Courtesy of the Deutsches Archäologisches Institut, Berlin, Neg. 71.2818

Just south of the acropolis sits Baalbek’s third surviving sanctuary—a small and elegant circular temple dating from the third century C.E. (reconstruction model shown here, see drawing). Some scholars think the structure may have honored the god Mercury, but most believe it was a shrine to Venus. Its use of shell-relief decoration is probably meant to suggest the sea foam, or afros, that gave birth to the goddess of love in Greek mythology. Although round temples were extremely rare in the classical period, they became more common during the Hellenistic era (323–31 B.C.E.). A fourth temple, dedicated to the Muses, may once have stood near this one, but it has long since vanished from the site.