Alexander Creswell’s Painting of the Month: Temple of Bacchus at Baalbek, Lebanon
As fate would have it, I had planned to be painting at Leptis Magna this month. The Roman city of Leptis Magna is in Libya. Given the state of turmoil in Libya at this time, it would not have been the peaceful and inspirational expedition I had in mind. I thank fate for ensuring that I had changed my mind before the current situation blew up in Libya.
Unrest in beautiful places is not new. I had painted extensively in Cairo years ago and fully intent to do so again. Also in Baalbek, Lebanon.
This painting of the interior of the Temple of Bacchus was carried out some 14 years ago when I was able to go there with a team from the Prince of Wales’s Institute of Architecture as part of an urban task force project in Beirut and Sidon. I knew the precariously dislodged keystone from a lithograph by David Roberts of the1840s and was delighted to see that it was still there. The delicately refined ruins of Baalbek were deserted when we were there. On the hilltop nearby the reason was clear; a fortified army encampment oversaw our every move. Hezbollah were watching us, sunlight glinting off the gun barrels. Baalbek, in the fertile Bekka Valley was part of the frontline during the Lebanese conflict which had only recently ceased. We were very fortunate to be allowed to be there. I have wanted to return ever since.
As the tremors of disquiet rumble around the Middle East today, I am not making any plans to return just yet, either to Libya or Lebanon, much as the cultural interplay between Classical & Islamic fascinates me. The window of opportunity will present itself again. I just hope that keystone will still be there, lodged precariously in the ruins of a previous civilisation.