History of Baalbek, the splendor of Lebanon

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Baalbek, the city that had the largest temple of Jupiter in history, still capable of attracting men and women from every corner of the earth, enchanted by the remains of the past

The words of Ibn Battuta

“Leaving from Mount Lebanon we arrived at Baalbek, a beautiful and ancient city among the most splendid in Syria. Surrounded by magnificent orchards and superb gardens, it has lands sprinkled by streams and equals Damascus for its inexhaustible resources”

The origins

Although there are remains dating back to 8000 BC, it seems that the city began to become known only later; this is because, although it has been continuously inhabited since that time, there are neither Egyptian sources nor Assyrian sources that testify to its presence. Nonetheless, Baalbek soon became one of the main centers of the “Semitic religion”, so much so that, once conquered by the Greeks, its name changed to Heliopolis, or “the city of the Sun“, a divinity particularly in vogue at the time.


The latter, in fact, by virtue of their tendency to “tie different cults”, associated Baal with their Zeus, transforming the religious complex of Baalbek into one closer to them and more familiar to them. It will be under the Romans, however, that the settlement will reach its maximum splendor for the first time, becoming the seat of the largest temple of Jupiter in all Roman history. For this reason too, the city will particularly undergo the process of Christianization, thus finding itself forced to give up the very reason for its existence. With the arrival of the Christians, in fact, the whole complex was long despised and discriminated against, leading to the most brutal anger of the locals, who often resorted to great violence to obtain respect. However the famous temple was definitively destroyed by Theodosius in 379.

Arab Renaissance

Unlike the Roman rulers, the Arabs proved decidedly more understanding towards the locals, guaranteeing the safety of the buildings and, indeed, starting a process of incredible rebirth for the city. The latter will in fact be considered in a very short time “one of the most beautiful and decorated cities in Syria” for the countless marble buildings. As always, however, great beauty also attracts great ambitions and there were many who waged war to be part of that splendor. Baalbek, in particular from Saladin onwards, became the site of continuous internal power struggles in the Middle East, so much so that it was also conquered by Mongols, Mamelukes and even Tamerlane.


With the arrival of the Ottomans, control of the city will pass to the Harfush, a Shiite clan that will exercise a very strong control over the settlement, establishing de facto who could remain and who could not. Starting from the 16th century, Baalbek will be visited more and more often by Europeans, who quickly made it one of the most sought-after destinations in the whole of Lebanon, so as to stimulate even the curiosity of the Kaiser Wilhelm II.

Danke Kaiser Wilhelm

The latter went several times to the Ottoman Empire and, in 1898, he stopped right in Baalbek, where he was struck by the beauty of its ruins. Terrified by the bad conditions in which they were kept, he applied himself to safeguard them, summoning an entire team of archaeologists on the spot.

Mashrou’Leila in concert in Baalbek

While unable to find anything prior to the arrival of the Romans, the extremely meticulous work of the German team will provide the first “scientific” and official account of the place, helping to develop its already incredible fame. In 1984 the site was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and remains dating back to 8000 BC have recently been found. .

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