Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Baalbec
BAALBEC, or Ba’albak, an ancient city of Syria, celebrated for the magnificence of its ruins, which, with the exception of those at Palmyra, are the most extensive in that region. The derivation of the latter part of the name is still dubious, some boldly identifying it with the Egyp tian laki, a city, and others comparing it with the Arabic bakha, "to be thronged." It is almost certain that the Greek Heliopolis was intended to be a translation of the name. The town is pleasantly situated on the lowest de clivity of the Anti-Libanus, at the opening of a small valley into the plain of El-Buka a or Sahlat Ba albak, about 35 miles N.N.W. of Damascus, and 38 S.S.E. of Tripoli. The inhabitants have a saying, Burton informs us, that it lies on the balance, meaning that it occupies the flattened crest of a watershed. By Bussegger its height above the sea is given at 3496 Paris feet, and by Schubert at 3572, the mean of the observations being 3584 Paris feet, or 4502 English feet. A small stream, rising in the immediate neighbourhood from a fountain known as Ea as-el Ayn, is employed for the irrigation of the valley.
The origin of Baalbec is lost in remote antiquity, and the historical notices of it are very scanty. The silence of the classical writers respecting it would seem to imply that previously it had existed under another name, and various attempts have been made to identify it with certain places mentioned in the Bible, as with Baalgad, " in the valley of Lebanon" (Josh. xi. 17); Baalath, one of Solomon s cities (1 Kings ix. 18); Baal-hamon, where Solomon had a vine yard (Cant. viii. 11.); and "the plain of Aven" (Bikath- Aven, Amos i. 5). referred to by Amos ; but none of these identifications seem to rest on any very solid support, though they have each in turn met the approval of some writer of authority. In the absence of more positive in formation, we can only conjecture that its situation on the high road of commerce between Tyre and Palmyra and the farther East rendered it at an early period a seat of wealth and splendour. It is not at all improbable that the state ment of Macrobius in his Saturnalia may be founded on the tradition of a real and potent connection between Heliopolis and its Egyptian namesake. It is mentioned by Josephus (Ant., xiv. 3, 4), Pliny (Nat. Hist., v. 22), and Ptolemy, and coins of the city have been found belonging to the reigns of almost all the emperors from Nerva to Gallienus. John Malala of Antioch ascribes the erection of a great temple to Jupiter (vaov TU> Ati //.eyav) at Helio polis to Antoninus Pius ; and two votive inscriptions still exist on the bases of columns in the Greater Temple, be longing to the age of Septimius Severus. From the civic coins of the reigns of Nerva and Hadrian we learn that the city had been constituted a colony by Julius Caesar, and that it was the seat of a Boman garrison in the time of Augustus, and obtained the Jus Italicum from Septimius Severus (Ulpian, De Censibus, lib. i.) Some of the coins of this last emperor bear the figure of a temple and the legend COL.HEL.I.O.M.H., Colonia Heliopolis Jovi Optimo Maximo Heliopolitano ; while one of the reign of Valerian has the representation of two temples.
It is evident that in the early Christian centuries Heliopolis was one of the most flourishing seats of Pagan worship, and the Christian writers draw strange pictures of the morality of the place. In 297 it became the scene of the martyrdom of Gelasinus. The Emperor Constontine, according to Sozomen, issued a rescript against the licen tious rites of the people, and founded a basilica among them ; but, on the accession of Julian, the Pagan popula tion broke out into violent persecution, and the city be came so notorious for its hostility to Christianity, that Christians were banished thither from Alexandria as a special punishment. Theodosius the Great is said to have turned " the temple of Balaniits, the Trilithon," into a Christian church, and the city seems to have been the seat of a bishop.
From the accounts of Oriental writers, Baalbec seems to have continued a place of importance down to the time of the Moslem invasion of Syria. They describe it as one of the most splendid of Syrian cities, enriched with stately palaces, adorned with monuments of ancient times, and abounding with trees, fountains, and whatever contributes to luxurious enjoyment. After the capture of Damascus it was regularly invested by the Moslems, and after a courageous defence, at length capitulated. The ransom exacted by the conquerors was 2000 ounces of gold, 4000 ounces of silver, 2000 silk vests, and 1000 swords, together with the arms of the garrison. The city afterwards became the mart for the rich pillage of Syria; but its prosperity scon received a fatal blow from the caliph of Damascus, by whom it was sacked and dismantled, and the principal in- habitants put to the sword (748 A.D.). It continued, how ever, to be a place of military importance, and was fre quently an object of contest between the caliphs of Egypt and the various Syrian dynasties. In 1090 it passed into the hands of the Seljuk princes of Aleppo and Damascus, who in 1134 were disputing its possession among them selves, and had to yield in 1139 to the power of Genghis Khan. He held the city till 1145, when it reverted to Damascus, and continued mostly, from that time, to follow the fortunes of that city. During the course of the century it suffered severely from one or more of the earthquakes that visited the district in 1139, 1157, 1170. In 1260 it was taken by the forces of Hulagu, who destroyed the fortifica tions ; but, in the 1 4th century, it is again described by Abulfeda as enclosed by a wall with a large and strong fortress. Whether it was Baalbec, or, as others say, Cairo, that was, in 1367, the birthplace of Takkieddin Ahmed, the Arabic historian, he appears to have derived the name by which he is best known, El-Makrizi, from one of the quarters of the city. In 1400 it was pillaged by Timur in his progress to Damascus ; and afterwards it fell into the hands of the Metaweli, a barbarous predatory tribe, who were nearly exterminated when Djezzar Pacha permanently subjected the whole district to Turkish supremacy.
The ancient walls of the city are about 4 miles in com pass ; but the present town is, with the exception of some portions of its Saracenic fortifications and its two mosques, a cluster of mean-looking buildings, which serve only to bring out into greater prominence the grandeur of the neighbouring ruins. These consist of three temples, usu ally known as the Great Temple (and it well deserves the name), the Temple of Jupiter, Apollo, or the Sun, and the Circular Temple. The Great Temple (vide Plan), which would seem at one period to have been a kind of pantheon, is situated on a magnificent platform, which raises it high above the level of the ground, and extends from east to west a distance of about 1100 feet. The portico is at the eastern end, and must have been reached by a grand flight of steps. It is 180, or, including the exedne or pavilions, 260 feet from north to soiith. A threefold entrance leads into the first court, which is hexagonal in shape, and measures about 250 feet from corner to corner. A portal 50 feet wide, flanked on each side by a smaller aperture of 10 feet, gives admittance to the great quadrangle, which extends from east to west for 440 feet, and has a breadth of 370, thus including an area of between 3 and 4 acres. On all sides, except the eastern, where the " stately stairs " led up to the temple front, this court was surrounded with exedrre of various dimensions, enclosed by costly pillars, and adorned with numerous statues; but statues and pillars and steps are now all involved in a common confusion. The peristyle of the temple proper was composed of fifty- four columns, the front line consisting of ten and the side line of nineteen each. The height of the shafts was about G2 feet, and their diameter 7 feet at the base and about 5 feet at the top. They were crowned with rich Corinthian capitals, and supported an entablature of 14 feet in height (Col. Chesney says 11 feet 9 inches). Most of them were formed of three blocks, united without cement by strong iron dowels. Only six of these columns still stand at the western end of the southern side three having fallen since the visit of Wood and Dawkins in 1750. That part of the great platform on which the peristyle rests consists of im mense walls built up about 50 feet from the ground, and formed, as may be easily seen on the northern side, of thirteen courses of bevelled stones in alternate layers of longer and shorter blocks. Outside these walls, at a distance of 29J feet, is another (so-called substruction] wall on the north, west, and probably, though concealed by rubbish, also on the east side. This is built of large stones, and contains three blocks of such extraordinary proportions that the temple acquired from them its ancient name of Trilithon, or " Three-Stone-Temple." These mea sure respectively 64 feet, 63 feet 8 inches, and 63 feet in length, are 13 feet in height, and have been raised 20 feet from the ground in the western wall. Two underground passages, 17 feet wide and 30 feet high, run from east to west along the sides of the platform of the great quadrangle, and are connected by a transverse tunnel of similar descrip tion. They seem, from inscriptions on the walls, to have been tenanted at some time by Roman soldiery.
Ground-Plan of Great Temple and Temple of the Sun at Baalbec.
(From Wood and Dawkins, Ruins of Balbcc.)
Slightly to the north of the Great Temple, and agreeing with it in its orientation, is the Temple of the Sun, which is in much better preservation than its neighbour, and, though small in comparison with it, is larger than the Parthenon at Athens. It likewise is built on a platform, and was reached by a flight of steps at the eastern end, which, it would seem, were still standing in 1688. The arrangement of its peristyle may be seen from the plan. The height of the columns is 45 feet, including the Corinthian capitals, and the circumference of each 19 feet. They supported an entablature of 7 feet in height, from which a ceiling was carried back to the wall of the cella, consisting of slabs enriched with sculpture of great beauty. The principal ornament of each slab is a hexagonal mould ing enclosing the figure of some god or hero ; but the pro fusion and elegance of the fretwork can only be rendered by the artist. After passing the vestibule, which was partly freed from its barbarous screen by Mr Burton in 1870, we reach "an exquisitely-carved doorway, having a staircase on each side leading to the top of the building," which gives entrance to the interior of the temple. On the soffit is the figure of the eagle referred to by so many of the travellers, and regarded by Volney and others as the emblem of the sun-god. This part of the building was greatly damaged in the earthquake of 1759, and if mea sures are uot taken to support the lintel, it must soon fall to the ground. The cello, seems to have been hypgethral ; and, like the rest of the building, it was richly ornamented, the floor now presenting a mass of broken sculpture and pillars. A spiral staircase, in the interior of a massivecolumn, leads to the roof on each side of the portal.
Further east stands the Circular Temple, which is of very small dimensions, but of beautiful workmanship and design. It consists of a semicircular cella surrounded on the outside by eight Corinthian columns, while within there is a double tier of smaller pillars, the lower row being Ionic and the upper Corinthian. Down to the last century it was used as a Greek church ; but it is now in a very ruinous condition, and " choked with wretched hovels." It is known to the people of Baalbec as Barbarat- el Atikah (La Sainte Barbe).
The remains of the military works of the Saracens and their successors are only too numerous about Baalbec ; but they have left no buildings of greater interest than the mosques already mentioned, the larger of which was built by Melek el As ad, and the smaller by his father, Melek el Zahir (670 A.H.) Several interesting excursions may be made in the neighbourhood, in regard to which the reader may consult Murray s Handbook, Joanne and Isambert s Itineraire, and a letter of Mrs Burton s in Unexplored Syria.
The ruins of Baalbec have awakened the admiration of European travellers from the 16th century down to the present day. Baumgarten visited them in 1507, Belon in 1548, Thevet in 1550, Melchior von Seydlitz in 1557, Radzivil in 1583, Quaresmius in 1620, Monconys in 1647, De la Roque in 1688, and Maundrell in 1699. In the 18th century Pococke gave a sketch of the ruins, which was followed up by the magnificent work of Wood and Dawkins (1751), to this day one of our principal authori ties, and Volney, in 1784, supplied a graphic description. During the present century the number of travellers who have visited Baalbec has enormously increased; it may be sufficient to mention Eichardson, Addison, Lindsay, Wilson, the Duke of Ragusa, Lamartine, De Saulcy, Chesney, and Robinson. Of the chapters of the last writer, in his Biblical Researches, vol. iii., especial use has been made in the present article. In spite, however, of such a series of investigators, much might still be done to extend our knowledge of those wonderful remains. A few superficial excavations have been made from time to time ; but the ruins of Baalbec still wait for their Layard or their Schliemann.