Back to Baalbek
Located on the northern Beqaa-Plain between the mountain ranges of Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon at 3,840 ft above seal level, Baalbek is famous for its magnificent temple ruins, the grandest and amongst the best preserved in the modern world. Re-named Heliopolis, (from the Greek 'Helios' = sun and 'Polis' = city), by Alexander the Great who swept through the Near East following his siege of the Phoenician city of Tyre in 332 BC.
Immediately visible for some distance on the approach to Baalbek are the six gigantic Corinthian columns of the Jupiter Temple, the largest in the ancient world. The temple complex at Baalbek is of Roman date with construction commencing in the final quarter of the 1st Century BC, nearing completion in the final years of Nero's reign, 37-68 AD. The Byzantine Emperor Constantine shut down the pagan temples at Baalbek following the declaration of Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire in 313 AD.
The Roman temple complex stands on the foundations laid by some unknown civilisation. The podium of the Jupiter temple, known as the Grand Terrace, was constructed with the most gigantic stones ever crafted by man. The largest stones at Baalbek are some 20 times greater in weight than the largest stones used at Stonehenge. Incorporated into the west wall of the Grand Terrace and mounted on a course of blocks each weighing around 350 - 400 tons, are three enormous stones weighing an estimated 800 – 1,000 tons each. These three massive stones are known as the 'Trilithon' and the largest megaliths known to have been moved by man found anywhere in the world.
The Grand Terrace appears to have been constructed in prehistory; no culture claims it, its origins forgotten to the civilised world. Legend records the first temple at Baalbek as the construction of Cain before the Deluge and rebuilt by a race of giants under the command of Nimrod after the flood; the work of the Cyclopes. The origins of this remarkable temple complex are discussed in the Hand of the Cyclopes: The Mystery of the Trilithon
It has been suggested that the Trilithon structure could be part of a massive defensive wall, or the foundations of a massive platform used by ancient stargazers. Whatever it was, it would appear this colossal structure was not finished by the ancient engineers. The enigma of the ruins of Baalbek is one of the greatest mysteries of the ancient world.
Stone of the Pregnant Woman
Another yet even larger stone lies in a limestone quarry about a half a mile or so from the Baalbek temple complex. Claimed to weigh an estimated 1,000 to 1,200 tons, it measures sixty-nine feet by sixteen feet by thirteen feet ten inches, larger than the other stones of the Trilithon, making it the single largest piece of stonework ever crafted in the world. Named the Hajar el Gouble, the Stone of the South, or the Hajar el Hibla, the Stone of the Pregnant Woman from a local legend which claims the stone was named after a pregnant woman who tricked the people of Baalbek into believing that she knew how to move the giant stone if only they would feed her until she gives birth. The stone lies at an angle still attached to the bedrock in the quarry. Presumably this massive worked stone was about to be cut free and transported to join the other stones of the Trilithon. In the mid-1990's a second massive stone was discovered in the same quarry, estimated to weigh 1,242 tons, surpassing the dimensions of the Stone of the Pregnant Woman.
First thoughts are that the construction project at Baalbek was suddenly abandoned for some reason. It has been suggested that the project was simply abandoned because moving these massive stones was beyond their capability. But they had already used some technique unknown to modern engineers to quarry and move the stones to construct the similar sized Trilithon. This is the strongest argument against a Roman construction for the temple podium; if the Romans had constructed the Trilithon why did they leave these two stones in the quarry? Simply because the Romans could not, and have never, moved stones this size.
Yet,the question remains; why was it left unfinished?
The Egyptian Connection
Oddly, in the construction of the Roman Jupiter Temple at Baalbek red granite was used for the fifty-four enormous columns and the forecourt porticos. This granite has been sourced as coming from the ancient Egyptian quarry at Aswan, 500 miles south of Cairo. A remarkable, but not impossible, feat for the Roman engineers to have accomplished. However transported the granite from the Aswan quarry to Baalbek they could not have failed to have noticed the massive 1,170 ton obelisk still attached to the bedrock. It would appear the ancient Egyptians intended to lift and transport the obelsik to its intended siting, but discovered a fatal flaw with a crack running though it making movement quite impossible without its destruction.
The unfinished obelisk at Aswan would have been 137ft high and would have been the largest known ancient obelisk, nearly one third larger than any ancient Egyptian obelisk ever erected. Had the Egyptians simply become simply too ambitious and abandoned the project? Besides the unfinished obelisk, a second unfinished partly worked obelisk base was discovered in 2005 at the quarries of Aswan. The similarity to Baalbek is uncanny but the similarities don't stop there.
About five miles to the north-east of Cairo by the village of Matareieh is a solitary obelisk, all that remains to mark the site of the ancient town of Heliopolis on the east side of the Nile. The sixty-six feet high obelisk is made from Aswan red granite, a companion stood nearby until the 17th century and two other obelisks known as “Cleopatra 's Needles” were originally brought from Heliopolis to Alexandria. Heliopolis was one of the oldest and most famous cities of ancient Egypt, at its peak it had some sixteen obelisks, an oracle of Apollo and the famous Temple of the Sun. During the 20th Dynasty the temple was one of the largest and wealthiest in all Egypt. Writing in the 5th century BC the ancient Greek historian Herodotus tells of its inhabitants as being the wisest and most ingenious of all the Egyptians.
The site has long since been destroyed, its stone used in the building of Cairo suburbs. According to Macrobius, in the Saturnalia, the Heliopolis of Baalbek was founded by a body of priests from Heliopolis in Egypt. Possibly these priests possessed the knowledge of moving stones of such vast size. These priests are probably responsible for transporting the red granite from Aswan to Baalbek which the Romans simply reworked into the 54 columns and forecourt porticos of the Jupiter Temple.
It is only in Egypt we find stones similar in size to the truly colossal Trilithon that have been moved by man. In front of the ruins of the memorial temple of the Pharaoh Ramesses II, known as the Ramesseum, fragments survive of the colossus of Ramesses, some sixty feet in height and estimated to have weighed around 1,000 tons. Similarly, the two giant Colossi of Memnon, have been estimated to weigh as much as 1,000 tons each. These massive statues are made from blocks which were quarried at el-Gabal el Ahmar (near modern-day Cairo) and transported 420 miles over land to Thebes. Moving the unfinished obelisk at Aswan may not have been beyond the ancient Egyptian engineers. Certainly they would not have cut the stone if they did not think they could lift it.
Was the obelisk abandoned because it cracked – or did it crack at a later date? We will never know but the use of the Aswan quarry to furnish both Heliopolis sites, with the abandoned Stone of the Pregnant Woman complete with partner stone at Baalbek and the abandoned obelsik and partner at Aswan, is striking. Did the priests from Heliopolis in Egypt attempt to construct a mirror site of Baalbek?
All across the world we find evidence that people from ancients times suddenly stopped what they were building, and left their work unfinished. Surely the ancients would not go to all the trouble of obtaining raw materials, transport them to the site, work them and then just discard them?
Yet this worldwide phenomena is exactly what we find at site after site. Conveniently, for students of the orthodox, the common reason is usually that they ran out of materials or, on a larger scale, some catastrophe occurred. At Easter Island, Rapa Nui, in the Pacific, 300 standing statues, the highest at 65ft tall, were quarried within the crater of the inactive volcano of Rano Raraku and later transported to their final positions guarding the island. Yet, the tallest, known as 'El Gigante', which would have been over seventy feet high and weighing 300 tons, lies unfinished in the quarry with some 400 or so other unfinished statues. Some had just been started, while others were complete and ready for transportation to their platform. Near to the unfinished statues were chisels and axes, indicating that the sculptors had just stopped work and presumably, fully intended to return and finish their works. This sudden and abrupt end to statue production indicates that some devastating event brought an end to the island's traditional culture.
However, the enigma of Easter Island is not typical of many unfinished ancient monuments and it is important to differentiate between genuine catastrophic abandonment and deliberately leaving a monument unfinished as what must be considered as a symbolic statement. The mid-Pacific island does seem to have been hit by some sort of tragedy which is quite different from other sites of Neolithic or Early Bronze Age cultures that left monuments purposefully unfinished.
The Great Pyramid of Giza is well known for its King's and Queen's chambers. But this pyramid, attributed to Cheops, actually has three large chambers; the lowest of the three is 90 feet below ground level and cut directly into the bedrock upon which the pyramid was built. After the descending passage levels off it leads to the subterranean chamber, which is totally unfinished, rough-cut into the rock like a quarry face, lacking the precision of the so-called King's and Queen's chambers. This chamber is usually dismissed by Egyptologists as being nothing more than a simple change in plans by the pyramid engineers and that it was intended to be the original burial chamber. But considering the extreme precision and planning given to every other phase of the construction of the Great Pyramid it is difficult to agree with this. The unfinished chamber is clearly of some significance.
One of the most mysterious features of the Great Pyramid are the shafts, measuring only about 8in by 8in (20cm x 20cm), running from the two main chambers to the outside of the pyramid. It has been suggested that these shafts were used to ventilate the monument during its construction, yet, no shafts have been discovered in other pyramids. At the top of the shafts small finely finished limestone doors were discovered suggesting that there was more to the shafts than simple ventilation. In the King's Chamber the southern shaft is aligned with Al Nitak, the brightest of the three stars of Orion's belt during the epoch of the pyramid's construction, c.2500 BC. The northern shaft aligned with Thuban, in the constellation of Draco. It has been conjectured that the shafts allowed the King's soul to travel to the "stars that never die", i.e. the circumpolar stars in the northern sky.
The shafts of the King's Chamber raise enough questions of their own but one of the greatest mysteries of the Great Pyramid is the Queen's Chamber. Significantly it was placed at the centre of the pyramid, yet it was disguised by numerous hidden doorways and stone-slabs and the passage leading to the chamber was concealed by a huge stone block over the floor of the Grand Gallery. Even more enigmatic is the shafts of the Queen's Chamber. Unlike the King's Chamber where they are perfectly visible in the Queen's Chamber the shafts are 'hidden' and remained sealed over, and lead only to the 50th course, the base level of the King's chamber. The angle of the southern shaft of the Queen's Chamber determines it was aligned at the brightest star in the sky, Sirius.
Why were the shafts in the Queen's chamber not completed – was the idea simply abandoned midway through construction? Were the shafts simply an afterthought, or an insignificant architectural change?
Although of relatively small dimension (8in x 8in), the construction of these stellar aligned shafts must have been an extremely complicated process with diagonal structures crossing vast horizontal courses. Both northern shafts had to be diverted several times at different angles to get around the vast obstruction of the Great Gallery. The construction of these shafts would have required masses of additional work, time and energy and must have presented an enormous challenge. Yet, as they stand they are a masterpiece of engineering and it is inconceivable that the shafts of the Queen's Chamber were simply abandoned.
As we have seen above, in the King's Chamber the southern shaft is aligned with Al Nitak, the brightest of the three stars of Orion's belt, the stellar representation of Osiris, the great Egyptian god of the afterlife. The southern shaft of the Queen's chamber was aligned on Sirius, the representation of Isis, the sister and great love of Osiris in Egyptian mythology; the King and Queen re-united in the afterlife. Support for this concept is provided by the fact that the Northern shaft of the Queen's chamber is aimed at Kocab, a star associated by the ancients with the immortality of the soul.
Monuments by Continuity
The site at Baalbek in Lebannon was left unfinished and mirrored in Egypt. Significant features of the Great Pyramid were left incomplete after considerable effort to construct them and as much effort to then conceal them again.
What where these ancient engineers up to?
What where these ancient engineers up to?
Associations to the past, and particularly the ancestors, appears to be significant in monuments constructed during the Neolithic period and a phase of construction may have been left unfinished to draw attention to a certain time, event or family group. It is feasible that these monuments were deliberately left unfinished for successive later generations to add a phase of construction so that a monument would possess the history of a family group. The latest wisdom is that Silbury, near Avebury, was built over a hundred year period by successive generations. We find a similar concept in long barrows that were added to by successive generations of a community, or even people from afar, who would visit the monument and add a layer of construction, perhaps another chamber.
We see evidence of this continual rebuilding at Stonehenge which was dismantled, rebuilt and added to several times, incredibly, over a period in excess of a thousand years. Of course some people argue that this, the greatest Neolithic monument of them all, was never finished; a “jerry-built disaster,” planned but not completed because they ran out of material or the culture was not capable of achieving its aspirations. Mindsets like these betray a total ignorance of megalithic engineering and a prejudice against Neolithic capability.
However, there is a good argument that Stonehenge was purposefully left incomplete as we see it, and it was never intended as a closed circle. We look at this in more detail in the next part.
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