On our third day we decided to drive from Hamra, Beirut east to visit the Baalbek Temples. Having visited Jordan in July we weren’t expecting anything too dissimilar (to quote my father ‘Once you’ve seen one Roman ruin – you’ve seen them all!’), but we were pleasantly surprised. Baalbek was very picturesque and the mild, cooler weather sure made it far more enjoyable than the sweltering Jerash. The drive there was also incredible, passing through the snow capped Lebanon Mountains.
On our way to Baalbek, which is in the Bekaa Valley, we stopped at a quaint town called Zahle. Located across a scenic valley and mountain side it reminded me of Europe. Having not had any breakfast we decided to stop for lunch at the Monte Alberto Hotel, located on the edge of a mountain. Our table had lovely views of the town. We opted for Lebanese mezze which consisted of shanklish, baba ganoush, fattoush and kibbeh. I also sampled the local aniseed beverage, Arak, which was very strong, fragrant and a bit like Sambuca.
As we approached Baalbek we noted the yellow and green Hezbollah flags lining the streets. The Baalbek temple was easily spotted from the main road. Five massive Roman pillars dominated our view. Upon entering the ruins, we were approached by a guide and accepted his offer to show us around for $20USD.
He told us stories of how the Phoenicians first came to the area in ancient times, then the Romans, then the Arabs, then the Christians – and how basically each layer represents each empire. I enjoyed his descriptions of Bacchus the Roman emperor who was ‘born from a grapevine’ as the stone carvings depicted (his temple was built for decadence and debauchery – wine and women was what he was famous for).
We stayed till sunset, enjoying the pleasures of taking photos with no one around but us.