The site was inscribed in 1984 as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
History of Baalbek
Nothing is known of Baalbek prior to the Greek conquest of Syria. Initially a Phoenician settlement dedicated to the worship of the deity of the sun Baal, Baalbek was known as Heliopolis (City of the Sun) by the Greeks in the 4th century BC.
After Alexander the Great‘s conquest of Persia in the 330s BC, Baalbek formed part of the Diadochi kingdoms of Egypt and Syria. It then fell to the Ptolemaic dynasty of Egypt, under which the town was called Heliopolis.
It was during Roman times that Baalbek reached especially grew, being annexed and thus becoming a Roman colony in 47BC under Julius Caesar. Over the next two centuries, the Romans would imbue Baalbek with the empire’s largest holy temples. By 150AD, it would be home to the vast temples of Jupiter, Venus and Bacchus.
The city passed into Byzantine hands and was then occupied by the Muslim army in 634 AD, coming under Arab domination in 637 AD.
The ruins of Baalbek first came to European attention in the 16th century. Though much of the area had been destroyed by earthquakes, between 1898-1903 a German expedition excavated the two Roman temples and began to reconstruct the ruins.
From the 20th century, the city was administered by various Muslim rulers of Syria. After World War I the French mandatory authorities included Baalbek in Lebanon. Reconstruction stagnated until the end of Lebanon’s civil war, with preservation and resultant tourism growing from the 1990s onwards.
Today, visitors to Baalbek can see the impressive ruins of the incredible structures that remain. This includes standing in the shadow of six of the original 54 columns of the Temple of Jupiter – the largest temple ever built by the Empire. Baalbek is also the place to see the extremely well-preserved Temple of Bacchus, the stairs of the Temple of Mercury, and a ceremonial entryway known as the propylaea.
There are also ruins from Baalbek’s time beyond Roman occupation. For example, the ruins of the Roman Temple of Venus show how it was incorporated into a Byzantine church. This and other sites tell of the time of the Byzantine Emperor Theodosius, who destroyed many of the Roman holy sites in favour of churches and basilicas.
Visitors can also see the remnants of a large 8th century mosque from the Arab conquest. Baalbek is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Getting to Baalbek
From the centre of Lebanon, Baalbek is a 50 minute drive via Zahlé – Baalbek Hwy. This is by far the best way to reach the site.
A small but densely populated Mediterranean country, Lebanon is the site of many historic sites that nod to the country's varied past. Here's our pick of 5 of the best.