Friday, November 05, 2010

Baalbek, Lebanon

Baalbek, Lebanon has some of the biggest, most complete Roman temples that I have ever seen. I can only imagine what the temples looked like in their prime. They are ridiculously huge. I am guessing I have never heard of the site for a couple reasons. One, Lebanon is considered dangerous. Two, there are other great sites like Palmyra, Syria near by. Three, it is a stronghold of Hezbollah, the extremist Islamic group.

The Hezbollah flag.

Hezbollah wants Israel to give back 12 square kilometers of land and have tried to achieve that aim with violence. In addition to this, they are probably the best NGO in Lebanon. They have tons of social and infrastructure projects going throughout Lebanon. Their peaceful agendas are far reaching. No one knows where their money comes from, but a lot of people suggest Syria and Iran since they have made Israel such a large part of their focus. These motivated individuals are why I chose not to travel down to Southern Lebanon. There is not any major activity going on, but I didn't want to risk getting caught in a flare up. This town was just on the way and not supposed to be that bad.

The ride down the Anti-Lebanon mountains from the Cedars was not quite as brilliant as I had hoped. I definitely got up some speed, but the road was not nearly as well taken care of. Also, I didn't descend all the way back down to sea level. Oh well. The Bekaa Valley that Baalbek sits in is very fertile. I am not sure if the population is smaller or maybe it is because there is so much quality farming, but I didn't see the same poverty that I saw in Northern Lebanon on the coast.

I swear every time I see these valleys that are fertile, they look dry to me. I see more dry brown dirt than I do green plants. However, each time a guide tells me that there are tons of farms and there always are. I might be biased by the lush green in the northern eastern USA. No matter how dry it looks, they always have enough water to wash their cars and spray down the sidewalks instead of sweeping them.

Don't take photographs of military checkpoints.

The Lebanese government must be a tiny bit worried about Baalbek because there were three major checkpoints in a low density population area. I passed through one with three tanks. At one with a single tank, I decided to finally take a picture. I stood in the middle of the road so I did not look sneaky and the guard could clearly see me. Mistake. Though he did not stop me from taking a picture, I got to have a chat with their superior officer. They accepted I made an innocent mistake, but insisted I delete the picture. I would have been happy to comply, but the camera shop in Budapest, Hungary broke that button when they fixed the power in my camera. I said we could connect it to a computer to delete it, but they didn't have a computer. This whole situation was very reminiscent of getting pulled over and searched on the way to my brother's wedding. I didn't have the invitation and had not bought a gift yet. The real trick was that I couldn't open my truck because the lock was broken. Luckily, they let me go. So did the Lebanese army.

The closed sooq in Baalbek.

On the way into town, a guy on a motorbike stopped. We chatted in Spanish and he invited me for a meal. Another guy, pulled over, but only spoke French. These were odd because people usually seemed to speak English. Two guys in a car who did speak English invited me over for tea. Unfortunately, the situation seemed a bit creepy and I took a pass. I am not sure what it was, but it didn't feel right. It was probably nonsense, but better safe than sorry.

The entrance to the Baalbek temple complex.

Eventually, a teenager on a motorbike guided me through the streets, lined with the yellow Hezbollah flag, to the temple complex. I was in awe because they were so big. I'll let the pictures of the Temple of Jupiter and Temple of Bacchus speak for themselves.

Looking into the Great Court.

The Great Court.

Great Court, Temple of Jupiter, and a final view of Temple of Bacchus.

The Temple of Jupiter was the biggest temple in the Roman empire. It is often called the Temple of the Sun. It was surrounded by 42 columns that were 20 meters high. Nine of those lasted until the 20th century when an earthquake toppled three more. Some of the blocks were so big, 60 tons, that a single Roman crane could not lift them. One weighed 100 tons, but it was a corner block so I am guessing they didn't have to lift it. They aren't sure how the Temple was built because of those heavy blocks.

The steps leading up to the Temple of Jupiter.

The only remaining columns of the Temple of Jupiter.

A lion that used to be part of the Temple of Jupiter.

The Temple of Bacchus is the smaller of the two temples, but is a more complete. I actually don't think the Temple of Jupiter was ever completed. The Temple of Bacchus was built in the 2nd century AD in the Roman style. It sits on a 5 meter platform to make it look even more imposing. The inside is one of the more ornate temples that I have seen.

Temple of Bacchus and view of Temple of Jupiter columns.

Temple of Bacchus.

The inside of the Temple of Bacchus.

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