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Baalbek is a town in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon about 53 miles (85 km) northeast of Beirut. Situated on a large hill, it is famous for its monumental temple ruins of the Roman period. The settlement in the area of Baalbek dates back about 9000 years. In 334 BC the place was named Heliopolis after Alexander the Great, a Macedonian king, conquered vast lands in western Asia. Historians believe that Heliopolis soon became a pilgrimage site with Zeus Heliopolitanus temple (built before the arrival of Romans), a place of oracular divination.
In the 1st century BC, the region became a part of the Roman Empire. In the year 15 BC, Julius Caesar made it a Roman colony. Beginning from that time, over a period of two centuries, the Romans built a large temple complex in Baalbek as emperors succeeded one another in Rome. The main three temples had been dedicated to Jupiter (the ancient Roman King of the Gods and the God of Sky), Bacchus (the God of Wine) and Venus (the Goddess of Love). With these constructions and some other additions like the Great Court (of approach), Heliopolis became one of the largest sanctuaries in the Roman Empire with largest temples Romans ever built.
The ruins of Baalbek are bordered on one side by the town of Baalbek and on the other side by agricultural land. Today, the complex represents a lavish display of a remnants of temples with fallen columns and sculptures. Local influences are noticeable in the architecture and decorations of the temples. The Great Court, the Temple of Jupiter and the Temple of Bacchus remain the centerpieces of the complex. With the footprint of 290 by 160 feet, the Temple of Jupiter Baal ("Heliopolitan Zeus") is considered to be the largest religious construction in the Roman empire.
One of the mysteries related to the ruins of Baalbek is the construction of the Temple of Jupiter erected upon the massive pre-Roman stone blocks known as the Trilithon. The three massive blocks and the stones in the layer below them weighing between estimated 1,000,000 - 2,000,000 pounds (500 - 800 metric tons) are considered the largest stones ever used by a man. The Trilithons, massive stones found in the ruins of Baalbek, are beyond the engineering abilities of any ancient and contemporary technique or piece of equipment. Some archaeologists believe that the Trilithons were laid out before the Greek times. As often the case in such circumstances, there are numerous legends surrounding the stones. Some of the stories involve even "giants" and extraterrestrials as main protagonists.
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What Makes It Special
Baalbek is one of the ancient wonders of the world and mystery of our days with its colossal Trilithon structures and some well preserved temples of the Roman Empire. The complex is the marvel of architecture, sculpture and ornamentation. It provides a unique perspective on the skill and elegance of Roman art.This remarkable archeological site was made by UNESCO a World Heritage Site in 1984. Visit to Baalbek can a highlight of any visit to Lebanon.
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Directions To Destination
Beirut Rafik Hariri International Airport (IATA: BEY), is the country's only international airport and the hub of Lebanon's national carrier Middle East Airlines. Most international airlines have daily flights between Beirut and the major European capital cities. The airport is located 4.3 miles (7 km) south of Beirut about 15 minute drive to the city center. At the moment (2011), there is no public transportation to or from the airport. There are plenty of taxis regulated by the airport authorities and guaranteed fare rates. The freelance taxis are also available and located a little further from the airport entrance.
You can travel in Lebanon by private or rental car, bus, private taxi, or service taxi. All major car rental companies have booking offices inside Beirut Rafik Hariri International Airport. Arguably, taxi is the most convenient transportation in Beirut. There are two types of taxis in Beirut: some you can pick up on the streets; others are pre-booked taxis. The taxi park consists mostly of Mercedes Benz cars. The taxis have no meters - ask about the cost of the trip in advance. The fare will be charged not per distance but per destination. Pre-booked taxi cost more, but the cars offered are usually better: more comfortable and air-conditioned. To book a ride you should call the taxi agency. A taxi ride from Beirut to Baalbek (53 miles or 86 km) may take about two hours and cost about $60 - $80 dollars (2011). Yet another option of travelling from Beirut to Baalbek by car is a shared van or minibus (you can catch them at the Cola intersection) - the cost of a trip is about $4 (6,000 LBP) per person.
If you want to use a bus: there are three main bus hubs in Beirut: Charles Helou, Cola intersection and Dawra.
Charles Helou, the only formally established bus terminal; it is located on the East of the Downtown and services northern destinations (Syria including). Dawra transport hub is located at the Northeast of Beirut and also services northern destinations. For southern destinations use Cola transport hub located under and around Cola Bridge (or Mazraa).
Buses to Baalbek from Beirut leave from Cola intersection or Cola hub. The trip takes about two hours - bus fare is about $4 (6,000 LBP). There are daily tours from Beirut to Baalbek from most major hotels in summer. Nakhal (one of the oldest Lebanese travel agencies) serves a guided coach tours several days a week for $25 per person. The trip to Baalbek and back to Beirut by bus takes about four hours .
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Best Time To Go
The best time to visit Lebanon is from April to June. The days are dry and pleasantly warm with cool evenings. The temperatures during this period are 66 °F - 77 °F (19 - 25 °C).
In Lebanon the climate is Mediterranean subtropical along the coast and in the Bekaa Valley. The average temperatures in the lowlands is 80 °F (26.7 °C) in summer and 50 °F (10 °C) in winter. Temperature in July and August is around 86°F (30°C) with high humidity. December and February are characterized by rain, heavy sometimes and snow in the mountains.
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Where To Stay
You can stay in Beirut or in Baalbek. Our recommended places in Beirut:
- Le Gray (Beirut Central District, Beirut), five star hotel with rates from $350 (per room/night; 12.50 % service charge and 10 % VAT not included). The hotel is a short walk from Beirut central Martyr Square with stores and restaurants. The Corniche seafront promenade is less than a 20 minute walk. Hotel has 87 rooms.
- InterContinental Le Vendome (Ein El Mreisseh, Beirut), rates from $400 (per room/night; 12.50 % service charge and 10 % VAT not included). The InterContinental Le Vendome located on the city famous promenade, the Corniche, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. Hotel has 73 rooms and belongs to Intercontinental Hotels & Resorts.
- La Memoire Hotel (Baalbek St., Baalbek), rates from $120 per room, per night. The hotel is located within walking distance to the ruins. Hotel 9 rooms decorated in an Arabic style.
- Palmyra Hotel (Abdel Halim Hajjar St., Baalbek), four star hotel, rates from $85 per room per night, including service charges, government taxes, VAT and breakfast. Located near the ruins and former train station. The hotel is in a traditional Lebanese house overlooking the heritage site. If you love history and old times, this hotel is for you. Make sure to stay in the "new" wing.
- Auberge Jammal (Hajjar Street, Baalbek), rates for a private room are $14. Hotel has 28 rooms and 53 beds.
Research and book hotels in or near Baalbek, Lebanon
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Sightseeing. Also, Baalbek is home to the annual Baalbek International Festival, the oldest and the most prestigious festival in the Middle East. Performances take place on steps of temples, in the courtyard and Inside the Bacchus Temple. For more details please visit the Baalbek International Festival web site
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Useful Visitor Information and Tips
US Department of State Travel Warning advises U.S. citizens against travel to Lebanon because of the unstable political situation in Lebanon is unstable. Anyone travelling to Lebanon should keep themselves well informed and closely monitor political and security developments. For more information consult the US State Department website on Lebanon specific information.
Baalbek ruins are opened every day, from 8:30 AM. The closing time is at about 30 minutes before the sunset.
The entrance fee is $8 (12,000 LBP - prices 2011).
You can wear any clothes in Lebanon. Men and women can wear shorts and tees during the summer heat. Lebanese themselves do not ware shorts, except for young boys. For visiting the ruins during summer heat you need a pair of sturdy shoes or sneakers, light cotton clothes, sun glasses and sunblock. To have a bottle of water is also good thinking.
What to see: the most famous attractions of Baalbek ruins are the Temple of Jupiter, the Temple of Bacchus, the Great Court and the Temple of Venus.
Since 1955, people from all over the world come to Baalbek in the Beqaa Valley of Lebanon to attend the annual International Art Festival of classic music, dance, theater, opera, and jazz, which takes place in summer. The event happens in the ancient Roman Acropolis and features local artists and international performers. Before the festival and during the performances the access to Great Courtyard is limited. The organizers start setting the stage for the festival as early as late May.
The Namoura bel Ashta pastry is one of the most popular treats in Lebanon. Don't forget to taste it.
If you are crossing the Mount Lebanon Range during the winter months by any kind of transportation, be prepared for harsh experience. Not all the roads are passable some may be closed because of the snow.
Minibuses and service taxis stop is not far from the Palmyra Hotel in Baalbek.
Pick pocketing and purse snatching is common in crowded public areas.
Medical treatment in Lebanon is good but can be expensive. Doctors are qualified according to the world standards, hospitals are well equipped. Medical staff speak French and English.
There were no earthquake recently in Lebanon but keep in mind that it is located in an earthquake zone.
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