Baalbek: Lebanon’s magnificent Roman ruins

Photographer Dan Annett braves the wilds of Lebanon’s Beqaa Valley in search of the glories of Baalbek

The Beqaa Valley is Hezbollah territory. Which means it’s not an easy place to visit. I went with Lebanese friends of mine, who were on the phone in the days ahead of our visit keeping track of the situation on the ground. 

We’d been in Beirut for a few days when we got word that we were good to go, and we headed up to my friends’ house in Mount Lebanon. You don’t have to drive far from the coast before you hit the mountain range and the views up there are astonishing. You’re right up there in the clouds and you can see all the way down to the Mediterranean. 

From their house, we struck out for the Beqaa Valley, driving up over the mountains and then down this huge sweeping road. Coming up the road in the other direction there were Humvees and tanks, and there were police checkpoints everywhere, but everyone was incredibly friendly. And in the end, it was pretty easy: we got waved through all the roadblocks we passed. 

Baalbek is arguably the world’s greatest example of Imperial Roman architecture, and we had the whole site pretty much to ourselves.

To the east, we could see another mountain range, and we knew that over the other side of it was Syria. As we dropped further down into the valley, I could see a lot of cannabis and a lot of poppies, huge fields of them. But there were farms and vineyards too, and a great sense of normal life going on even though it’s such a politically fraught part of the world. We got taken to a couple of amazing restaurants where we ate like kings in huge tents with tables stacked high with food: fresh hummus, smoky baba ganoush, grilled meats and delicious fruits.

Eventually, we made it to Baalbek and its astonishing complex of ruins. The experience was like going to see the Colosseum when there’s nobody else there. Baalbek is arguably the world’s greatest example of Imperial Roman architecture, and we had the whole site pretty much to ourselves. It was just us and an old guy sitting under a tree, which meant that we were free to get up close to the towering Temple of Jupiter with its beautiful decorative reliefs, and the incredibly well-preserved Temple of Bacchus with its 42 Corinthian columns. 

There’s no gift shop. No ticket hall. No health and safety forms. It’s just one enormous site that you can walk around and explore at your own pace. Being there, completely alone, surrounded by all this majesty, felt like what travelling back in the 1920s must have: unencumbered and totally thrilling. 

By Dan Annett, Photo Director, Secret Trips. Dan is a British photographer and director specialising in fashion, portrait and lifestyle images.  danannett.com

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