Today we paid a flying visit to Lebanon. We visited Baalbek first, which contains an ancient temple to the Phoenician god Baal (Baalbek means City of Baal). Baalbek was renamed Heliopolis (City of the Sun, it has 300 sunny days a year on average) by the ancient Greeks), and Baal was turned into Jupiter (and the temple converted) by the Romans. Baalbek also has later built temples to Venus, the Goddess of Love, and Bacchus, the God of Wine (who alone of the Roman gods has no gender). The temple was magnificent, enormous stones rising up to look over the snow covered mountains. It contains the famous six columns of Baalbek, which have never fallen over the 2000 they have stood there (since they were imported from Aswan in Egypt, being shipped to Beirut and then rolled 1000km through the mountain passes to Baalbek), with the Lion head gargoyles overlooking the site.
Baalbek has the largest carved stones in the world, three enormous sandstone pieces at 100000 tonnes each, a fourth was carved, but at 120000 tonnes was too heavy to shift, remaining in the quarry as The Stone of the Pregnant Woman.
Driving over the pass to Beirut, I was delighted to regain my hearing in my left ear, which had been gone since Dehab. I guess I just needed negative pressure :) Beirut was great, originally known as Beryte, a modest port in Phoenician times (2000 BCE) which rose during Roman times with one of the first three Schools of Law. The city was largely destroyed during the civil war, but has been recently rebuilt. Now the city if obviously rich, with the main streets looking like they belong in New York, and expensive cars driving around. Yet there were still bombed out buildings that have been left, the old surviving churches have bullet holes in them, and the beggar children have no hands :(
Our guide left us in Beirut, so I lead Andy, Katho, Tamara, Ruth and Ken on a list of highlights that I wanted to see. Andy and Katho made up a theme song to 'Map Man', and we got to see Downtown, which was a beautiful cafe district (we had icecream). We saw a Knights Hospitaller Church converted to a mosque a thousand years ago, St George's Cathedral, the Grand Serile (an enormous Ottoman era building) and the Roman bathes. The city was very friendly, when we looked lost we had people coming up to us to offer directions, they all chatted for awhile. Katho asked for directions from one guy, who asked if we could ask again in Arabic or French, because his English wasn't very good, and a security guard ended up showing us to the Roman bathes. Tamara said it was the second best Roman bathes she had seen (after Bath), and told us how the stone pillar in the bath were built to support the floor of the sauna. The fires would have been lit beneath, and every night the slaves would have to crawl under the floor to clear out the ash. We really enjoyed Lebanon :)