Baalbek, architectural high point of the Romans

Baalbek. Foto Paul Saad (Flickr)

In the east of the Lebanon lies Baalbek, one of the most important religious centres of the Roman Empire. It is an impressive place where the Romans erected enormous buildings. The most striking are the Temple of Jupiter and the Temple of Bacchus. They are built from massive blocks of stone, each weighing many hundred tons, which tower over visitors.

Temple of Jupiter, Baalbek. Photo Arooma (Pixabay)

Since 1984 Baalbek has been on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

The name means “Baal of Beka”. The city is in the Beka valley in the Baalbek district.

A city with a long history

The city of Baalbek was originally built by the Phoenicians and was known in the Hellenic Period as Heliopolis. The god Baal was among other things the god of the sun.

Baalbek’s golden age began in the year 15 BC. When it became a Roman provincial capital under Emperor Augustus.

The Temple of Bacchus Photo: BlingBling10 at the English Wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0 (]

Het heiligdom van Baalbek is de opvolger van een kleine cultusplaats ter ere van Baal, een lokale god. De Romeinen veranderden dit in een cultusplaats voor Jupiter. Ze hebben echter wel besloten om het traditionele uiterlijk van Baal aan te houden: gekleed in een lang, loshangend gewaad, met zweep en begeleid door twee stieren.

The Temple of Jupiter in the last century.
Baalbek, Temple of Bacchus. Foto Arian Zwegers [CC BY 2.0 (]

The Temple of Jupiter

The large and impressive Temple of Jupiter was erected during the reign of the Emperor Nero (54-68 AD) and parts were restored in the 3rd century. It stands on a podium 20 metres high and the stones of the podium weigh up to 1000 tons. The stones in the walls weigh up to 400 tons. The impressive height was further accentuated by the 20-metre high pillars. Only six of the pillars now remain from the portico which originally ran all around the temple.

Close by lies one of the heaviest stones which was never actually moved to its allotted place.

The largest stone, estimated at more than 1600 tons. It was never put in place. Photo Ralph Ellis [CC BY-SA 4.0 (]

More temples

Other temples also stood around the Temple of Jupiter. Jupiter was the chief god but there were many other gods. So there are temples here to, for example, Atargatis, Hermes and Dionysus or Bacchus. The temple to Bacchus stands at the foot of the Jupiter temple and is also built on a podium. This temple was built later (150 AD) and is better preserved than the main temple to Jupiter. It stands out because of the rich decoration in its portico.

Temple of Jupiter in Baalbek. Photo Paul Saad (Flickr)

Not far away are two other temples. One is circular, probably from the third century, and has a very original floorplan. Although it is known as the Venus Temple, it is actually anonymous, as is its rectangular neighbour, which is older and also refuses to disclose the name of its god.

Text                 Harrie Wolters

Translation     Alun Harvey


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