Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Look up, look up

The Temple of Jupiter, Baalbek
"Four hundred piastres for that room? Four hundred did you say? Good God! Away! Call the car. Three hundred and fifty? One hundred and fifty you mean. Three hundred? Are you deaf, can't you hear? I said a hundred and fifty. We must go. There are other hotels. Come, load the luggage. I doubt if we shall stay in Baalbek at all."
So starts Robert Byron's description of his arrival in Baalbek in his book The Road to Oxiana (1937). He secures the room eventually for two hundred piastres and sets out to view the ancient site, pursued, just as you are today, by hordes of souvenir sellers. His description of the ruins struck a chord when I re-read it yesterday. What hits you is the scale of the place and the size of the enormous stones it is built from. "Look up, look up; up this quarried flesh, these thrice enormous shafts, to the broken capitals and the cornice as big as a house." It is quite unlike any other Roman structure I have ever seen.

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