These past couple weeks have been on the slow side, so instead of a couple lazy days I had myself a good old fashioned adventure this past weekend! So after a very long Friday night, I wake up late Saturday morning to head on over to Baalbek, or the Heliopolis (The City of the Sun), in the Bekaa Valley with a couple friends to see the ruins there. Apparently, the Roman ruins in Baalbek are among the best preserved in the entire world. They definitely live up to this reputation too, and are absolutely stunning.
Getting to Baalbek is easy enough. Take a service to the Cola bus station just south of Beirut before the airport, which is pretty much just a big intersection with a bunch of minibuses and drivers yelling out destinations and trying to get you on their bus. Tell any of these men you want to go to Baalbek and he’ll find a bus for you in no time. The journey up took about 3 hours thanks to traffic and an unexpected stop we took a little over halfway through to switch buses. If I remember right, the total was 7000LL, which is a little over $6. Not too bad, considering what we got out of it.
We arrived to Baalbek right as the sun was starting to set and found our hostel, Pension Shouman ($15 per person with breakfast, 08 372 685), to drop our stuff off. The owner, who spoke English quite well, was nice enough to come find us where the bus dropped us off to lead us to the hostel through the small twisting streets. It was a pretty decent place with soft, warm beds, old-fashioned heaters in each room, and a spectacular view from the balcony of the ruins that were mere steps away. After getting settled and discovering the ruins were closed for the day, we instead headed over to the stunning Shia Mosque done in Iranian-style architecture, a true piece of art. Everything about this mosque took my breath away, from the multi-colored tiles decorating the outside, to the diamond-cut and colored mirror mosaic that made up the entire ceiling, to the massive tree it is built around. It’s something you need to see in real life to really take in and it made me yearn to go to Iran if this is just a sample of what comes from there.
That night, the unthinkable happened. Sheesha and over-the-top fruit cocktails delivered right to our room. It was perfect.
When a normal plug just isn’t enough…
Moving on to the ruins, they were so much more than I could have even expected. We woke up bright at early at 8am just so we could be ready by the time the gates opened at 8:30. The first ones in, and we had the entire place to ourselves. We spent the next hour and a half climbing around ruins, jumping on rocks, and soaking in the amazing sights from the top of surprisingly-preserved temples that were used to Jupiter, Venus, and Bacchus. The air was fresh and cool and in the hot morning sun it was warm enough to get rid of jackets while exploring. As soon as we entered the call to prayer started and we spent almost our entire time exploring to the sounds of the music coming from the mosque and quiet morning noises. It was just the golden-brown rocks, stray cats wandering around, and snowy peaks in the distance.
The view from our room’s balcony.
The Temple of Bacchus, the best preserved Roman ruin in the world.
Standing in the massive Temple of Bacchus, you can see the five of the six Corinthian pillars from what remains of the Temple of Jupiter in the background.
That huge stone forming the base of the Temple is one of three stones forming the famous “Trilithon.” Each stone weighs over 800 tons with dimensions of 68 x 14 x 14 feet. Nobody knows how these stones were transported here, even modern building technology would have great difficulty moving them. And this is where the alien conspiracy theories begin… (Not kidding, there are alien conspiracy theories about this.)
Inside the Temple of Bacchus.
Our only company.
The sound of distant blasts and a boom brought us back to reality and we finally got hungry enough to start heading out. On the way out we asked a military man hanging around the exit what the noises were and he just told us “wedding.” At 10am? We had our doubts and I guessed the giant wall along one side of the city was hiding a military base, so it might just be some testing or training. Then, in the middle writing this entry, I found an article in the news about how the US has warned American citizens not to go to the Beqaa Valley due to an increased presence of the Lebanese army in Baalbek. This seems to have something to do with the arrests they made last week of seven people suspected to be part of a Sunni Islamic network, with ties to al Qaeda, who were planning on blowing up military bases, such as the one in Baalbek. My doubts about the noises actually coming from a wedding have just gone up a bit…
The snow-capped mountains in the distance, over the Great Court and the Hexagonal Court. You really have to go here to truly appreciate the sight.
Next up, the search for the lost pyramid and the yellow van that keeps us on our toes. And here are a few extra pictures of Baalbek and the ruins.
Old paper city replica in the Palmyra Hotel.
The Temple of Venus, now only four columns remain standing fenced-off in a pile of rubble.
The Propylaea, an imposing entrance.
Another view of the Temple of Bacchus
The infamous leaning column on the other side of the Temple of Bacchus.
Just hanging out on top of the Great Tower.