Lebanon Historic Sites Again Escape Conflict Unscathed

Mati Milstein
for National Geographic News
August 28, 2006

On August 2 elite Israeli commandos stormed through the darkness into the ancient eastern Lebanese city of Baalbek in a raid against Hezbollah militants.

One of the Israeli soldiers says he was transfixed by the magnificence of the exquisitely preserved Roman temples.

Afterward, he said the temples were the only sites in Baalbek that remained illuminated by streetlights during the bitter fighting.

War broke out on July 12 when Hezbollah militants abducted two Israeli soldiers and killed eight others in a cross-border raid. Some 743 Lebanese and 157 Israelis were killed in the ensuing fighting.

Lebanese officials had feared that the country's rich archaeological and cultural treasures—including Baalbek and the ancient port of Tyre—might also fall victim to the fighting (see a photo gallery of Lebanon's historic treasures).

But a tentative cease-fire was reached on August 14, and the sites—which have successfully survived decades of violence in war-torn Lebanon—appear to have once again emerged unscathed. (See a photo gallery of life inside Hezbollah.)

Ancient Ruins

Baalbek, which means "God of the Beqaa Plain," was named a World Heritage site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization in 1984 (map of Lebanon).

The city, where a triad of deities was worshipped, was originally founded by the Phoenicians. But its golden age began after Julius Caesar made it a Roman colony.

Known then as Heliopolis, the city retained its religious function, and its Temple of Jupiter attracted thousands of pilgrims.

Baalbek's colossal structures are some of the largest and best preserved Roman ruins in the Middle East.

Tyre (Sur in Arabic), now Lebanon's fourth-largest city, was added to UNESCO's World Heritage list in 1979.

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