Baalbek Reborn: Temples is an app-based Virtual 3D tour of the designated UNESCO World Heritage Site Roman ruins in Lebanon. It offers the audience an opportunity to not only marvel at the ruins in their current state today, but also travel back in time to see a digitally restored version of the original structure. 

Situated on top of a hill in Lebanon, and overlooking the fertile Bekaa valley, Baalbek is an ancient centre with a temple complex built by the Phoenicians, that dates back to as early as 9000 B.C.. The famous temple complex includes The Temple of Jupiter Heliopolitanus, the Temple of Bacchus, the Temple of Venus and the Temple of the Muses. This was one of the largest Roman religious sites in the world, and a sacred place of worship, for Romans, Christians and Islamic worshippers, till its decline during the Ottoman Empire, when it was abandoned. 

Bacchus interior
Photo credit: Copyright DAI, OA, I. Wagner. All rights reserved.

Today in modern day Lebanon, the ruins of this revered Roman temple are one of the country’s most historical treasures. The magnificent site is a tourist hotspot and draws visitors, holidaymakers and historians from across the world. In an effort to create more awareness of this monumental site and attract a global audience, a virtual time travel tour app Baalbek Reborn: Temples, has been launched.

This is a joint effort between the Lebanese General Department of Antiquities (DGA), the German Archaeological Institute (DAI) and Flyover Zone – a US-based company that specializes in virtual tours allowing viewers to travel through time. It is a first in a series of virtual tours presenting the sites and monuments of the Baalbek World Heritage Site in Lebanon. 

“What’s fascinating about Baalbek is not only the Roman temples, but also its almost 10,000-year history,” stresses Margarete van Ess, Director of the Orient Department of the German Archaeological Institute and longstanding head of scientific research in Baalbek. “As an archaeologist, finds and research results give me images in my mind of what this special place looked like at that time. It’s fantastic that the temples are now given shape in the app and can be viewed by people all over the world!” says van Ess. 

Bacchus and Jupiter
Photo credit: Copyright of DAI, OA, I. Wagner. All rights reserved.

Using pioneering computer graphic technology, the app allows the users to come face to face with history and explore one the world’s best preserved Roman temples. It also gives access to places no visitor would usually see like the top of the six columns of Jupiter where you have a dramatic view from over 25 meters above the podium. 

The app is designed to make the user feel like they are on site and walking back in time throughout the fascinating 38 stops tour. It is accompanied with detailed explanations from the German Archaeological Institute. Users can delve deeper into the history and literally zoom into specific areas of interest and learn about the intricate details and aspects of the site, including how the granite used in the sanctuary was from Egypt and how the Temple of Jupiter is in part built of the largest stones ever quarried in human history. 

Bernard Frischer, founder and president of Flyover Zone says: "For Flyover Zone, this project has been a dream come true. In addition to the sheer size of the Baalbek sanctuary, its cultural significance cannot be exaggerated. In antiquity, people from distant points of the empire consulted the oracle of Baalbek, and we even have records of emperors doing so, too. Now we are using what we learned to bring Baalbek into the classrooms and living rooms of students and the general public. We hope that thousands of people around the world will download the virtual tour and use it to whet their appetite to visit the site when the COVID-19 pandemic passes and international travel is possible again.”

Then & Now: Temple of Jupitor
Photo credit: Copyright of Flyover Zone Productions
and German Archaeological Institute. All rights reserved.

The “Baalbek Reborn: Temples” virtual tour app is available free of charge because of the generosity of Kuwaiti businessman Bassam Alghanim who donated the funds in loving memory of his parents, Yusuf and Ilham Alghanim. 

The app works on smartphones and tablets (Android, iOS), computers (Mac, Windows 10) as well as VR headsets (Oculus Go, Oculus Quest, Oculus Rift, Oculus Rift-S, HTC Vive), and can be downloaded from the respective app stores. The audio track is available in Arabic, French, English, and German. 

Words: Saira Malik
*Header Image: Courtesy of and copyright 2020 Annewies van den Hoeck. All rights reserved.

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