Baalbeck is in the Beqaa Valley of Lebanon. Known as Heliopolis during the period of Roman rule, it was one of the largest sanctuaries in the empire and contains some of the best preserved Roman ruins in Lebanon.
The history of settlement in the area of Baalbeck dates back about 9,000 years, with almost continual settlement of the tell under the Temple of Jupiter, which was a temple since the pre-Hellenistic era.
After Alexander the Great conquered the Near East in 334 BC, the existing settlement was named Heliopolis from helios, Greek for sun, and polis, Greek for city. The city retained its religious function during Greco-Roman times, when the sanctuary of the Heliopolitan Jupiter-Baal was a pilgrimage site. Trajan’s biographer records that the emperor consulted the oracle there. Trajan inquired of the Heliopolitan Jupiter whether he would return alive from his wars against the Parthians. In reply, the god presented him with a vine shoot cut into pieces.
Starting in the last quarter of the 1st century BC (reign of Augustus) and over a period of two centuries (reign of Philip the Arab), the Romans had built a temple complex in Baalbeck consisting of three temples: Jupiter, Bacchus and Venus. On a nearby hill, they built a fourth temple dedicated to Mercury.
“Known as Heliopolis during the period of Roman rule, it was one of the largest sanctuaries in the empire and contains some of the best preserved Roman ruins in Lebanon.
The gods that were worshipped at the temple – Jupiter, Venus, and Bacchus – were grafted onto the indigenous deities of Hadad, Atargatis, and a young male god of fertility. Local influences are seen in the planning and layout of the temples, which vary from the classic Roman design.”