Baalbek (bälˈbĕk) [key], ancient city, now in Lebanon, 35 mi (56 km) NW of Damascus, in the Al Biqa (Bekaa) valley. Originally it was probably devoted to the worship of Baal or Bel, the Phoenician sun god, although no traces of an early Phoenician settlement have survived. The Greeks called the city Heliopolis [city of the sun]. It became very prominent in Roman days and was made a separate colony by Augustus. Both Greek and Roman architects employed their genius on Baalbek's buildings. Among the most imposing Roman remains are the temple of Bacchus and the temple of Jupiter. The city was sacked by invaders and was destroyed by an earthquake in 1759.
In the mid-1970s the modern town of Baalbek, which borders the ruins of the ancient city, became a stronghold of Palestinian and Syrian forces, changing hands several times during Lebanon's 15-year civil war. Tourism, the city's staple industry, was interrupted until the 1990s. Baalbek has since become a stronghold of the Lebanese Hezbollah political party and its militia, and was subjected to Israeli air attacks during the 2006 fighting.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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