Baalbek is a town in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon, altitude 3,850 ft (1,170 m), situated east of the Litani River. It is famous for its exquisitely detailed but monumentally scaled temple ruins of the Roman period, when Baalbek, known as Heliopolis was one of the largest sanctuaries in the Empire. It is also home to the annual Baalbeck International Festival. Baalbeck is home to the Lebanese Red Cross first aid,medical & social, and youth center as well as mobile clinics.The town is located at about 85 km north east of Beirut.
The history of Baalbeck dates back around 5000 years. Excavations near the Jupiter temple have revealed the existence of ancient human habitation dating to the Early Bronze Age (2900-2300 BC). The Phoenicians settled in Baalbeck as early as 2000 BC and built their first temple dedicated to the God Baal, the Sun God, from which the city got its name.
19th century Bible archaeologists wanted to connect Baalbeck to the "Baalgad" mentioned in Joshua 11:17, but the assertion has not been taken up in modern times. In fact, this minor Phoenician city, named for the "Lord (Baal) of the Beqaa valley" lacked enough commercial or strategic importance to rate a mention in Assyrian or Egyptian records so far uncovered, according to Hélène Sader, professor of archaeology at the American University of Beirut. Nevertheless, it must have been the site of an oracle from earliest times, for oracles are not lightly founded, and retained such a function during Roman times.
Heliopolis,the City of the Sun
The city retained its religious function during Roman times, when the sanctuary of the Heliopolitan Jupiter-Baal was a pilgrimage site. Trajan's biographer records that the Emperor consulted the oracle there. Trajan inquired of the Heliopolitan Jupiter whether he would return alive from his wars against the Parthians. In reply, the god presented him with a vine shoot cut into pieces. Theodosius Macrobius, a Latin grammarian of the 5th century AD, mentioned Zeus Heliopolitanus and the temple, a place of oracular divination. Starting in the last quarter of the 1st century BC and over a period of two centuries, the Romans had built a temple complex in Baalbeck consisting of three temples: Jupiter, Bacchus and Venus. On a nearby hill, they built a fourth temple dedicated to Mercury.
The city, then known as Heliopolis (there was another Heliopolis in Egypt), was made a colonia by the Roman Empire in 15 BC and a legion was stationed there. Work on the religious complex there lasted over a century and a half and was never completed. The dedication of the present temple ruins, the largest religious building in the entire Roman empire, dates from the reign of Septimus Severus, whose coins first show the two temples. The great courts of approach were not finished before the reigns of Caracalla and Philip. In commemoration, no doubt, of the dedication of the new sanctuaries,
Severus conferred the rights of the ius Italicum on the city. Today, only six Corinthian columns remain standing. Eight more were disassembled and shipped to Constantinople under Justinian's orders, for his basilica of Hagia Sophia.
The greatest of the three temples was sacred to Jupiter Baal, ("Heliopolitan Zeus"), identified here with the sun, and - constructed between the first century BC and 62 AD - was the largest temple in the empire. With it were associated a temple to Venus and a lesser temple in honor of Bacchus (though it was traditionally referred to as the "Temple of the Sun" by Neoclassical visitors, who saw it as the best-preserved Roman temple in the world - it is surrounded by forty-two columns nearly 20 meters in height). Thus three Eastern deities were worshipped in Roman guise: thundering Jove, the god of storms, stood in for Baal-Hadad, Venus for 'Ashtart (known in English as Astarte) and Bacchus for Anatolian Dionysus.
The Roman construction was built on top of earlier ruins and involved the creation of an immense raised plaza onto which the actual buildings were placed. The sloping terrain necessitated the creation of retaining walls on the north, south and west sides of the plaza. These walls are built of monoliths at their lowest level each weighing approximately 400 tons. The western, tallest retaining wall has a second course of monoliths containg the famous "trilithon"; a row of three stones each weighing in excess of 1000 tons. A fourth, still larger stone called "the stone of the south" (Hajar el Gouble) or "the stone of the pregnant woman" (Hajar el Hibla) lays unused in a nearby quarry. Had it been freed from the quarry, it would have been the largest stone ever moved, larger than the famous unfinished obelisk in Aswan. Another of the Roman ruins, the Great Court, has six 20 m-tall stone columns surviving, out of an original 128.