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Baalbek Baccustempel.jpg
Bacchus temple
State : LebanonLebanon Lebanon
Governorate : Baalbek Hermel
District: Baalbek
Coordinates : 34 ° 1 ′  N , 36 ° 12 ′  E Coordinates: 34 ° 1 ′  N , 36 ° 12 ′  E
Residents : 80,000
Time zone : UTC + 2
Baalbek (Lebanon)
The Jupiter temple with a podium that contains the three largest stones in the world ever built
The largest known building block in the world, the stone of the south

Baalbek ( Arabic بعلبك, DMG Baʿlabakk ) is a provincial capital in Lebanon with around 80,000 inhabitants and an important center of the Bekaa plain . The place has been since the 8th millennium BC. Settled in BC, in Roman times its name was Colonia Heliopolis . Baalbek is famous for its huge temple complexes , including the imposing ruins of the Jupiter shrine, one of the largest sacred complexes of the Roman Empire , as well as other Roman temples. The six still standing columns of the Temple of Jupiter are the symbol of Baalbek and - besides the cedar  - of the whole of Lebanon. The temples and the old town of Baalbek belong since 1984 to the World Heritage of UNESCO .



The settlement of Baalbek can be traced back to the pre-ceramic Neolithic (PPNB). The settlement mound (Tell), which is surrounded by the altar courtyard of the Roman Jupiter shrine, contains evidence, especially stone tools, but also organic remains that can be dated to the eighth millennium BC. A continuous settlement can be observed based on the ceramic. Baalbek is the pre-classical name of the place, it is translated as "Lord of the sources". However, the name cannot be found in any pre-classical source; it appears for the first time in the early fifth century AD in a Syrian copy of the theophany of Bishop Eusebius of Caesarea and then again on coins from the Ummayadic period. Heliopolis means sun city and is with some probability taken over from the Egyptian Heliopolis . Since it is a Greek word, it is assumed that this name comes from the Hellenistic period, probably the third century BC, when the landscape of Koilesyria , "hollow Syria", was under the rule of the Ptolemies.

Roman epoch

In the year 63 BC the Roman general Pompey passed through Heliopolis on his way from Apamea to Damascus . The report of the Jewish historian Flavius ​​Josephus records the first historical event that can be associated with Baalbek. The first mention, however, is at the turn of the times in Strabo . His report shows that Baalbek was still part of the territory of the Colonia Iulia Augusta Felix Berytus , which is now Beirut , which was established in 15 BC . A little later, analogous to Beirut, the name Colonia Iulia Augusta Felix Heliopolis is attested for Baalbek on coins and inscriptions . Veterans of Legio VIII Augusta and Legio V Macedonia were settled . Neither Strabo or Flavius ​​Josephus nor Pliny or Claudius Ptolemy, who also mention Heliopolis, name the city as an independent Colonia , and nothing is reported about the city, its history or its buildings. Probably the place was rather insignificant back then.

According to the testimony of the late antique author Macrobius , Emperor Trajan had an oracle given by Jupiter Optimus Maximus Heliopolitanus, the main god of Baalbek, before his Parthian march, probably in the year 114 AD. In order to test the god beforehand, however, he supposedly sent an empty, sealed letter to Baalbek. When the emperor got back an equally empty letter, he was, as it is said, convinced of the power of the god and asked again in writing about the success of his campaign against the Parthians. In response, he received the broken grapevine of a Roman centurion, a sacrifice. According to Macrobius, this mysterious answer was interpreted to mean that only the bones of Trajan would return, and correctly the emperor died on the way back from the campaign in 117 AD. Most historians, however, consider the story to be an invention - Macrobius lived almost three centuries after the alleged events. The story shows above all that the oracle of Baalbeek still enjoyed a good reputation among non-Christians in the fourth century.

Because the city probably only became really important around the year 200. The Roman jurist Ulpian reports at the beginning of the third century AD that Baalbek was awarded the ius italicum after the victory of the emperor Septimius Severus over his rival Pescennius Niger in 194/5 , which amounted to a tax exemption for the city, which is now like a place was treated in Italy. At the same time, coinage began under Severus in Baalbek, which ran with interruptions until under Emperor Gallienus . These honors show that Baalbek had been on Severus' side during the civil war and was richly rewarded for it. Now it took off rapidly. On the coins of the third century there are often price crowns with the inscription Certamen Sacrum Capitolinum Oecomenicum Iselasticum Heliopolitanum ("holy and empire-wide games according to Capitoline rules"); these were competitions, the winners of which had the right to a ceremonial entry into their hometown.

Under Emperor Constantine I , the first church was probably built in Baalbek, the location of which is unknown; it is possible that it was destroyed again during the pagan reaction under Emperor Julian the Apostate . But it was only the edict of Emperor Theodosius I that allowed Christians to build a basilica in the altar courtyard. For this purpose, parts of the Temple of Jupiter and the two tower altars were also built. The temple was already partially damaged, including by violent destruction. The remains of this church stood until 1935. The round temple was converted into a church in honor of St. Barbara after a long period of no cultic activity.

Still, the temples remained active; It was not until 554 that the sanctuary of Sol Invictus Mithras is said to have been burned out and given up after a lightning strike. Because in general, paganism in Baalbek has been very long-lived, there are a number of reports that mention martyrs and repeated missionary attempts. For a very long time, non-Christians formed the majority here, as in Harran . From the fifth century bishops from Baalbek are attested; a Nonnos is uncertain, a Joseph and a Peter are certainly attested in 445 and 451 at synods in Antioch. But even in the fifth and sixth centuries there is talk of fighting against pagans in Baalbek. In 579, for example, Emperor Tiberius Constantinus had a revolt of the Old Believers, who are said to have oppressed the Christian minority in Baalbek, bloodily suppressed.

The Roman buildings

The temples

The monumental sanctuary of Jupiter Optimus Maximus Heliopolitanus, the so-called Bacchus temple and the small round temple are formative for Baalbek. To this day, an attraction for tourism and an important example of Roman architecture for antiquity research, the buildings and the castle formed from them dominated the city for 2000 years. Another temple dedicated to Mercury is lost.

The thermal baths

To the southwest of the Jupiter sanctuary is the site of the so-called Bustan al-Khan (Garden of the Caravanserai). Extensive excavation and restoration work by the Lebanese antiquities administration took place there in the sixties and seventies of the twentieth century. Parts of a large thermal bath from the second century AD were uncovered, the portico of which was re-erected. Directly next to it was a large peristyle courtyard, which is interpreted as a podium hall, as a large banquet facility.

More buildings

There are a number of other ancient buildings in Baalbek. There are remains of a theater under the Palmyra Hotel. In the spring basin of Ras al-Ain there is probably the remainder of another small temple. A Roman gate is integrated into the wall of a former barracks northeast of the Jupiter shrine. In the urban area, remains of mosaics were repeatedly found during construction work, which indicate residential development.

Byzantine-Arabic copper coin
(fals) from the Umayyad period , on the lapel of which both the ancient and the Arabic name of the minting place are indicated: on the right (from top to bottom) you can still see ΠΟΛΕ (left was ΗΛΙΟ), below the stamp M (= 40 numbers ) has the Kufi letteringبعلبك.

Arab era

In September 636 the Arab general Abu Ubaida conquered Baalbek without encountering any resistance worth mentioning. He issued the population of Baalbek, Greeks, Persians and Arabs, a letter of protection, so that initially there were no significant changes for the city and the population. A Christian part of the population of Baalbek can be proven by lists of bishops up to the eleventh century.

In the 10th century, Baalbek initially belonged to the Uqail Bedouins . In 975 Zalim ibn Mauhub, the chief of the Uqail, had to cede the city to the Turkish military leader Alp-Tigin , who finally lost it to the Fatimids of Egypt. They had to defend Baalbek against the Byzantines and appointed, among other things, Anusch-Tigin ad-Duzbiri as the city's commander before Baalbek fell temporarily to the Mirdasids (Banu Kilab) in the early 11th century . In 1075 the city came under Seljuk control. In 1139 the Turkish Atabeg Zengi conquered Baalbek and appointed the Kurd Nadschmuddin Ayyub as governor of the city and its surrounding area. His son Saladin grew up there. In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the Jupiter sanctuary and the temple of Bacchus were merged and expanded into a citadel. The Propylaea, the former entrance to the sanctuary, was closed.

The Arabic sources usually describe Baalbek as a rich, beautiful and above all fertile city. In the fairy tales from the Arabian Nights , sweets from Baalbek are praised. In 1260 Baalbek was conquered by the Mongols ; in the course of the Mamluk counterstrike, the city came under their rule.

Ottoman era

In 1517 Baalbek was conquered by the Ottomans . From the beginning of the seventeenth century until 1851 it was primarily the Shiite Harfusch family who ruled Baalbek. During this period the city's size and importance declined rapidly, and in the nineteenth century Baalbek was little more than a village. The ruins of Baalbek have been a popular travel destination for the European upper class since the seventeenth century. Some visitors to Baalbek made drawings and engravings, so that knowledge of the site spread quickly. Up to 1759 there were still nine columns from the Temple of Jupiter, as they were still drawn by Robert Wood . Then a great earthquake knocked three of them down. On November 10th and 11th, 1898, the German Emperor Wilhelm II visited the ruins of Baalbek during his trip to the Orient. He was so impressed that he immediately ordered an excavation. After approval by the Turkish authorities, Robert Koldewey was already on site at Christmas 1898 to work out an initial assessment of the goals and costs of the planned excavation. Finally, between 1900 and 1905, under the direction of Otto Puchstein , the sanctuary was cleared of the burial and archaeologically examined.


The conflict with Israel

Baalbek's population today is Muslim and for the most part Shiite. The organization " Hezbollah " was founded here by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard stationed in the Sheikh Abdullah Barracks and initially had its headquarters in the city. It was moved to Beirut since the late 1980s . In 1997 there was an internal split in Baalbek when its former general secretary Subhi at-Tufeili called a “hunger revolt” in the city and called for a tax boycott. He accused the Hariri government of investing the construction money in prestigious buildings in Beirut, while in Baalbek even the street lighting did not work. Hezbollah operates a hospital in Baalbek. An Islamic college has been vacant since the unrest around Tufeili. According to Hezbollah, the team that kidnapped two Israeli soldiers in July 2006 had trained around Baalbek. In 2004 there was a martial "exhibition on the resistance movement of Lebanon" organized by Hezbollah at the entrance to the Roman temple district. Baalbek was Lebanon's drug capital, especially during the civil war (1975-1990) , in which there were dozens of drug laboratories. The hemp fields flourished in the fertile soils of the Bekaa plain .

International Festival of Baalbek

In 1955 a cultural festival took place in the temple ruins of Baalbek for the first time, which was organized in 1956 by Lebanese President Camille Chamoun as a state cultural institution and has since taken place every year (with a war-related interruption from 1975 to 1996) in July and August under the name International Festival of Baalbeck. Theater and ballet performances as well as concerts in the fields of classical music, world music, jazz, pop and rock take place in front of an audience of up to 40,000 visitors a year. It is the most important cultural festival in the Middle East. Highlights so far have included performances by Plácido Domingo , Hasmik Papian , Ella Fitzgerald , Miles Davis , Johnny Hallyday , Sting , the New York Philharmonic , the Royal Ballet from London, the Comédie-Française and the regular appearances of the Lebanese singer Fairuz . The picturesquely illuminated, imposing ruins offer different venues for 700 (inside the Bacchus Temple) or 2,000 to 4,500 spectators (on the steps of the Jupiter Temple and the Bacchus Temple as well as between Jupiter and Bacchus Temple).


Web links

Commons : Baalbek  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. UNESCO World Heritage Center: Baalbek. Retrieved August 29, 2017 .
  2. van Ess 2008, p. 113
  3. van Ess - Weber 1999, pp. 41-44
  4. Jos. ant. Iud. XIV, 3, 2
  5. Str. Geography XVI 2, 10
  6. Plin. nat. V 80
  7. Ptol. V 14, 18; VIII 20, 11
  8. Macr. Sat. I, 23, 10-11
  9. Ulp. de censibus I in Dig. L 15, 1, 2
  10. van Ess - Weber 1999, pp. 68-69
  11. John of Ephesus , Church history 3:27–30.
  12. van Ess - Weber 1999, p. 72