The culminating activity of this unit will be to create a “Baalbeck Festival.” The purpose of this section is to give a brief description of the Baalbeck Festival and how it relates to Lebanese Culture. The following background was obtained from the
Baalbeck Festival Web Site
at http://www.baalbeck.org.lb/main.htm which gives much more information about the Festival, the culture of Lebanon, Lebanese performers and artists, as well as the history of the temples.
Baalbeck is located in the Bekaa Valley at the point where the Orontes River flows north and the Litani River flows south. It is 89 km from Beirut, less than two hours by car. It was the site of a Phoenician temple “dedicated to the worship of Baal, a Semitic deity.”27 Later the Greeks built an Acropolis on the site. The Greeks called the town Heliopolis which means City of the Sun.
The Romans built new temples on the site. The largest, completed in AD 60, is dedicated to Jupiter. The temples dedicated to Bacchus and Venus, were built in the next 200 years during the reign of the Syro-Roman emperors including, Phillip the Arab. It is thought that “In erecting this monumental edifice, Rome wanted to assert the supremacy of its atheist religion at a site close to the birthplace of Christianity, which was rapidly becoming a destabilizing force within the empire.”28
After Emperor Constantine adopted Christianity in 312 the temples became churches. Four hundred years later, the Arab conquerors turned the Acropolis into a military fortress. Over the centuries, earthquakes damaged them, but they still stand as some of the best preserved examples of Roman temples.
The roots of the Festival date to 1922 with the reciting of poetry in the ruins by a group of Lebanese and French.29 In 1954 a series of theatrical performances took place. This led to the establishment of the Baalbeck International Festival in 1956, featuring cultural and artistic activities. “The characteristic Lebanese spirit of initiative, coupled with traditional oriental hospitality gradually succeeded in convincing major artists to come in increasing numbers to Baalbeck.”30 The Paris and Milan Operas, the New York and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestras, and the Old Vic Theatre Company, Rudolf Noureïev, and the rock star Sting, are among the participants in the festival over the years.
The Festival evolved in two main directions. It kept with Lebanon’s heritage as a crossroads of civilizations, bridging East and West, and it celebrated creativity by producing original works commissioned from contemporary writers and composers. Of particular significance to Lebanon’s cultural and artistic development was the presentation of works that had been specifically created for the Festival by the Rahbani brothers, Assi and Mansour, by Roméo, Aline and Papou Lahoud, and by the two great singers Feyrouz (http://Fayrouz.org) and Sabah, as well as by Abdel Halim Caracalla and his folk dance company.31
The Baalbeck International Festival was interrupted by the civil war (1975-1996) in Lebanon and it resumed its activities in 1997. While the Baalbeck Festival is the most famous festival in Lebanon, there are several other festivals and holidays which are celebrated.
Islamic holidays follow a lunar calendar and are not celebrated on a fixed date. Muslims celebrate Eid al-Fitr, which is a three day feast at the end of Ramadan. Ramadan is a month of fasting from sunrise to dusk for Muslims. Muslims also celebrate the prophet Muhammad’s birthday. Eid ul-Adha is a feast held at the end of a pilgrimage to Makkah, Saudi Arabia. Christians celebrate Christmas (Dec. 25), Easter, which follows a lunar calendar, and the Assumption (Aug. 15). The national holidays include New Year’s Day, Labor Day (May 1), and Independence Day (Nov. 22.)