Like the pyramids of Egypt, the ruins at Baalbek contain stonework still unexplained in modern archaeology.
Though studied by archaeologists for over 100 years, the ruins at Baalbek, Lebanon contain a few structures that still defy explanation. The Baalbek foundation stones, particularly the huge blocks known as the Trilithon, are one of the great mysteries of the ancient world.
A Timeline of Baalbek History
Baalbek’s origin is not entirely known. It is assumed by scholars that the name refers to the sky god Baal, worshiped by the Phoenicians, but there is some disagreement on the actual meaning of the title. However, most historians and archaeologists agree that the site has been a settlement since 5,000 BC, all the way back to the bronze age.
Many of the ruins still visible and under investigation are from Roman times. Called Heliopolis by Roman settlers, there was an explosion of development that began around 300 BC. In 15 BC, under the command of Julius Caesar, construction began on The Temple of Jupiter. While much of the purpose of this temple is unclear, it was an impressive feat of engineering.
Many historians believe that the Greek god Zeus was somewhat based on the Phoenician Baal. Furthermore, many of the characteristics of the Roman Jupiter were based on Zeus, explaining the placement of The Temple of Jupiter on the ruins of the older worship center of Baal. Baalbek became one of the grandest worship centers of the Roman Empire before the advent of Christianity in 313 AD and was later seized by Muslim armies in the 7th century AD, who built a mosque at the site.
The Foundation Stones of The Temple of Jupiter
Underneath the ruins of The Temple of Jupiter are approximately 25 large limestone blocks weighing 450 tons. On one side of the complex, there are three even larger stones sitting atop the foundation. Called the trilithon stones, these massive blocks weigh in at 1000 tons each. Compared to the stones used in the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt, the largest being 80 tons, it is unknown how the blocks were set in place. Given that the erosion is greater on the surface of these foundation stones in comparison with the blocks of The Temple of Jupiter, it is assumed that these were already in place at the time of Roman construction.
The location where the limestone was quarried, a quarter of a mile away, lies another mysterious stone. This stone, often called the Stone of the Pregnant Woman, is the largest of all, weighing in at 1200 tons. It sits at an angle in the quarry and is still attached at the bottom as if it was about to be cut free and moved. This stone is the largest piece of worked stone in the entire world.
The explanation often offered by archaeologists and historians for the massive Baalbek foundation stones, like the pyramids in Egypt, is a system of pulleys, ramps, and timber rollers. However, given that the ruins of Baalbek sit on top of a hill, it remains a mystery as to how the enormous blocks were transported, let alone, precisely set in place. Some engineers even argue that modern technology would not be capable of this feat, given the amount of horizontal space for cranes and pulleys at the site..
The Mystery Remains
A wealth of information exists out there about the Baalbek foundation stones, but no one can come to a conclusion about the techniques used for this enigmatic feat of engineering. Some claim lost technology. Others claim the existence of advanced Paleolithic societies that disappeared from history. Some others even claim extraterrestrial intervention. But all of these are simply conclusions based on a lack of evidence.
It may never be known how the Baalbek foundation stones were cut, moved from the quarry uphill, then arranged precisely, but it is fun to think about. Like the pyramids of Egypt, the ruins at Macchu Picchu, or the temple of Angkor Wat, we may never know exactly what occurred in the past. We can, however, marvel at the ingenuity of ancient people.
- Adam, Jean-Pierre (1977), À propos du trilithon de Baalbek: Le transport et la mise en oeuvre des mégalithes, Syria, translated from French