Baalbek (in Phoenician, Baal of the valley, but rendered by the Greeks Heliopolis, city of the sun), an ancient city of Syria, in lat. 34° 1' N., lon. 36° 11' E., 36 m. N. by W. of Damascus, the ruins of which are the most imposing in the country, excepting those of Palmyra. The city lay in a plain of Ccele-Syria, fertilized by streams rising in the range of Anti-Libanus. The date of its foundation is uncertain, the tradition which ascribes its erection to Solomon being wholly unsupported. It is mentioned under the name of Heliopolis by Josephus and Pliny. Lying in the direct route of trade between Tyre and the East, it rose to considerable importance, and was embellished with magnificent temples, the finest of which appear to date from the time of Antoninus Pius, A. D. 100, who built or enlarged the great temple, which was then considered one of the wonders of the world. When Christianity became the religion of the Roman empire, the heathen temples, except the great one, which was made a Christian church, were suffered to decay; but as late as the time of the Moslem invasion (635) Baalbek was the most splendid city of Syria, adorned with monuments of ancient times and abounding in luxury. It made a stout defence against the Moslem invaders, who imposed upon it a heavy ransom.
For more than a century it continued an opulent mart, but was finally sacked in 748 by the caliph of
Damascus, the principal inhabitants being put to the sword. During the crusades it changed hands repeatedly. It was sacked by Tamerlane in 1400, and subsequently taken by the Metaweli, a barbarous nomad tribe, who were nearly exterminated by the Turks. In 1759 an earthquake completed its devastation. - The most prominent objects visible from the plain are a lofty portico of six columns and part of the walls of the great temple, and the walls and columns of a smaller temple a little below. The greater temple stood upon an artificial platform, between 20 and 30 ft. in height, and extended 1,000 ft. from east to west. It is probable that it was never completed. Approaching from the east, one entered a magnificent portico, 180 ft. in length and 37 in depth. Only the pedestals of the columns now remain; the vast flight of steps which led up to it have also disappeared. The great portal, 17 ft. in width, leads into a hexagonal court about 200 ft. in diameter, in a ruinous condition; on its western side another portal, 50 ft. wide, brings one to a quadrangular court, 440 ft. in length by 370 in breadth. Around the sides of this court are numerous exedrae, with columns in front, 30 ft. deep, and elaborately ornamented with carvings.
The peristyle, 290 ft. in length by 100 in breadth, fronts upon the quadrangle; its columns, originally 54 in number, are about 76 ft. in height and over 7 in diameter, usually consisting of three blocks only. This magnificent edifice, of which only six columns now remain standing, was elevated some 50 ft. above the surrounding country, upon a platform, the western side of which contains three immense stones, whose united length is 190 ft., the largest being 64 ft. long, their average height 13 ft., their thickness still greater. The lesser temple, which like the other is of Corinthian architecture, stands upon a lower platform, a little to the south of the peristyle of its greater neighbor; its length, including the colonnades, was 225 ft., and its breadth 120. Its peristyle consisted of 4-1 columns, 45 ft. in height, of which only 19 remain standing. Some 30 rods distant stands a small circular temple, elaborately ornamented. The material used in the construction of the temples is a compact limestone, quarried in the hills south of the town. The ruins of Baalbek are apparently of two or three distinct eras. The huge stones which form the platform are of Cyclopean architecture.
The Roman temples, which appear to occupy the site of an older structure, present some of the finest models of the Corinthian architecture. The modern village of Baalbek is little more than a heap of rubbish, the houses being built of mud and sun-dried brick. The population is about 2,000.
Ruins of Baalbek.
Temple of Jupiter, Baalbek.
Piece of Ceiling (fallen) in Temple of Jupiter, Baalbek.