Baalbek (anc. Heliopolis), a town of the Buka?a (Coelesyria), altitude 3850 ft., situated E. of the Litani and near the parting between its waters and those of the Asi. Pop. about 5000, including 2000 Metawali and 1000 Christians (Maronite and Orthodox). Since 1902 Baalbek has been connected by railway with Rayak (Rejak) on the Beirut-Damascus line, and since 1907 with Aleppo. It is famous for its temple ruins of the Roman period, before which we have no record of it, certain though it be that Heliopolis is a translation of an earlier native name, in which Baal was an element. It has been suggested, but without good reason, that this name was the Baalgad of Josh. xi. 17.
Heliopolis was made a colonia probably by Octavian (coins of 1st century A.D.), and there must have been a Baal temple there in which Trajan consulted the oracle. The foundation of the present buildings, however, dates from Antoninus Pius, and their dedication from Septimius Severus, whose coins first show the two temples. The great courts of approach were not finished before the reigns of Caracalla and Philip. In commemoration, no doubt, of the dedication of the new sanctuaries, Severus conferred the jus Italicum on the city.
The greater of the two temples was sacred to Jupiter (Baal), identified with the Sun, with whom were associated Venus and Mercury. The lesser temple was built in honour of Bacchus (not the Sun, as formerly believed). Jupiter-Baal was represented locally as a beardless god in long scaly drapery, holding a whip in his right hand and lightning and ears of corn in his left. Two bulls supported him. In this guise he passed into European worship in the 3rd and 4th centuries A.D. The extreme licence of the Heliopolitan worship is often animadverted upon by early Christian writers, and Constantine, making an effort to curb the Venus cult, built a basilica. Theodosius erected another, with western apse, in the main court of the Jupiter temple.
+ Read More
When Abu Ubaida (or Obaida) attacked the place after the Moslem capture of Damascus (A.D. 635), it was still an opulent city and yielded a rich booty. It became a bone of contention between the various Syrian dynasties and the caliphs first of Damascus, then of Egypt, and in 748 was sacked with great slaughter. In 1090 it passed to the Seljuks, and in 1134 to Jenghiz Khan; but after 1145 it remained attached to Damascus and was captured by Saladin in 1175. The Crusaders raided its valley more than once, but never took the city. Three times shaken by earthquake in the 12th century, it was dismantled by Hulagu in 1260. But it revived, and most of its fine Moslem mosque and fortress architecture, still extant, belongs to the reign of Sultan Kalaūn (1282) and the succeeding century, during which Abulfeda describes it as a very strong place. In 1400 Timur pillaged it, and in 1517 it passed, with the rest of Syria, to the Ottoman dominion. But Ottoman jurisdiction was merely nominal in the Lebanon district, and Baalbek was really in the hands of the Metawali (see Lebanon), who retained it against other Lebanon tribes, until “Jezzar” Pasha, the rebel governor of the Acre province, broke their power in the last half of the 18th century. The anarchy which succeeded his death in 1804 was only ended by the Egyptian occupation (1832). With the treaty of London (1840) Baalbek became really Ottoman, and since the settlement of the Lebanon (1864) has attracted great numbers of tourists.
The ruins were brought to European notice by Pierre Belon in 1555, though previously visited, in 1507, by Martin von Baumgarten. Much damaged by the earthquake of 1759, they remained a wilderness of fallen blocks till 1901, when their clearance was undertaken by the German Archaeological Institute and entrusted to the direction of Prof. O. Puchstein. They lie mainly on the ancient Acropolis, which has been shored up with huge walls to form a terrace raised on vaults and measuring about 1100 ft. from E. to W. The Propylaea lie at the E. end, and were approached by a flight of steps now quarried away. These propylaea formed a covered hall, or vestibule, about 35 ft. deep, flanked with towers richly decorated within and without (much damaged by Arab reconstruction). Columns stood in front, whose bases still exist and bear the names of Antoninus Pius and Julia Domna. Hence, through a triple gateway in a richly ornamented screen, access is gained to the first or Hexagonal Court, which measures about 250 ft. from angle to angle. It is now razed almost to foundation level; but it can be seen that it was flanked with halls each having four columns in front. A portal on the W., 50 ft. wide, flanked by lesser ones 10 ft. wide (that on the N. is alone preserved), admitted to the Main Court, in whose centre was the High Altar of Burnt Sacrifice. This altar and a great tank on the N. were covered by the foundations of Theodosius' basilica and not seen till the recent German clearance. The Main Court measures about 440 ft. from E. to W. and 370 ft. from N. to S., thus covering about 3½ acres. It had a continuous fringe of covered halls of various dimensions and shapes, once richly adorned with statues and columnar screens. Some of these halls are in fair preservation. Stairs on the W. led up to the temple of Jupiter-Baal, now much ruined, having only 6 of the 54 columns of its peristyle erect. Three fell in the earthquake of 1759. Those still standing are Nos. 11 to 16 in the southern rank. Their bases and shafts are not finished, though the capitals and rich entablature seem completely worked. They have a height of 60 ft. and diameter of 7½ ft., and are mostly formed of three blocks. The architrave is threefold and bears a frieze with lion-heads, on which rest a moulding and cornice.
The temple of Bacchus stood on a platform of its own formed by a southern projection of the Acropolis. It was much smaller than the Jupiter temple, but is better preserved. The steps of the E. approach were intact up to 1688. The temple was peripteral with 46 columns in its peristyle. These were over 52 ft. in height and of the Corinthian order, and supported an entablature 7 ft. high with double frieze, connected with the cella walls by a coffered ceiling, which contained slabs with heads of gods and emperors. Richard Burton, when consul-general at Damascus in 1870, cleared an Arab screen out of the vestibule, and in consequence the exquisite doorway leading into the cella can now be well seen. On either side of it staircases constructed within columns lead to the roof. The cracked door-lintel, which shows an eagle on the soffit, was propped up first by Burton, and lately, more securely, by the Germans. The cella, now ruinous, had inner wall-reliefs and engaged columns, which supported rich entablatures.
The vaults below the Great Court of the Jupiter Temple, together with the supporting walls of the terrace, are noticeable. In the W. wall of the latter occur the three famous megaliths, which gave the name Trilithon to the Jupiter temple in Byzantine times. These measure from 63 to 64 ft. in length and 13 ft. in height and breadth, and have been raised 20 ft. above the ground. They are the largest blocks known to have been used in actual construction, but are excelled by another block still attached to its bed in the quarries half a mile S.W. This is 68 ft. long by 14 ft. high and weighs about 1500 tons. For long these blocks were supposed, even by European visitors, to be relics of a primeval race of giant builders.
In the town, below the Acropolis, on the S.E. is a small temple of the late imperial age, consisting of a semicircular cella with a peristyle of eight Corinthian columns, supporting a projecting entablature. The cella is decorated without with a frieze, and within with pillars and arcading. This temple owes its preservation to its use as a church of St Barbara, a local martyr, also claimed by the Egyptian Heliopolis. Hence the building is known as Barbarat al-atika. Considerable remains of the N. gate of the city have also been exposed.
These vast ruins, more imposing from their immensity than pleasing in detail, have been described by scores of travellers and tourists; but it will be sufficient here to refer to the following works:—(First discoverers) M. von Baumgarten, Peregrinatio in ... Syriam (1594); P. Belon, De admirabili operum antiquorum praestantia (1553); and Observacions, &c. (1555). (Before earthquake of 1759) R. Wood, Ruins of Baalbec (1757). (Before excavation) H. Frauberger, Die Akropolis von Baalbek (1892). (After excavation) O. Puchstein, Führer durch die Ruinen v. Baalbek (1905), (with Th. v. Lüpke) Ansichten, &c. (1905). See also R. Phené Spiers, Quart. Stat. Pal. Exp. Fund, 1904, pp. 58-64, and the Builder, 11 Feb. 1905.
1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica, Volume 3. pgs. 89-90.