The Roman ruins at Baalbek

The Temple of Jupiter in Baalbek. To give you an idea of size, look for the tiny people in front of the temple. Photo by David Lansing.

The Roman ruins at Baalbek are immense and wondrous and totally spooky. I’m not at all a paranormal sort of guy, but the ghosts in this place were as thick as the dark clouds overhead. Not too surprising when you realize that these temples were the site of all sorts of licentious and bloodthirsty forms of worship for centuries. And did we mention that some 100,000 slaves worked on the project from about 60 BC through 138 AD? How many of those poor fellows do you suppose left Baalbek in an upright position?

For hours we stroll through the spooky ruins, wandering through the Temple of Bacchus, home to sacred prostitution, taking in the immensity of the Temple of Jupiter (shown in the photo above; this is also where that 1,000 ton monolith, now called the Stone of the Pregnant Woman, was to go, although god only knows how they were going to get it down the hill from the quarry).

For centuries these magnificent ruins were forgotten. They were rediscovered in 1751 by English architects James Dawkins and Robert Wood, but then ignored again following a devastating earthquake eight years later (which caused the fall of the ramparts and three of the huge pillars of the Temple of Jupiter–on the left in the photo–as well as the departure of most of the local population) until a century and a half later when Kaiser Wilhelm II visited Baalbek in 1898 while on a tour of the Middle East. The Kaiser immediately contacted the Sultan of Turkey for permission to excavate the site and for the next seven years a team of archaeologists recorded the site in detail.

After the defeat of Turkey and Germany in WWI, Baalbek’s German scholars were replaced by French ones who, in turn, were replaced by Lebanese. And restoration work has been ongoing ever since.

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