Baalbeck: how was it built?

By | Category: Travel destinations

Lyn heads to Lebanon – specifically the sun city of Baalbeck that’s famed for its Roman ruins. Read Lyn’s take on the temples only on CD-Traveller

85 kms from Beirut in Lebanon, lies the ancient city of Baalbeck. There were settlements there in Neolithic, Bronze and Iron Ages, before the Romans came along and started their massive building programmes. The Greeks called the city Heliopolis: the city of the sun. Baalbeck was their sun god.

A few kilometres outside the town, is the Roman quarry. It was used as the local rubbish dump until Abdul Nabi al-Afi rescued it single-handed. The quarry has what is apparently the largest quarried stone in the world there, which was never finished. It’s 45m wide and weighs 1,000 tons. Destined to be the unfinished Temple of Jupiter’s podium, the massive stone was abandoned and left poking out of the ground.

It was hard for Afi to convince the local people how important the site was, and they continued to dump their rubbish there until Afi arranged a refuse collecting service for them. Now he runs a small souvenir shop on the site to support himself and his family, and so that he can keep an eye on the site to protect it.

Afi gets no aid or financial support and he worries about what will happen to the ancient site when he’s gone. All visitors are offered a welcome coffee, and invited to sign his Golden Guest Book.

Baalbeck has the largest Roman temples ever built, dedicated to Jupiter, Venus and Mercury. They also worshipped Baal, the sun god. The temple platform stones are the largest known quarry-cut stones in prehistory, weighing from 800-1200 tons. They imported granite columns from Egypt. It’s one of the most impressive man-made places that I’ve ever seen in my life. I sometimes found it very similar to Chichen Itza in Mexico; both the style of building and the decorations.

As I walked round, all I could think was, how? How did they build it? There are six Corinthian columns, 22m high on a podium 7m above the court. Originally there were eight more columns, but they were dismantled and shipped to Constantinople by Emperor Justinian.

The site has suffered from theft, war and earthquakes. Originally it must have made anyone who saw it gasp out loud and fall on their knees to obediently worship the powerful Gods represented by the massive edifices. As we toured the site, I realised that talking about it was like discussing an elderly, embarrassing relative. Every time I raised the subject of how it was built, someone changed the subject.

It would be impossible to build it nowadays. No modern machinery could cut those blocks and lift them into place! No way were they hauled along and lifted up by slaves pulling on ropes! There wouldn’t be enough room for all the manpower necessary, and no ropes could pull them. And I don’t believe that they would waste so much time, struggling to lever up a stone a fraction (and what poles could take the weight?) and then throwing some sand or dirt underneath to gradually raise it, then dragging it along for miles, and repeating the process.

Various theories have been suggested through the years, including help from aliens or a superior race. The Incas always insisted that their massive stones walked by themselves! Crazy? If so, why have the Americans and Russians been studying psychokinesis for years? Maybe the combined concentration of trained experts could move the huge blocks into place.And if not, why on earth did they bother to carve out and move such massive stones? Why not make them much smaller? After all, the Romans had the best cement ‘recipe’ that has ever been invented! However they managed to do it, their workmanship is absolutely mind-blowing. Baalbeck is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Why do I think they did it? Because they could!

For more on Lebanon, check out Kaye’s article Beirut Reborn and Lebanon: on the road to recovery

If you enjoyed this post, please consider subscribing to the RSS feed to have future articles delivered to your feed reader.
Tags: , , , , ,