Saturday, April 7, 2012

Lebanon March-April 2012 Day 2

Lebanon Day 2 - Beiteddene, Beeka Valley and Baalbeck

Today we headed off to the Beeka Valley to explore the temples of Baalbeck. We were picked up at 9.00 and headed off across the Mt Lebanon range through Beiteddin where the Presidential Summer Palace sits high on the hillside just outside the township of Deir Al Qamar.
Deir Al Qamar

The township is dominated by a large central square, the Midan, which was once the jousting area during the 15th century - now it is the Dany Chamoun Square in memory of a local politician who was assassinated in 1990.

The town justified a longer time for exploration and wandering but constant drizzle, a cold wind and the promise of a long day of driving and sight seeing meant our visit was all too brief.

Just outside the town bus loads of children were being off loaded at “Castle Moussa” - a fantasy concoction that is a glorious mixture of one man’s idea of medieval castles, fairy tales, adventure stories and generous addition of Walt Disney perched on the hillside - we ignored the possibility of joining them and headed off to the Beiteddine Palace.
Courtyard Beiteddine Palace

Beiteddine was built between 1788 and 1810 on the crest of the mountainside. It is a mix of Italian and Arab architecture that combine to make a beautiful building - especially with the ornate carved and inlaid ceilings and walls that dominate the main rooms - we were the only tourists in the sprawling building which meant we could wander easily through the rooms and grounds.

From here we headed over Mt Lebanon down towards the Beeka Valley and Baalbeck.

The drizzle stopped as we drove into the vast plain that is the Beeka Valley. The valley is the centre of Lebanon’s wine industry which made a visit to the Ksara Winery obligatory. Like the Mission Vineyard in Hawkes Bay the Ksara winery was established by Jesuits in the mid 19th century. Unlike Mission, Ksara was reviving a centuries old tradition of making wine in the region as wine had been produced in the valley for over 5000 years. Ksara is one of the biggest producers of wine and boasts a 2 km underground wine cellar originally built by the Romans.
Part of a 2 km underground wine cellar

After an all too short tour, visit and sampling of some very pleasant red wines we headed off to Baalbeck and its complex of temples.
The main gateway to the Temple of Jupiter
Entering the Grand Courtyard

Baalbeck is one of the biggest Roman archeological sites we’ve been to in all our travels but then the hills there have been the site of the worship of various gods since Phoenician times when it was the temple to the sun god - Baal. The Greeks then took the temple over and rededicated it to Helios (along with renaming the town Heliopolis). The Romans then turned it into a complex of temples dedicated to Jupiter, Venus and Baachus. Later the Byzantines converted the temple into a church then the Arabs made it into a fortified citadel.

All through the construction and reconstruction the 22 metre high columns that framed the temple of Jupiter stood on their 1000 ton foundation stones, cut from the local quarry, to declare the might of Rome.

Beside the Jupiter complex a large, perfectly preserved temple, bigger than the Parthenon on Athens, to Bacchus stands thanks to the centuries build up of silt that had protected the building from the predations of different rebuilders. Graffiti dated 1880-85 two thirds of the way up the massive columns testifies how deep the silt build up was before the archeologists began the herculean task of digging the temple out.
grafitti 2/3rds way up a massive column in the Temple to Bacchus

After a great lunch at a restaurant run by a local farming enterprise we headed back to Beirut to prepare for our next day of touring.

No comments: