Day 10: Baalbek
Baalbek Travel Blog› entry 18 of 54 › view all entries
Early in the morning we took a public bus across the Mt Lebanon range, passing snowy mountain tops, into the Bekaa valley. Everywhere we looked we saw soldiers and tanks stationed along the road, at all major routes and intersections. Even though the war with Israel has pretty much come to an end, the army is still on their toes just in case they come back. Or perhaps they were there just in case some lunatics from the Palestinian refugee camps in the south decided to revolt and take over the country. Lebanon is still fighting a war at many different fronts.
The Bekaa valley, in which the old Roman city of Baalbek is located, is Hezbollah territory. Hezbollah is one of those groups you only hear about in negative context in the news.
I don't condone Hezbollah teachings, its suppression of women and tendency to encourage terrorist activities against the Western world are definitely not my cup of tea. But I can understand the attraction this faction might have on the people here. Last summer two Israeli soldiers were kidnapped by Palestinians at the Israeli-Lebanese border. Because these Palestians probably came from refugee camps in Lebanon, the Israeli army retaliated by destroying the entire infrastructure of Lebanon. Bridges, highways, the airport, districts of Southern Beirut, and parts of the Bekaa valley, including the historical site of Baalbek - all were bombarded.
Of course, the incompetent government of Lebanon is as much to blame for this as Israel. But I compared it to my own country in WWII. Our government capitulated in a mere two days, and our royal family fled to England and Canada while thousands died in the bombardment of Rotterdam. So what did the Dutch do? Did they blame their government for misjudging the threat of the Germans? Did they blame the royal family for cowardness? Of course not, they started the resistance, trying to sabotage the Germans. So what do you reckon happens when a Lebanese farmer comes home one day to find his farm bombed to smithereens and his family dead? And then a charismatic leader like Hasan Nasrallah sells his Hezbollah story and gives instructions on how to throw a bomb back. Do you reckon he'll go complain to his government for incompetence? Of course not! After seeing first hand what happened to a country like Lebanon makes me understand just how movements like Hezbollah and Hamas find their willing followers.
So what does Israel do to re-educate these people? They simply throw a few more bombs on them. And what does America and the rest of the Western world do? We simply look the other way and give Israel full carte blanche to bomb whatever they want to bomb. Makes you wonder if the situation would have been any different had there been any oil in the ground here.
Reading about the turbulent recent history of this country, and hearing the accounts of people made me so angry.
Anyway, rant over. We arrived in Baalbek, a city which stems from another era of Imperialism: the Roman times. The city was originally founded some 1000 years BC, and captured and amended by the Romans in 64 BC.
By now we had seen a fair share of piles of rock, but evenso, this place was more impressive and spectacular than anything we had seen so far. The main temple, the temple of Baal, doesn't have much left stading. Some of the outer walls are still there, and there are 6 columns standing that were once part of the Temple of Jupiter, which are really impressive.
What the main temple of Baal lacks in 'completeness' is more than compensated by nearby temple of Bacchus, which is almost entirely intact. The Temple of Bacchus was ironically called the 'small temple' although it is bigger than the Parthenon in Greece. With a height of more than 40 metres, this is a hugely impressive structure, especially when you consider it has stood there for over 2000 years.
And to think of what this city must have looked like back then, when this huge temple was actually dwarfed by the nearby Temples of Baal and Jupiter... amazing... I always knew the Romans suffered from delusions of grandeur, but this was the first time I got to see it for myself. Reminds me I should really get myself to Rome some day.
The only negative aspect of today was the weather. Back in Holland there was a heat wave going on, with temperatures above 33 degrees and we were shivering in the cold, wearing nowhere near enough clothes. It had been nice and sunny in Beirut, but across the Mt Lebanon mountain range the weather was a completely different story. Overcast, rainy and a freezing wind.
Partially due to the cold we left Baalbek after just an hour and a half. Had the sun been shining it would have been great to hang around a little, imagining what this place might have looked like 2000 years ago, but in this weather it just wasn't fun.
So we went back to the nice and sunny Beirut, which lies 1000 metres lower on the Mediterranean coast.
In the evening we asked the hotel reception whether there was any real Lebanese restaurant left in this city at all.
It shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone that this restaurant was completely devoid of any Lebanese patrons, and the only people there were Westerners. Tourists, business people, UN soldiers, etc. All Lebanese were probably having pizza in Gemmayzeh...