For days 2 and 3 of Kath’s visit to Lebanon we rented a car with driver and guide. Louise, our guide and seemingly a perpetual university student, was very knowledgeable. She told us that Lebanon has 300 days of sunshine per year, but unfortunately none of them fell during Kath’s visit! On Monday 2 November we set off in rain and poor visibility over Mount Lebanon to the Bekaa Valley to visit Baalbek’s Roman temple complex and the winery at Ksara before having a late lunch at a favourite destination for local tourists, Zahle.
Our stops can be seen on the map below.
View Lebanon Day 2 in a larger map
Mount Lebanon is a range of mountains rising to 3,000 m above sea level. The road through the pass to the Bekaa Valley climbs steeply from Beirut to around 1,000 m above sea level. Unfortunately, with the weather we were experiencing, visibility was a few hundred metres at best.
Our first stop was at Ksara, where they produce a range of fine Lebanese wines from their vinyards in the Bekaa Valley.
Ksara has a very nice visitor centre and offers guided tours of the winery. We began by watching a video film of wine making at Ksara which was well produced and educational. We then had a tour of the ‘cellar’, which is the most unique feature of Ksara.
The wine cellar was originally a grotto discovered by the Romans who consolidated part of the vault and dug several narrow tunnels from the cave into the surrounding chalk. These tunnels were enlarged to their present 2 km length during World War I when the Jesuit Fathers, who were the owners of Ksara at that time, sought to alleviate famine in Lebanon by creating employment.
The cellars, I’m pleased to report, were much drier than outside where the rain continued to lash down.
Our visit finished with a tasting of the product, which was very drinkable.
This was my second visit to Baalbek, and I could very well have spent more time there despite the bad weather. The most impressive aspect is the sheer scale of the construction. Much of the stone was taken from nearby quarries with elements of the construction weighing up to 1,000 tonnes. The six remaining Corinthian columns at the Temple of Jupiter Baal are truly imposing.
On the image to the left, Kath is standing at the foot of the columns and gives some idea of their scale, which is even more imposing due to them sitting on a high pediment which is only partially shown in the image.
The site has probably had a religious function since ancient times. After Alexander the Great conquered the area it became known as Helipolis and was a pilgrimage site. Over two centuries the Romans created perhaps the largest temple complex in the Middle East with Temples dedicated to Jupiter Baal, Venus and Bacchus.
The complex has a well presented museum which is worth taking time to tour. However, as its not dumbed down, younger children might not find it entertaining for long.
Baalbek is a UNESCO World Heritage Site – I hope that I’ll find an opportunity for a third visit!
We had a very late lunch in Zahle, where we ate in Wadi el-Aarayesh (Grape Vine Valley) by the River Bardouni. The wadi hosts many restaurants and is very popular with tourists in season. However, it wasn’t in season and we were only too happy to eat inside in the dry.
The rain didn’t let up and the visibility didn’t improve as we made our way back to our hotel in Beirut.
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