrate the reality not only of Tartessus’s lost kingdom, but also the existence of Plato’s Atlantis.

A Sea-Faring Nation

Knowledge of the apparent links between Tartessus, the gigantes/Titans and the mythical Byblos culture is compelling evidence of an as yet unknown sea-faring nation in the Mediterranean area sometime between 7000-3000 BC, the latter half of this period being the time-frame when many of the megalithic complexes began appearing in places such as Malta and Sardinia. Charles Hapgood in his 1979 book Maps of the Ancient Sea Kings concluded that the various composite portolans, such as the Piri Reis map of 1513, show areas of the globe, including the Mediterranean Sea, as they appeared at least 6000 years ago. He therefore concluded that those who had originally drawn these maps must have belonged to "one culture", who possessed maritime connections all over the globe and flourished during this distant age. 72 Was he referring here to the mythical Byblos culture? Might it have been responsible for passing on these ancient maps to civilisations such as Egypt, c.3100 BC, and Phoenicia, c.2500 BC?

The early dynastic boat burials uncovered at Giza and Abydos have revealed seagoing vessels with high prows that were never intended to be sailed on the Nile this is despite the fact that Egypt had no obvious maritime tradition during this early stage in its development. Where did this knowledge come from? Was it from the remnants of an earlier culture, such as the one spoken of by Sanchoniatho as having existed on the Levant coast in mythical times? Might this sea-faring connection help explain why the wooden coffin containing the body of Osiris was carried by the sea to Byblos, and why the priests of Heliopolis in Egypt took such an interest in Baalbek during Ptolemaic times?

It is a subject that requires much further research before any definite conclusions can be drawn, but the apparent advanced capabilities of the proposed Byblos culture allows us to perceive the antiquity of Baalbek’s Great Platform in a new light. Did the legends suggesting that it was constructed by super-human giants during the age of Nimrod preserve some kind of bastardised memory of its foundation by the Byblos culture under Ouranus, Cronus or his brothers, the Titans? If so, then who were these mythical individuals and what ancient engineering skills might their culture have employed in the construction of cyclopean structures such as the Great Platform?

Stones that Moved

In surviving folklore from both Egypt and Palestine there are tantalising accounts of how sound, used in association with ‘magic words’, was able to lift and move large stone blocks and statues, or open huge stone doors. I was therefore excited to discover that, according to Sanchoniatho, Ouranus was supposed to have "devised Baetulia, contriving stones that moved as having life". 73 By "contriving" the nineteenth-century English translator of Philo’s original Greek text seems to have meant ‘designing’, ‘devising’ or ‘inventing’, implying that Ouranus had made stones to move as if they had life of their own. Was this a veiled reference to some kind of sonic technology utilised by the proposed Byblos culture? Could this knowledge help explain the methods behind the cutting, transportation and positioning of the 1000-tonne blocks used in Baalbek’s Great Platform? It is certainly a very real possibility.

Why Baalbek?

If we accept for a moment that Baalbek’s Great Platform, and perhaps even the inner podium that supports the Temple of Jupiter, might well possess a much greater antiquity than has previously been imagined, then what purpose might the Baalbek structure have served?

Zecharia Sitchin in his 1980 book The Stairway to Heaven proposes that the Great Platform was a landing site and launch pad for extra-terrestrial vehicles. Perhaps he is right, but in my opinion its high elevation hints at the fact that it once served as some kind of platform for the observation of celestial and stellar events. It is a subject I am currently investigating for a future article.

And just how old is Baalbek?

The French archaeologist Michel Alouf apparently learnt from the Maronite Patriarch of the Baalbek region, a man named Estfan Doweihi, that: ". the fortress of Baalbek on Mt. Lebanon is the most ancient building in the world. Cain, the son of Adam, built it in the year 133 of the creation, during a fit of raving madness". 74 Unfortunately this tells us very little about the site’s real age. Yet if we can accept the existence of a pre-Phoenician culture that not only employed the use of cyclopean masonry in its building construction, but also possessed sea-going vessels and flourished in the Mediterranean somewhere between 7000 BC and 3000 BC, then it opens the door to the possibility that Baalbek’s ‘fortress’ may also date to this early phase of human history.

Yet the question remains as to why this pre-Phoenician, sea-going nation should have wished to construct an almighty edifice on an elevated plain between two enormous mountain ranges. What was the reasoning behind this decision? The site undoubtedly possessed a very ancient sanctity however, the architects may well have had more pressing reasons for placing it where they did. All the indications are that Sanchoniatho’s Byblos culture eventually experienced a period of fierce wars that waged between Cronus, or Saturn, and his titanic brothers under the leadership of Titan or Gyges, and then finally between Cronus’ son Jupiter and the rest of the Olympian deities. In a strange way the fraternal conflict between Cronus and his brothers parallels the biblical struggle between Cain and Abel, suggesting that the link between Cain and Baalbek might well have some symbolic significance to the site’s early history. 75

Is it possible that Baalbek’s first ‘city’ was constructed, not just as a religious centre, but also as an impenetrable fortress against attacks by whatever we see as constituting the gigantes and Titans of mythology? If the Great Platform, and perhaps even the inner podium, really does date to this early period, then might the fortress theory explain why its architects used such gigantic stones in its construction? Were they incorporated into the design through a combination of technological capability and sheer necessity, not through "the interest of appearance" or some ancient wall-building tradition upheld by the neo-Phoenicians of the Roman era? Such ideas may even provide some kind of explanation as to why the mother of all stone blocks, the Stone of the Pregnant Woman, was left cut and ready for transportation in a nearby quarry. Did the whole building project have to be abandoned because the site was over-run, or at least seriously threatened, by invading forces? Scholars have always accredited the Romans with having built the Great Platform, with its stupendous Trilithon stones, simply because they could not conceive of an earlier culture possessing the technological skills needed to have transported and positioned such enormous weights. The Sphinx-building culture of Egypt is evidence that such technological skills may well have been available as early as 10,500 BC, while our current knowledge of the Baalbek platform gives us firm grounds to push back its accepted construction date by at least a thousand years.

Even if the dates suggested for Sanchoniatho’s Byblos culture are open to question, I believe the sacred fortress hypothesis brings us a lot closer to unlocking the mysteries of Baalbek. Both visually and in legend its ruins bear the mark of the Titans, and understanding the site’s true place in history can only help us to discover the reality of this lost cyclopean age of mankind.

1. Ragette, Baalbek, p.33.

3. Alouf, M.M., History of Baalbek, p.98.

4. Ibid., p.39, quoting a story told by Estfan Doweihi, a Maronite Patriarch.

Baalbek: Lebanon's Sacred Fortress

In the recent past the tranquillity of the Beqa’a Valley, that runs north-south between the Lebanon and Ante-Lebanon mountain ranges, has been regularly shattered by the screeching noise of Israeli jet fighters. Their targets are usually the Hizbullah training camps, mostly for reconnaissance purposes, but occasionally to drop bombs on the local inhabitants. It is a sign of the times in the troubled Middle East.

Yet the Beqa’a Valley is also famous for quite another reason. Elevated above the lazy town of Baalbek is one of architecture’s greatest achievements. I refer to the almighty Temple of Jupiter, situated besides two smaller temples, one dedicated to Venus, the goddess of love, and the other dedicated to Bacchus, the god of fertility and good cheer (although some argue this temple was dedicated to Mercury, the winged god of communication).

Today these wonders of the classical world remain as impressive ruins scattered across a wide area, but more remarkable still is the gigantic stone podiums within which these structures stand. An outer podium wall, popularly known as the ‘Great Platform’, is seen by scholars as contemporary to the Roman temples. Yet incorporated into one of its courses are the three largest building blocks ever used in a man-made structure. Each one weighs an estimated 1000 tonnes a piece. 1 They sit side-by-side on the fifth level of a truly cyclopean wall located beyond the western limits of the Temple of Jupiter.

Even more extraordinary is the fact that in a limestone quarry about one quarter of a mile away from the Baalbek complex is an even larger building block. Known as Hajar el Gouble, the Stone of the South, or the Hajar el Hibla, the Stone of the Pregnant Woman, it weighs an estimated 1200 tonnes. 2 It lays at a raised angle — the lowest part of its base still attached to the living rock — cut and ready to be broken free and transported to its presumed destination next to the Trilithon, the name given to the three great stones in ancient times.

The enigma is this — although the high-tech, computer programmed jet fighters that scream through the Beqa’a Valley possess laser-guided missiles that can precision bomb to within three feet of their designated target — there is not a crane today that can even think of lifting a 1000-tonne weight, never mind a 1200-tonne weight like the stone block left in the quarry. Confounding the mystery even further is how the builders of the Trilithon managed to position these stones side by side with such precision that, according to some commentators not even a needle can be inserted between them. 3

So who were the supermen behind this breath-taking project? Surely the world is aware of their origins and history. Who were these people?

Unfortunately, however, nobody knows their names. Nowhere in extant Roman records does it mention anything at all about the architects and engineers involved in the construction of the Great Platform. No contemporary Roman historian or scholar commentates on how it was constructed, and there are no tales that preserve the means by which the Roman builders achieved such marvellous feats of engineering.

Surely someone, somewhere, must know what happened.

And herein the problems begin, for the local inhabitants of the Beqa’a Valley — who consist in the main of Arab Muslims, Maronite Christians and Orthodox Christians — do preserve legends about the origins of the Great Platform, but they do not involve the Romans.

They say that Baalbek’s first city was built before the Great Flood by Cain, the son of Adam, whom God banished to the ‘land of Nod’ that lay ‘east of Eden’ for murdering his good brother Abel, and he called it after his son Enoch. 4 The citadel, they say, fell into ruins at the time of the deluge and was much later re-built by a race of giants under the command of Nimrod, the ‘mighty hunter’ and ‘king of Shinar’ of the Book of Genesis. 5

So who do we believe — the academics who are of the opinion that the Great Platform was constructed by the Romans, or the local folktales which ascribe Baalbek’s cyclopean masonry to a much earlier age? And if we are to accept the latter explanation, then who exactly were these ‘giants’, gigantes or Titans of Greek tradition? Furthermore, why accredit Cain, Adam’s outcast son, as the builder of Baalbek’s first city?

In an attempt to answer some of these questions it will be necessary to review the known history of Baalbek and to examine more closely the stones of the Trilithon in relationship to the rest of the ruins we see today. It will also be necessary to look at the mythologies, not only of the earliest peoples of Lebanon, but also the Hellenic Greeks. Only by doing this will a much clearer picture begin to emerge.

Heliopolis of the East

Scholars suggest that Baalbek started its life as a convenient trading post between the Lebanese coast and Damascus. What seems equally as likely, however, is that — situated close at the highest point in the Beqa’a, and set between the headwaters of Lebanon’s two greatest rivers, the Orontes and Leontes — this elevated site became an important religious centre at a very early date indeed.

Excavations in the vicinity of the Great Court of the Temple of Jupiter have revealed the existence of a tell, or occupational mound, dating back to the Early Bronze age (c.2900-2300 BC). 6 By the late second millennium BC a raised court, entered through a gateway with twin towers, had been constructed around a vertical shaft that dropped down some fifty yards to a natural crevice in which ‘a small rock cut altar’ was used for sacrificial rites. 7

In the hills around the temple complex are literally hundreds of rock-cut tombs which, although plundered long ago, are thought to date to the time of the Phoenicians, 8 the great sea-faring nation of Semitic origin who inhabited Lebanon from around 2500 BC onwards and were known in the Bible as the Canaanites, the people of Canaan. They established major sea-ports in Lebanon, northern Palestine and Syria, as well as trading posts across the Mediterranean and the eastern Atlantic seaboard, right through till classical times. Indeed, it is believed that Phoenicia’s mythical history heavily influenced the development of Greek myth and legend.

Following the death of Alexander in 323 BC, Phoenicia was ruled successively by the Ptolemaic kings of Egypt and the Seleucid kings of Syria until the arrival of the Romans under a general named Pompey in 63 BC. The first-century AD Jewish historian Josephus tells of Alexander’s march through the Beqa’a on his way to Damascus, during which he encountered the cities of ‘Heliopolis and Chalcis’. 9 Chalcis, modern Majdel Anjar, was then the political centre of the Beqa’a, while Baalbek was its principal religious centre.

Heliopolis was the name given to Baalbek under the Ptolemies of Egypt sometime between 323 and 198 BC. Meaning ‘city of the sun’, it expressed the importance this religious centre held to the Egyptians, particularly since a place of immense antiquity bearing this same name already existed in Lower Egypt.

Following a brief period in which Mark Anthony handed Lebanon and Syria back to Queen Cleopatra, the last Ptolemaic queen of Egypt, Lebanon became a Roman colony around 27 BC, and it was during this phase in its history that construction began on the Baalbek temples. 10

The principal deity they chose to preside over Baalbek was Jupiter, the sky god. He was arguably the most important deity of the Romans, taking over the role of Zeus in the Greek pantheon. Jupiter was probably chosen to replace the much earlier worship of the Canaanite god Baal (meaning ‘lord’) who had many characteristics in common with the Greek Zeus. It is, of course, from Baal that Baalbek derives its name, which means, simply, ‘town of Baal’. Yet when, and how, this god of corn, rain, tempest and thunder, was worshipped here is not known, even though legend asserts that Baalbek was the alleged birth-place of Baal. 11 In the Bible Baalbek appears under the name Baalath, 12 a town re-fortified by Israel’s King Solomon, c.970 BC (1 Kings 9:15 & 2 Chr. 8:6), confirming both its sanctity to Baal at this early date and its apparent strategic importance on the road to Damascus.

Some scholars have suggested that Baal (Assyrian Hadad) was only one of a triad of Phoenician deities that were once venerated at this site — the others being his son Aliyan, who presided over well-springs and fecundity, and his daughter Anat (Assyrian Atargatis), who was Aliyan’s devoted lover. These three correspond very well with the Roman triad of Jupiter, Mercury and Venus, whose veneration is almost certainly preserved in the dedication of the three temples at Baalbek. Many Roman emperors were of Syrian extraction, so it would not have been unusual for them to have promoted the worship of the country’s indigenous deities under their adopted Roman names. 13

Whatever the nature of the pre-Roman worship at Baalbek, its veneration of Baal created a hybrid form of the god Jupiter, generally referred to as Jupiter Heliopolitan. One surviving statue of him in bronze shows the beardless god sporting a huge calathos headdress, a symbol of divinity, as well as a bull, a symbol of Baal, on either side of him. 14

The Temple of Jupiter

When the Romans began construction of the gigantic Temple of Jupiter — the largest of its kind in the classical world — during the reign of Emperor Augustus in the late first century BC, they utilised an existing podium made up of huge walls of enormous stone blocks. 15 This much is known. Academics suggest that this inner podium, or rectangular stone platform filled level with earth, was an unfinished component of an open-air temple constructed by the Seleucid priesthoods on the existing Bronze Age tell sometime between 198 and 63 BC. 16 Baalbek’s great sanctity was well-known even before the building of the temple, for it is said to have possessed a renowned oracle which, according to a Latin grammarian and author named Macrobius (fl. AD 420), expressed itself through the movement of a great statue located in the courtyard. It was attended by ‘dignitaries’ with shaven heads who had previously undergone long periods of ritual abstinence. 17

As the temple complex expanded throughout Roman times, the existing foundations extended southwards, beyond the inner podium, to where the Temple of Bacchus (or Mercury) was eventually constructed in the middle of the second century BC. It also extended north-eastwards to where a great court, an observation tower, an enclosed hexagonal court and a raised, open-air altar were incorporated into the overall design. To the south, outside the Great Court, rose the much smaller Temple of Venus as well as the lesser known Temple of the Muses.

According to Professor H. Kalayan, whose extensive surveying programme of the Baalbek complex was published in 1969, the Temple of Jupiter and its east facing courtyard were planned simultaneously as one overall design. 18 Yet in the age of Augustus this should have meant that the temple be placed at one end of a courtyard that surrounded it on all sides it was the style of the day. This, however, is not what happened at Baalbek, for its courtyard ceased in line with the temple facade. This Professor Kalayan saw as a deliberate change of policy, even though ‘foundations’ for an extension to this courtyard were already in place on the north side of the temple. 19

The Trilithon

Did the Roman architects of Baalbek chop and change their minds so easily? Their next move would appear to suggest as much, for they decided that, instead of extending the courtyard, they would continue the existing pre-Roman temple podium behind the western end of the Temple of Jupiter. This mammoth building project apparently necessitated the cutting, transporting and positioning of the three 1000-tonne limestone blocks making up the Trilithon. Their sizes vary between sixty-three and sixty-five feet in length, while each one shares the same height of fourteen feet six inches and a depth of twelve feet. 20 Seeing them strikes a sense of awe unimaginable to the senses, for as a former Curator of Antiquities at Baalbek, Michel M. Alouf, aptly put it: "No description will give an exact idea of the bewildering and stupefying effect of these tremendous blocks on the spectator". 21

The course beneath the Trilithon is almost as bewildering. It consists of six mammoth stones thirty to thirty three feet in length, fourteen feet in height and ten feet in depth, 22 each an estimated 450 tonnes in weight. This lower course continues on both the northern and southern faces of the podium wall, with nine similarly sized blocks incorporated into either side. Below these are at least three further courses of somewhat smaller blocks of mostly irregular widths which were apparently exposed when the Arabs attempted to incorporate the outer podium wall into their fortifications. 23 Indeed, above and around the Trilithon is the remains of an Arab wall that contrasts markedly from the much greater sized cyclopean stones.

There is no good reason why the Roman architects should have needed to use such huge blocks, totally unprecedented in engineering projects of the classical age. Further confounding the picture is that the outer podium wall was left ‘incomplete’. Furthermore, the even larger 1200-tonne cut and dressed Stone of the Pregnant Woman lying in the nearby quarry (which measures an incredible sixty-nine feet by sixteen feet by thirteen feet ten inches 24 ), would imply that something went wrong, forcing the engineers to abandon completion of the Great Platform.

Scholars can only gloss over the necessity to use such ridiculously large sized blocks. Baalbek scholar Friedrich Ragette, in his 1980 work entitled, simply, Baalbek, suggests that such huge stones were used because "according to Phoenician tradition, (podiums) had to consist of no more than three layers of stone" and since this one was to be twelve metres high, it meant the use of enormous building blocks. 25 It is a solution that rings hollow in my ears. He further adds that stones of this size and proportion were also employed "in the interest of appearance". 26

In the interest of appearance? But they don’t even look right — the Trilithon looks alien in comparison to the rest of the wall.

Ragette points out that the sheer awe inspired by the Trilithon ensured that Baalbek was remembered by later generations, not for the grandeur of its magnificent temples, but for its three great stones which ignorant folk began to believe were built by superhuman giants of some bygone age. 27

Was this the real explanation why giants were accredited with the construction of Baalbek — because naive inhabitants and travellers could not accept that the Romans had the power to achieve such grand feats of engineering?

There is no answer to this question until all the evidence has been presented in respect to the construction of the Great Platform, and it is in this area that we find some very contradictory evidence indeed. For example, when the unfinished upper course of the Great Platform was cleared of loose blocks and rubble, excavators found carved into its horizontal surface a drawing of the pediment (a triangular, gable-like piece of architecture present in the Temple of Jupiter). So exact was this design that it seemed certain the architects and masons had positioned their blocks using this scale plan. 28 This meant that the Great Platform must have existed before the construction of the temple.

On the other hand, a stone column drum originally intended for the Temple of Jupiter was apparently found among the foundation rubble placed beneath the podium wall. 29 This is convincing evidence to show that the Great Platform was constructed at the same time, perhaps even later, than the temple.

So the Great Platform turns out to be Roman after all, or does it?

It could be argued that the column drum was used as ballast to strengthen the foundations of the much earlier podium wall, and until further knowledge of exactly where this cylindrical block was found then the matter cannot be resolved either way.

The Big Debate

The next problem is whether or not the Romans possessed the engineering capability to cut, transport and position 1000-tonne blocks of this nature. Since the Stone of the Pregnant Woman was presumably intended to extend the Trilithon, it must be assumed that the main three stones came from the same quarry, which lies about one quarter of a mile from the site. Another similar stone quarry lies some two miles away, but there is no obvious evidence that the Trilithon stones came from there.

Having established these facts, we must decide on how the Roman engineers managed to cut and free 1000-tonne stones from the bed-rock and then move them on a steady incline for a distance of several hundred yards.

Ragette suggests that the Trilithon stones were first cut from the bed-rock, using "metal picks" and "some sort of quarrying machine" that left concentric circular blows up to four metres in radius on some blocks (surely an enigma in itself). 30 They were then transported to the site by placing them on sleighs that rested on cylindrical wooden rollers. As he points out, similar methods of transportation were successfully employed in Egypt and Mesopotamia, as is witnessed by various stone reliefs. 31 This is correct, for there do exist carved images showing the movement of either statues or stone blocks by means of large pulley crews. These are aided by groups of helpers who either mark-time or pick up wooden rollers from the rear end of the train and then place them in the path of the slow-moving procession.

Two major observations can be made in respect to this solution. Firstly, this process requires a flat even surface, which if not present would necessitate the construction of a stone causeway or ramp from the quarry to the point of final destination (as is evidenced at Giza in Egypt). Certainly, there is a road that passes the quarry on the way to the village, but there is still much rugged terrain between here and the final position of the blocks. Secondly, the reliefs depicting the movement of large weights in Egypt and Assyria show individual pieces that are an estimated 100 tonnes in weight — one tenth the size of the Trilithon stones. I feel sure that the movement of 1000-tonne blocks would create insurmountable difficulties for the suggested pulley and roller system. One French scholar calculated that to move a 1000-tonne block, no less than 40,000 men would have been required, making logistics virtually inconceivable on the tiny track up to the village. 32

Practically Impossible

The next problem is how the Romans might have manoeuvred the giant blocks into position. Ragette suggests the "bury and re-excavate" method, 33 where ramps of compacted earth would be constructed on a slight incline up to the top of the wall — which before the Trilithon was added stood at an estimated twenty-five feet high. The blocks would then be pulled upwards by pulley gangs on the other side until they reached the required height a similar method is thought to have been employed to erect the horizontal trilithon stones at Stonehenge, for instance. Playing devil’s advocate here, I would ask: how did the pulley gangs manage to bring together these stones so exactly and how were they able to achieve such precision movement when the land beyond the podium slopes gently downwards? Only by creating a raised ramp on the hill-slope itself, and then placing the pulley gangs on the other side of the wall could an operation of this kind even be attempted.

And how were the stone blocks lifted from the rollers to allow final positioning? Ragette proposes the use of scaffoldings, ramps and windlasses (ie. capstans) like those employed by the Renaissance architect Domenico Fontana to erect a 327-tonne Egyptian obelisk in front of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome. To achieve this amount of lift, Fontana used an incredible 40 windlasses, which necessitated a combined force of 800 men and 140 horses.

Based on an estimated weight of 800 tonnes per stone 34 (even though he cites each one as 1000-tonnes a piece earlier in the same book 35 ), Ragette proposes that, with a five-tonne lifting capacity per drilled Lewis hole, each block would have required 160 attachments to the upper surface. He goes on: "Four each could be hooked to a pulley of 20 tons capacity which in the case of six rolls needed an operating power of about 3Ѕ tons. The task therefore consisted of the simultaneous handling of forty windlasses of 3Ѕ tons each. The pulleys were most likely attached to timber frames bridging across the stone." 36

Such ideas are pure speculation. No evidence of any such transportation has ever come to light at Baalbek, and the surface of the Trilithon has not revealed any tell-tale signs of drilled Lewis holes. Admittedly, the Stone of the Pregnant Woman remaining in the quarry does contain a seemingly random series of round holes in its upper surface, yet their precise purpose remains a mystery.

As evidence that the Romans possessed the knowledge to lift and transport extremely heavy weights, Ragette cites the fact that between AD 60 and 70, ie. the proposed time-frame of construction of the Jupiter temple, a man named Heron of Alexandria compiled an important work outlining this very practice, including the use of levels to raise up and position large stone blocks. 37 Curiously, the only surviving example of this treatise is an Arabic translation made by a native of Baalbek named Costa ibn Luka in around 860 AD. 38 Did it suggest that knowledge of this engineering manual had been preserved in the town since Roman times, being passed on from generation to generation until it finally reached the hands of Costa ibn Luka? Of course it is possible, but whether or not it was of any practical use when it came to the construction of the Trilithon is quite another matter.

The Archaeologists’ View

No one can rightly say whether or not the Romans really did have the knowledge and expertise to construct the Great Platform certainly some of the Temple of Jupiter’s tall columns of Aswan granite, at sixty-five feet in height, are among the largest in the world. And even if we presume that they did have the ability, then this cannot definitively date the various building phases at Baalbek. For the moment, it seemed more important to establish whether there existed any independent evidence to suggest that the Great Platform might not have been built by the Romans.

Over the past thirty or so years a number of ancient mysteries writers have seen fit to associate the Great Platform with a much earlier era of mankind, simply because of the sheer uniqueness of the Trilithon. They have suggested that the Romans built upon an existing structure of immense antiquity. Unfortunately, however, their personal observations cannot be taken as independent evidence of the Great Platform’s pre-Roman origin.

There is, however, tantalising evidence to show that some of the earliest archaeologists and European travellers to visit Baalbek came away believing that the Great Platform was much older than the nearby Roman temples. For instance, the French scholar, Louis Felicien de Saulcy, stayed at Baalbek from 16 to 18 March 1851 and became convinced that the podium walls were the "remains of a pre-Roman temple". 39

Far more significant, however, were the observations of respected French archaeologist Ernest Renan, who was allowed archaeological exploration of the site by the French army during the mid nineteenth century. 40 It is said that when he arrived there it was to satisfy his own conviction that no pre-Roman remains existed on the site. 41 Yet following an in-depth study of the ruins, Renan came to the conclusion that the stones of the Trilithon were very possibly "of Phoenician origin", 42 in other words they were a great deal older that the Roman temple complex. His reasoning for this assertion was that, in the words of Ragette, he saw "no inherent relation between the Roman temple and this work". 43

Archaeologists who have followed in Renan’s footsteps have closed up this gap of uncertainty, firmly asserting that the outer podium wall was constructed at the same time as the Temple of Jupiter, despite the fact that inner podium wall is seen as a pre-Roman construction. Yet the openness of individuals such as de Saulcy and Renan gives us reason to doubt the assertions of their modern-day equivalents.

A similar situation prevails in Egyptology, where in the late nineteenth, early twentieth centuries megalithic structures such the Valley Temple at Giza and the Osireion at Abydos were initially ascribed very early dates of construction by archaeologists before later being cited as contemporary to more modern structures placed in their general proximity. As has now become clear from recent research into the age of the Great Sphinx, there was every reason to have ascribed these cyclopean structures much earlier dates of construction. So what was it that so convinced early archaeologists and travellers that the Trilithon was much older than the rest of the temple complex?

The evidence is self apparent and runs as follows:

a) One has only to look at the positioning of the Trilithon and the various courses of large stone blocks immediately beneath it to realise that they bear very little relationship to the rest of the Temple of Jupiter. Moreover, the visible courses of smaller blocks above and to the right of the Trilithon are markedly different in shape and appearance to the smaller, more regular sized courses in the rest of the obviously Roman structure.

b) The limestone courses that make up the outer podium base — which, of course, includes the Trilithon — are heavily pitted by wind and sand erosion, while the rest of the Temple of Jupiter still possesses comparatively smooth surfaces. The same type of wind and sand erosion can be seen on the huge limestone blocks used in many of the megalithic temple complexes around the northern Mediterranean coast, as well as the cyclopean walls of Mycenean Greece. Since all these structures are between 3000 and 6000 years of age, it could be argued that the lower courses of the outer podium wall at Baalbek antedate the Roman temple complex by at least a thousand years.

c) Other classical temple complexes have been built upon much earlier megalithic structures. This includes the Acropolis in Athens (erected 447-406 BC), where archaeologists have unearthed cyclopean walls dating to the Mycenean or Late Bronze Age period (1600-1100 BC). Similar huge stone walls appear at Delphi, Tiryns and Mycenae.

d) The Phoenicians are known to have employed the use of cyclopean masonry in the construction of their citadels. For instance, an early twentieth-century drawing of the last remaining prehistoric wall at Aradus, an ancient city on the Syrian coast, shows the use of cyclopean blocks estimated to have been between thirty and forty tonnes a piece.

These are important points in favour of the Great Platform, as in the case of the inner podium, being of much greater antiquity than the Roman, or even the Ptolemaic, temple complex. Yet if we were to accept this possibility, then we must also ask ourselves: who constructed it, and why?

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&ldquoAll things in the world have been made in consideration of everything else. Everything in the heavens, on the earth, and under the earth, is penetrated with connectedness, with relatedness.&rdquo -- Hildegard of Bingen

Keywords: alternative history, esoteric history, unsolved mysteries, ancient civilisations, alternative archaeology, unexplained archaeology

Provides convincing evidence that angels, demons, and fallen angels were flesh-and-blood members of a giant race predating humanity, spoken of in the Bible as the Nephilim.

Lebanon’s history in one building: The Palmyra Hotel

The hotel is a relic that bears testament to almost 150 years of local, regional and global events.

Baalbek, Lebanon – For more than 140 years, through two world wars and a civil war lasting 15 years, the Palmyra Hotel in Baalbek has never closed its doors for a single day.

Built in 1874 by an Orthodox Greek businessman from Constantinople who recognised the tourist appeal of Baalbek’s spectacular Roman ruins, in its heyday the hotel hosted kings, queens and emperors, as well as writers, artists and world-famous musicians.

Ahmed Kassab was a child when he started working at the hotel in 1954 [ India Stoughton /Al Jazeera]

The hotel is reminiscent of the Grand Budapest Hotel in Wes Anderson’s bittersweet comedy.

The turbulent history of the region has seen the Palmyra Hotel transformed into a pale imitation of its former glory, manned by ageing retainers who remember its golden years with nostalgia.

Ahmed Kassab, now in his 70s, has worked at the hotel for more than 60 years.

“It is part of me,” he says simply, seated in the lobby in an ancient tailcoat. He smiles as he recalls his first day of work, during Eid al-Adha of 1954.

“The father of a friend told me to come inside and help in the kitchen,” he says. “I was so small that they had to bring a wooden box for me to stand on so I could reach the table.”

When Kassab finished school, he wanted to become a teacher but the owner begged him to stay on and work at the hotel, where they began throwing dinner parties for hundreds of guests.

“I started with two tables, then four, then six, and then eventually they gave me all the tables,” he laughs uproariously, wheezing a little. “This was my happiest moment.”

At its peak, The Palmyra Hotel had 40 rooms and more than 60 staff, Kassab says wistfully. Today, only 20 of the rooms remain open and the seven staff members sometimes have nothing to do, as days go by without any guests.

Bitterly cold in winter and lacking modern amenities such as mini bars and a swimming pool, the Palmyra no longer caters to high-society guests.

But for history lovers it remains a fascinating place a relic of Lebanon ‘s colonial past that bears testament to almost 150 years of local, regional and global events, all of which have impacted the hotel in different ways.

In the entrance of the hotel, there is a huge portrait of Germany’s last Emperor and King of Prussia, Kaiser Wilhelm II, standing to attention. The Kaiser stayed at the hotel in 1898 while planning a joint German-Ottoman excavation of Baalbek’s archaeological site. His troops later stayed at the Palmyra, which was occupied by Ottoman forces during World War I.

The hotel’s entrance has a picture of Kaiser Wilhelm II, reminiscent of his stay there in 1898 [India Stoughton/Al Jazeera]

The Declaration du Grand Liban – which established the boundaries of modern-day Lebanon as determined under the French Mandate – was signed at the hotel following World War I and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.

Reflecting the shifting balance of power in the Middle East, the Palmyra later served as headquarters for British troops during World War II.

Three guestbooks dating back to 1889 shed light on the Palmyra’s history. In the 1920s, dozens of entries from American tourists attest to the hotel’s position on the pilgrim trail to Jerusalem. Kings and queens used to stop at the Palmyra while touring Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and the Holy Land.

“It was the first hotel that had a private bathroom and the lady-in-waiting would have the key,” says Rima Husseini, who owns the hotel with her husband Ali.

Royals and heads of state to have stayed at the hotel include Charles de Gaulle, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, King Faisal I of Iraq, King Abdullah I of Jordan, the Shah of Iran and the Empress of Abyssinia, among many others.

The challenge was – and still is – never to close the hotel's doors for a day

Rima Husseini, Palmyra hotel owner

Inside the cavernous entrance hall, with its worn tiles and fraying rugs, hang sketches and letters signed by Jean Cocteau, who spent a month in the hotel in 1960.

Other famous guests include local stars such as Fairouz and Sabah, as well as Nina Simone, Ella Fitzgerald, Albert Einstein and George Bernard Shaw.

The hotel’s stream of showbiz visitors began with the founding of the annual Baalbeck International Festival in 1955.

But the 1967 war put an end to the pilgrim trail, and then came Lebanon’s 1975-1990 Civil War during which the festival was suspended. The guests went with it. “When my husband Ali bought the hotel during the [civil] war, the old owner wanted to leave because there had been no festival for over five years,” says Husseini.

“Ali tried to convince him to stay, because he knew during the war that no one with a sense of preserving such a place would come in. So he took it, just to preserve it.

The challenge was – and still is – never to close the hotel’s doors for a day.”

Guestbooks hold records of kings, queens, artists, writers and tourists who passed through the hotel [India Stoughton/Al Jazeera]

The civil war now entering its sixth year across the Syrian border, which lies less than 15 miles away, has compounded the hotel’s troubles.

Today, the Palmyra Hotel no longer hosts kings and queens or stars of the stage, but tourists seeking history, rather than luxury, among the creaking beds, gurgling pipes and ancient furnishings, which include hand-carved mahogany furniture, enormous colourful tapestries and green ostrich-skin lampshades.

With this in mind, the owners purchased a traditional house nearby in 2000, intending to create a more up-market alternative.

Known as L’Annexe, the second venue features five bedrooms, each decorated in a different style.

As of last November, they are being rented out via a boutique hotel company called L’Hote Libanais. The idea is to offer a more comfortable alternative for guests who find the Palmyra’s ancient infrastructure off-putting.

“Bit by bit we’ve tried to make it more comfortable but at the same time keep this atmosphere, with everything – even the walls – speaking,” says Husseini.

Palmyra Hotel’s owners strive to preserve the hotel with its creaking beds, gurgling pipes and ancient furnishings [India Stoughton/Al Jazeera]

“Any outside contractor will want to showcase what he can do.” No single person should have the right to transform the hotel, she believes, because “the Palmyra has the soul of so many different people”.

Instead, Husseini is inviting local designers to come and add a personal touch to a single room or expanse of wall. “This is a place that was marked by people,” she says. “It has stories to tell.”

How Did They Transport Baalbek Stones?

Some curious facts about the Baalbek temple are that you will see stone lotuses carved on the temple’s ceilings. That is intriguing, because there are no lotuses in Lebanon. But when I later came to India, I saw that the lotus is the most common symbolism of spirituality here. I haven’t seen an Indian temple without one. Secondly, the foundation stones of the temple are supposed to weigh eight hundred tonnes each. The ancients transported these immense stones, and also erected huge columns, which are at least 10 feet in diameter and 50 feet high. It is said that they were moved with the help of elephants, but people don’t give much credence to this as there are no elephants in West Asia.

The lotus is the most common symbolism of spirituality in India.

All these pieces of the puzzle dramatically fell together, when I was learning to perform the traditional Guru Pooja in the ashram in India. I was told that the traditional way to honor the guru is known as Shodashopachara, or 16 ways of treating a Guru. Something called a Guru Pooja stone, a stone with 16 corners, is also used for the purpose. When I saw it, I was reminded of this large stone lying in the middle of the ruins of Baalbek and I was able to connect the dots — the lotuses, the elephants and the 16-cornered stone.

Suddenly, my coming to India did not seem so novel or original. Obviously, there was a cultural interaction going back thousands of years.


The name Zahlé is a Syriac [6] word that refers to "moving places". The occasional landslides that take place on deforested hills around the town are probably at the origin of the name.

There has been human activity in the area for at least 5000 years. In the 18th century, Zahlé was a small village of some 200 houses. [7] Its relative geographic isolation from the local centres of power in Mount Lebanon and Syria caused the village not to have any significant allies in the region to fall back on in case of conflicts or attacks. Zahlé was burned in 1777 and 1791. [ citation needed ]

Tradition holds that many Christians quit the Baalbek region in the 18th century for the newer, more secure town of Zahlé on account of the Harfush dynasty's oppression and rapacity, but more critical studies have questioned that interpretation by pointing out that the dynasty was closely allied to the Orthodox Ma‘luf family of Zahlé (where Mustafa Harfush took refuge some years later) and showing that depredations from various quarters as well as Zahlé's growing commercial attractiveness accounted for Baalbek's decline in the 18th century. What repression there was did not always target the Christian community per se. The Shiite ‘Usayran family, for example, is also said to have left Baalbek then to avoid expropriation by the Harfushes and established itself as one of the premier commercial households of Sidon and later even served as consuls of Iran. [8]

At the end of the 18th century, Zahlé had one thousand inhabitants and two hundred houses. By 1820, Zahlé's population had grown to 5,000. By 1850 it was 7 to 8,000 and the town had become the commercial centre for the Beka'a and main depot for the local grain harvest. Some of the factors for the expansion included the Egyptian Occupation (1831-1841), which lead to the opening of the country to European trade, the Crimean War which had caused grain shortages in Europe and the expansion of silk production in Mount Lebanon. [9]

Besides controlling the grain trade Zahlé became a centre for livestock from Kurdistan and Arabia and produced leather, woven and dyed goods, trading with Aleppo, Damascus and Beirut. By the 1860s and 1870s the local merchants were prosperous but were still dependent on banks in Beirut for credit for their transactions. [10]

The current population is not accurately known, since no census has been conducted in Lebanon since 1932, but a sensible estimate gives 60,000 people in the town proper, [ citation needed ] making it the country's fourth largest (the locals tend to give figures of 200,000 or 300,000 inhabitants, which however are misleading and completely unrealistic) The urban area includes the neighbouring towns of Saadnayel, Taalabaya, Chtaura and Jdita to the Southwest, which have come to form a single urban entity since the late 1990s due to anarchic growth, and is home to about 100,000 people. The metropolitan area extends over much of the Zahlé District and additionally comprises:

  • the town of Kab Elias to the Southwest
  • the town of Bar Elias to the South
  • the villages of Furzol, Ablah and Niha to the Northeast
  • and the towns of Riyaq, Haoush Hala and Ali en Nahri to the East

with a total population close to 200,000.

Zahlé is the largest predominantly Christian town in Lebanon and the Middle East (with Christians forming around 90% of its total population) and the one with the largest number of Catholics.[1] While several Middle Eastern cities (Damascus, Cairo, Jerusalem. ) have larger Christian communities, these do not constitute a majority. In Lebanon, Beirut also has a larger Christian population than Zahlé (in the city proper), most of which however belongs to the Greek Orthodox confession.

The Christian population of Zahlé has the following approximate composition:

Only two Muslim families remained inside Zahlé during the civil war: Hindi and Zrein. Zahlé's Muslim minority (around 10% of the population) is concentrated in the districts of Karak Nuh (where Noah's tomb is allegedly located) and Haoush el Oumara specifically in an area named "hay el watani", on the Northeastern and Southwestern edge of town respectively. 70% of Muslims in the area are Shia, while the remaining 30% are Sunnis. In the past the town also had a Druze minority and even a small Jewish population, most of which however emigrated during the Lebanese Civil War.

Discover Baalbek, Lebanon

One would assume that the largest Roman temple ever built would be in Rome, but it is in fact the Middle East that is home to the biggest Roman temple complex in the world.

Perched atop a hill overlooking modern-day Lebanon's Beqaa Valley, Baalbek is one of the ancient world's most important pilgrimage sites and a notable destination for thousands of pilgrims who flocked to venerate the three Roman deities Bacchus, Jupiter, and Venus.

Named after the Phoenician god Baal, the ancient Phoenician city of Baalbek was first inhabited as early as 9,000 BC.

After Alexander the Great's conquest in 332BC, the city became known as Heliopolis (City of the Sun) and went by that name throughout the Greco-Roman period. The Romans, who annexed Baalbek to the Roman Empire during their eastern wars and later established colonies in the region, equated Baal with their own god Jupiter Heliopolitan, for whom they built the first temple in 1BC.

The ruins of the early Phoenician temple remain today beneath the Roman Temple of Jupiter, which has endured as the largest and grandest religious building in the history of the Roman Empire since its completion around 60AD. The Romans later built the ornate Temple of Bacchus and the smaller Temple of Venus nearby.

Tourists rest between to the columns of the Temple of Bacchus in the Roman acropolis in the historical city of Baalbeck in the Bekaa valley on July 23, 2008 [HASSAN AMMAR/AFP via Getty Images]

The colossal structure, which boasts the world's tallest stone columns, was built over a period of more than two centuries and became one of the most famous sanctuaries of the Roman world.

With the rise of Christianity in the Roman Empire, the site was Christianised and spared neglect and destruction. While the altar of Jupiter was torn down by Theodosius I who used the stones to construct a Christian basilica, the temples served as Christian places of worship until Muslim rule over the region.

Muslims renamed the area Al-Qalaa (the fortress) after defeating the Byzantine forces at the Battle of Yarmouk and built a mosque amid the ancient Roman temples which they had fortified. The site eventually came under Ottoman rule, having survived more Byzantine raids, the Mongols, and numerous military campaigns.

Most of the ruins were restored throughout much of the 20th century by European and Lebanese archaeologists, and in 1984 Baalbek was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Today, the site is a Lebanese national treasure and a spectacular backdrop to the Baalbeck International Festival which hosts captivating performances by global artists every year.

A trip to Lebanon would be incomplete without a visit to Baalbek to marvel at the ancient site's magnitude, grandeur, and tremendous history.

The Largest Manmade Block Ever Was Just Discovered in Lebanon

A team of German and Lebanese archeologists just uncovered the largest manmade stone block ever discovered. The block, which was found in a limestone quarry in Baalbek, Lebanon, measures㻀 feet by 19.6 feet by 18 feet, Gizmodo reports, and weighs an estimatedف,650 tons. Other massive manmade blocks were previously found nearby, including one weighing up to 1,240 tons and nicknamed "The Stone of the Pregnant Woman." 

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The blocks likely date back at least 2,000 years, to around 27 BC. At the time, Discovery writes, Baalbek was a premier outpost of the Roman empire and went by the name Heliopolis—“the city of the sun.”

The German Archeological Institute reports that the block was probably intended for use in a nearby temple for the god Jupiter. This stone and others, however, never made it out of the quarry, probably because they turned out to be much too massive to transport, the Institute reports. Indeed, a crack had already formed in one corner of the Stone of the Pregnant Woman. 

Even though the block was likely a major disappointment to its creators, they unwittingly set world records. The newly discovered block, the Institute writes, is "the biggest boulder known from antiquity." 

Watch the video: Baalbek Megaliths