The Landing Place

“The greatest Roman temple ruins lie not in Rome, but in the mountains of Lebanon.

“….Emperors and generals came to it in search of oracles, to find out their fate. Roman legionnaires sought to be billeted near it; the devout and the curious went to see it with their own eyes: it was one of the wonders of the ancient world.

“….The site is in the mountains of Lebanon…. the enclosed squarish area, with some sides almost 2,500 feet long, measured over five million square feet.
“….The temple proper was only the westernmost (and oldest) part of a four-part shrine to Jupiter, which the Romans are believed to have started to build soon after they occupied the place in 63 B.C.

“….From its monumental gateway staircase to its final western wall, the shrine extended for more than 1,000 feet in length. It completely dwarfed a very large temple to its south, which was dedicated to a male deity, some think Bacchus but probably Mercury, and a small round temple to the southeast, where Venus was venerated.

“….The Romans considered the site and its great temple as the ultimate attestations of the almightiness and supremacy of Jupiter. Calling him Iove (echo of the Hebrew Yehovah?), they inscribed upon the temple and its main statue the divine initials I.O.M.H. the legend standing for Iove Optimus Maximus Heliopolitanus: the Optimal and Maximal Jupiter the Heliopolitan.

“The latter title of Jupiter stemmed for the fact that though the great temple was dedicated to the Supreme God, the place itself was considered to have been a resting place of Helios, the Sun god who could traverse the skies in his swift chariot. The belief was transmitted to the Romans by the Greeks, from whom they also adopted the name of the place Heliopolis. How the Greeks had come to so name the place, no one knows for sure; some suggest that it was so named by Alexander the Great.

“….In fact, the place and its association with certain gods go back to even earlier times. Archaeologists believe that there may have been as many as six temples built on the site before Roman times, and it is certain that whatever shrines the Greeks may have erected there, they – as the Romans after them – were only raising the structures atop earlier foundations, religiously and literally.

“….The hold the place had over the beliefs and imaginations of people throughout the millennia also manifested itself in the history of the place following its Roman veneration…. circa A.D. 400, Rome was already Christian and the site was already a target of zealous destruction. No sooner did Constantine the Great (A.D. 306-337) convert to Christianity, than he stopped all additional work there and instead began the conversion of the place into a Christian shrine. In the year 440, according to one chronicler, Theodosius destroyed the temples of the Greeks, he transformed into a Christian Church the temple of Heliopolis, that of Ba’al Helios, the great Sun-Ba’al of the celebrated Trilithon.

“….When the Muslims gained the area in the year 637, they converted the Roman temples and Christian churches atop the huge platform into a Muhammedan enclave. Where Zeus and Jupiter had been worshipped, a mosque was built to worship Allah.

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Ragnar Larsen

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