The Faqra ruins lie in Kfardebian on a small hill (rising 1600 meters above sea level) overlooking a deep valley in which the el Laban and el Asal spring water flows. The site glows with a natural beauty, with magnificent dolomite rocks that rise like a forest of monuments among the ruins. Faqra attracted the Western explorers since the eighteenth century. They were intrigued by its special buildings, to a point that made Ernest Renan say in his book A Trip Through Phoenicia. “It is the greatest among Mount Lebanon ruins.” The French explorer François Debaggis roamed it in 1770 describing it in exact details, especially the Valley of the Cross and the Faqra ruins. He as well shed a light upon its customs and its hospitality. Several archeological and historical research studied Faqra. The most important of which were the report of the German Delegation of 1938, but no archeological excavations were carried until now.
The Building of the Site:
Three Iturean texts indicate that the building of the site took place in three different eras, starting with King Solomon’s era (Ninth Century B.C.), through the Ptolemaic Dynasty (Second Century B.C.) or dating it back to obscure and undefined eras. Meanwhile, two sculptured Greek texts, one on the threshold of the main door leading to the Tower, and the second on the cornerstone of the aforementioned building, indicate that the site was built in the year 43 during the reign of the Roman emperor, Tiberius Claudius. As for the Temple of Atargatis, it contained a number of Greek inscriptions indicating that it was built in the year 49. Meanwhile, no real evidence was found in the Big Temple, indicating when it was built.
Faqra contains currently the following number of religious buildings:
The Big Tower:
The square Tower consists of two stories. Meanwhile its pyramidal top is a mere saying not supported by any proof. One can enter it through a small flight of stairs leading to the main entrance that was tightly locked by two doors, the ruins of which are still evident on the entrance stones. We enter the Tower through stairs that are divided into two flights, reconnected at the top of the first storey. Inside is a room locked by a sliding door. One notices openings in the walls of the Tower and in every direction. These were used to surveil the entire site. Two Greek inscriptions were found in the Tower. They indicate that the inhabitants of the region dedicated this building to Emperor Tiberius Claudius in 43 A.D. The inscriptions shed a light upon a historical state dominated by conflicts in the East during the Roman occupation in the first century A.D. Therefore, we do not know whether Faqra stayed under the control of Agrippa, King of Chalcis in the Bekaa, or was a part of the Beirut or Jbeil regions, or in fact stayed under the control of Tiberius Claudius, as an occupied territory. Faqra inhabitants, in this historical context, built this tower on their own expense and the expense of the Big Temple. Furthermore, dedicating this site to Claudis protected him from the struggles that troubled the East thus, the Tower was protected from robbery and destruction. The position of the Tower, as well as its architecture, give it several functions, the most important of which are: a center for surveillance and signaling, a fortified vault to conserve the riches of the religious temples.
The square Altar, (with a 7.75 meter side) is situated opposite to the main entrance of the Tower. It was restored in the 40’s. The influence of the Egyptian and Oriental arts are clearly present in the architecture of the cornice stones. The date of its construction is unknown. Nevertheless, it was probably built during the same era as the Tower.
It was built on a square base (with a 5.2 meter side) mounted by a twelve column hallway, surrounding a big stone with a round top. On the Eastern side of the stone, a crescent was sculptured, in a glowing half of a sun. The design of this Shrine dates back to an era preceding Hellenistic influence on the East.
The Big Temple:
This rectangular Temple (34×14 meters) is situated to the South of the aforementioned building, directed from East to West. It was restored in a non scientific way. An outer hallway of Corinthian columns, adorned by two angels, then a flight of steps leads to the columned hall, and then to the sanctum sanctorum. The ceiling of the last two areas are supposed to be covered by wood, maybe. It has two doors in the Northern wall. A part of its wall has been engraved in the rocks. The design of this Temple follows an old Semitic architecture known in Lebanese ruins and in other regions in the East. A number of recently published Greek inscriptions were found in the Temple, but they did not indicate the date of its construction. The architectural comparison between the Temple and the rest of the Faqra buildings makes us speculate many different eras for its construction. The published Greek inscriptions stated the Temple god as being Baal or, Bal or Galassos. That makes us believe that there is an Iturean Aramaic influence on the site, as it is clearly slown in Atargatis Temple or in the historical context of the construction of the Tower. The name Galassos reflects a local god, who in fast is the Phoenician Baal widely worshipped in the mountain areas, according to an old tradition. That makes us speculate that there is a religious center in Faqra, according to the Phoenician Canaanite tradition, before the construction of this Temple, in the era influenced by the Greeks and Romans in the East.
This temple has a unique design. It consists of two rooms with no hallways. It is directed from the East to the West. We notice in the internal room a number of openings adjacent to the opposing walls, to support the wooden mastaba of the sanctum sanctorum. The Temple underwent architectural transformations, especially in the internal room which was transformed during the Byzantine era to a Baptistery in a church built in the outer part, and stayed preserved until the seventh century. A Greek inscription was found in the Temple. It states its construction date. The High Priest and the inhabitants of the area built this Temple and presented it as a gift to Agrippa I sons: Julius Marcus Agrippa II, and his sister Berenice who was the wife of Herod, the King of Chalcis between the years 41 and 48 A.D. The Kingdom of Chalcis in fact was established by the Itureans in the second century B.C. It quickly rose to prominence. After Pompey invaded the East in the year 63 B.C. the Romans reorganized this Kingdom then divided it in the year 36. The Emperor Claudius gave Herod (grandson of Herod the Great) Chalcis Lebanon. After Herod’s death in the year 49/50 he gave it to his grandson Agrippa II who remained single and lived with his widow sister. During this time, the Temple was presented to the sons of Agrippa I, with the mention of the goddess Atargatis described as “Arabic”. That makes us consider that the Itureans controlled Faqra. Thus, the Temple was already built during their reign and the entire site was under their control. It is natural then for the Faqra inhabitants to present their Temple to Agrippa II, considering that he is, along with his sister, the new ruler of “Chalcis Lebanon”
The Tombs are scattered around Atargatis Temple, especially to its Southeastern side. They are built according to three patterns. There are some that are engraved in the rocks, sarcophagi sculptured in the rocks, and well designed caves consisting of several burial chambers. Byzantine crosses were sculptured on the caves, which means that they were being used during the Christian era. It is worth mentioning the presence of many different buildings, especially beside Atargatis Temple, that follow a primitive design different from the well organized architectures used in the site. They were probably built in a later era, during the Middle Ages maybe. It seems that Faqra was built and expanded during different eras, but we cannot establish a precise date of construction for all the current building. Eventhough during the nineteenth century, a statue of a goddess was found, that has a local war design and is currently found in the Louvre Museum in France. It dates back to the seventh century B.C. It is the only physical evidence showing the old age of the Faqra ruins. Thus, it is important that excavations be carrierd at this special site, to solve its historical and archeological issues and save therefore a heritage threatened by destruction.