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Baalbek’s Ancient Ruins

Posted in Modern & Historical Art, Sculptures & Monuments  by admin on October 24th, 2008

A part of the Roman Empire, the ruins at Baalbek constitute some of the largest temples. The Baalbek ruins are located in the Bekka valley at a distance of 85 kilometers from the city of Beirut. Though the actual date of the foundation of Baalbek is not known, Canaan is believed to be closely associated with Baalbek. It was translated into Greek as Phoenicia was translated from Phoenix.

The phoenix comes from the fabled bird believed to live for 5 to 6 hundred years and then burning itself into ashes. Ever more powerful and youthful, this mythical creature is then believed to rise from its ashes with more energy and vigor to last another 5 to 6 hundred years. Thus symbolizing resurrection and immortality, for the Canaanites, Bal was considered a sacred city.

The ruins of this city and its temples still reflect that sacredness, though the sacred sites and the shrines within the caves of the Canaanites have been since replaced by newer sanctuaries. The sights everywhere are even then a balm for soothing the senses. High columns, stunning cornice that are completely carved and the high drums can only be photographed so well into your memory. The temple of Bacchus and the temple of Jupiter have columns which area as high as 57 feet. The Parthenon’s columns in Athens are only about 24 feet in height while the stones used for the Egyptian Pyramids are a maximum of 18 feet long.

Some of the blocks used in the Baalbek’s ruins are about 64 feet in length and can weigh a whooping 800 tons! These together build the Cyclopean wall that makes the base for the structure of the temple of Jupiter. In the year of 1751, the temple had been drawn with nine columns and in the next 8 years high intensity earthquakes destroyed three of them. The Cyclopean wall is on three sides of the temple. Upon the six columns on the west side of the temple of Jupiter are placed the Trilithon. These are huge blocks, probably the only time such large rocks were handled by man; about 12 feet thick, 64 feet long and 14 feet 6 inches high. Due to the presence of these Trilithon, the temple at one time was called the temple of Trilithon and even Baalbek was referred to as the City of Trilithon.

The temple of Bacchus probably signifies the power and immortality of the state through its architecture the most. The lintel of the temple consists of 3 stones with the one in the center having dislodged in 1202. It was propped up and resurrected by British consul General Richard Burton in the year 1870, though the prop was later removed and the structure made much more secure in 1901 by the German Archaeological Mission. This lintel is not ordinary, showcasing a huge phoenix with caduceus in its claws. The phoenix is shown carrying a garland of pomegranates and pine cones is in its beak and there are two genii with wings holding onto the ends of the garland. Perhaps this showcases the immortality and power of the city through the phoenix!

The temples of the Roman Empire were quite unlike other dynasties. Continuously added onto, subsidized, construction of courtyards, other tributary temples and sculptures make them the most spectacular sights even when they are so ruined today. Though only a small part of the structures remain, when you stand among these ruins, you shudder at the power and capacity of the Romans, at how big they thought and how huge they dared to build!

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