The Stones at Baalbek  (by Alan Alford)











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The Mystery 
of the Stones at Baalbek

Mystic Places

Part 1  Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 Books Links

The Mystery of the Stones at Baalbek (2)

By Alan F. Alford
Author of 'Gods of the New Millennium', 'The Phoenix Solution' and 'When The Gods Came Down'

Part 2 of 5

We now proceed into the Great Courtyard - an immense square court, thought to have housed the statues of the pantheon of the twelve Great Gods. The photograph shows the remains of the Altar of Sacrifice. Although constructed by the Romans, it apparently supersedes a much earlier altar which was dedicated to the god Baal-Hadad, and is built over a natural crevice some 150 feet deep, at the bottom of which is a small rock-cut altar. There are few tourists around to provide a comparative scale of measurement, but such a person would in fact be no taller than the base of this altar.

Behind the Altar we can see the foundation of the Great Tower, which was an even more impressive structure, 50 feet high, with two independent flights of stairs. Both the Altar and Tower were destroyed by the Christians who erected a basilica here. In 1934-5 it was decided to tear down the basilica which was hindering archaeological excavation. Only then were the ancient Altar and Tower rediscovered. The Great Tower which once stood here was not a Roman tradition, but probably a concession to local traditions of worship in 'high places'. Note the excavations to the left of this picture. The dig uncovered middle bronze age houses, from the 2nd millennium BC and evidence of earlier occupation back to 2900 BC.[2]

On the other side of the Great Courtyard lies a truly monumental staircase leading up to a raised platform on which the Temple of Jupiter once stood. In this picture we can see the bases of the now fallen columns - the bases alone are 8 feet high. If we wished, we could climb these stairs and stand in awe beneath the six remaining columns, which rise to a spectacular height of 66 feet. But the best view of these columns comes not from this angle but from the nearby Temple of Bacchus.

This is the Temple of Bacchus, and it is undoubtedly the best preserved Roman temple in the world. Its 46 columns included 15 on each side and 8 on the ends, most of which are intact in this picture, although the eastern end here is clearly missing a few.


The southern side of the Temple of Bacchus, in contrast, has suffered badly. Here I am setting the scale of the infamous leaning column - a tourist favourite - which was probably felled by the earthquake of 1759. This massive column, formed of three parts, stands 60 feet high including the base and the capital. Incidentally, the drums are held together by dowels made of bronze, embedded in lead.



Let's now enter the Temple of Bacchus...

We now climb 33 steps to the Temple of Bacchus and enter a large court with an imposing doorway 40 feet high. Note the slipped keystone which was once propped up by a crude tower of bricks, but has now been properly renovated.

Proceeding through the doorway, we are surrounded by further columns and niches which once housed the pantheon of the gods. At the far end, nothing remains of the beautiful shrine which once stood against this far wall and housed the statue of the god Bacchus.

The main temple of Baalbek, however, was reserved for the chief deity himself - Iovi Optimo Maximo Heliopolitano 'Jupiter the Most High, the Most Great'. This is the view of what remains from the staircase we saw earlier. The destruction of this magnificent temple is thought to have begun with the earthquake of 526 or 551. Curiously, the chronicler Michael the Syrian records the popular belief that the temple was destroyed by fire from the sky.[3] Historians assume this is a misunderstanding and think that the fire was a consequence of the earthquake.

Following that 6th century earthquake and fire, Byzantine and Arab occupants ravaged the ruins of the Temple of Jupiter, using its stone as building material elsewhere on the acropolis. Further earthquakes, such as in 1158, 1203, and 1664  increased the devastation.

The last really big quake in 1759 brought down three columns, leaving only the six that we see here. The Temple was so utterly destroyed that it has never been possible to accurately reconstruct its ground plan, and little can be gleaned from visiting the site.

We do know that 58 columns once graced this Temple, 19 down each side and 10 at each end, enclosing an area twice as large as the Temple of Bacchus. Each column soared to a height of 66 feet, built on a platform which was raised 26 feet higher than the surrounding buildings.

Here was a building which stretched to the limit the ingenuity of man, in which ancient man literally reached out to the heavens and communicated to the gods. To imagine the pride felt by those who took part in this magnificent achievement, even down to the humblest workman, is to recognise a greatness that is rarely found in modern society.

However, as magnificent as the Temple of Jupiter certainly was, it stood on a terrace of colossal stones which was, and still is, even more impressive. If you look carefully at the photograph above you will see me, 6 foot one inch in height, standing on a block which measures approximately 33 by 14 by 10 feet, and weighing an incredible 300 tons. There are nine such blocks visible in this wall.

Now, it is time to experience the climax of Baalbek...

Continue (Part 3) >>

Copyright Notice
This article is  the copyright of Eridu Books 2004. The images and diagrams are the copyright of Alan Alford or of other photographers, where indicated. Eridu Books welcomes the reproduction and dissemination of these pages, in original, unaltered form, for non-commercial purposes, but permission must be sought for any other usage, other than 'fair dealing' quotations.
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