You thought Rome was great? Wait until you see Baalbek, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Lebanon that dates back thousands of years. But you don’t need to get on a plane to witness the grandeur that makes these epic ruins one of the world’s best bucket list journeys.
With “Baalbek Reborn,” a new (and free) virtual reality experience, you can explore this ancient city, which was called Heliopolis — meaning “City of the Sun” — in Roman times. You’ll fly over and also get an up-close look at this astonishing site whose treasures have been compared to some of Rome’s most impressive landmarks.
And that’s not all: You can even go back in time to the year 215 and see what it was like to stroll through the city, when the area was at the peak of its ancient development. You’ll explore grand monuments that have been in ruins for ages, see majestic spaces that are off-limits to visitors, and come to appreciate why Baalbek is considered one of the world’s top historic destinations, right up there with places like Pompeii, Machu Picchu, and Petra.
This impressive virtual production is a collaboration between three partners: Flyover Zone Productions (which creates virtual tours of the world’s most amazing cultural heritage sites), the German Archaeological Institute (which provided the scientific oversight and content), and the Ministry of Culture – Directorate General of Antiquities, Lebanon (which is responsible for the protection, promotion, and excavation activities in the country’s national heritage sites).
“The experts who are your guides are the actual people who excavated these sites,” says Bernie Frischer, a renowned digital archaeologist and founder of the pioneering Flyover Zone Productions, which has created tours of other historic sites ranging from the city of Rome to Hadrian’s Villa.
The best part? “Baalbek Reborn” can be experienced on a number of platforms, including smartphones, desktop computers, and Oculus — all for free — thanks to the generosity of Bassam Alghanim. A passionate lover of art and architecture — who is also passionate about Baalbek — Alghanim has sponsored “Baalbek Reborn” in loving memory of his parents, Yusuf and Ilham Alghanim, who used to take him to this special place when he was a child.
In some ways, you could say that “Baalbek Reborn” was more than 100 years in the making. Archaeologists have been working on and off in Baalbek since 1898, when the last German emperor started the excavation in Lebanon’s fertile Beqaa Valley. And for more than two decades, the German Archaeological Institute — one of the oldest archaeological research institutions in the world — has had a team of scientists, architects, and archaeologists working to uncover the marvels of this mysterious and awe-inspiring location.
With “Baalbek Reborn,” the world can now take a sneak peek at the remarkable discoveries that have been made here. “We’re excited to be able to present our findings to a much wider public via virtual reality,” says Henning Burwitz, a trained architect who works with the German Archeological Institute.
In this virtual reality experience, visitors will be able to explore the monumental Temple of Jupiter, a 2,000-year-old structure that sits on 3,000-ton stone blocks weighing more than the pillars of Stonehenge. You’ll tour the Temple of Bacchus, one of the best preserved temples in the ancient world. You’ll visit the Sanctuary, one of the most imposing complexes of ancient architecture, not only in the Middle East, but in the entire Roman empire.
Besides these and other landmarks, you’ll get to check out some mind-blowing finds, including the world’s biggest preserved Roman columns and the largest manmade stone block ever discovered.
As you navigate your way through Baalbek, you can listen to experts explain what you are seeing, and if you miss something, you can rewind the audio and listen again. And you’ll view photographs, video footage, and virtual recreations that deepen your understanding of this magical, mysterious place. It’s a virtual journey like none other, combining the best of all worlds — past and present.
“Ultimately, we want people to go to Baalbek and we’ll prepare them,” says Frischer. “The more they’re prepared and the more their curiosity is aroused, the more they’ll get out of their trip.”
“Baalbek Reborn” is free and is available on the Apple Store, Google Play, Steam store (PC, Mac, or HTC Vive – virtual reality headset), or the Oculus store (VR headset).