Temple of Bacchus

The Temple of Bacchus has stood in the city of Baalbek, Lebanon, for nearly 2000 years now. It is a proud reminder of both the Roman Empire’s vast dominion and its dedication to its gods.


Though the temple is filled with carvings and statues of Bacchus, historians are not entirely sure whether the temple was dedicated to the Roman God of Wine or if it served another purpose. It is apparent that the temple was built to inspire awe in the people of ancient Lebanon and make them worship Roman deities.

From 1898 to 1903, a German expedition conducted excavations on the site and discovered the temple. Then in 1920, the Lebanese government started to repair and reconstruct the remains of the site and the temple itself. Subsequent research by historians revealed that the temple was ordered to be built by Emperor Antoninus Pius, who ruled from 138 to 161. Though the architect’s identity has been lost in time, the construction is believed to have begun between the years 150 and 250. 


The temple’s length covers 65 meters, and its width spans 35 meters. The whole structure is built on a podium and can be reached by stairs. The temple’s walls are supported and ornamented by 42 columns designed in the Corinthian style. Out of these 42 columns, 23 have since collapsed, leaving only 19 columns standing. Each column towers 19 meters high, while the temple itself reaches 31 meters above the ground. An entablature rests above the columns, including an architrave. Although most of the entablature has fallen apart, sculptures of bulls and lions can still be seen on its surface. 

Any visitor to the temple will be greeted at the entrance by decorations of vines and grapes, which are symbols strongly associated with wine and Bacchus. The interior of the temple, which measures 30 meters, is also replete with sculptures depicting rituals related to Bacchus. Further inside the temple is the cult room, or inner sanctum, which measures 11 meters. The cult room is elevated on a platform that stands 2 meters high, with a staircase of 13 steps in front of it. Inside the cult room, two statue nooks can be found, with one nook placed higher than the other. The parapets inside the cult room are ornamented with frolicking Maenads, who, in Roman mythology, are the intoxicated followers of Bacchus. 

Through the centuries, many earthquakes have contributed to the temple’s disintegration. In particular, the earthquakes of 1759 caused visible damage to the keystone of the temple’s lintel, causing it to slide 2 feet. This beautiful keystone is adorned with an eagle clutching the herald’s wand and is flanked by two cupids. In the 1860s, a concrete column was positioned to prevent the keystone from sliding down further. All in all, however, the Temple of Bacchus has survived in great condition, owing in large part to its location in medieval Baalbek’s military stronghold.


In 1984, UNESCO recognized the Temple of Bacchus and the surrounding ruins as a World Heritage Site. Accordingly, the protection and repair of the ruins continue to this day. Proof of the site’s allure in the modern world became evident in 2016 when the 60th Baalbeck International Festival was swarmed by 20,000 attendees and sold out 1,500 hotel rooms in the vicinity.