THE BAALBECK INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL IS THE OLDEST AND MOST PRESTIGIOUS CULTURAL EVENT IN THE MIDDLE EAST WITH A HISTORY EXCEEDING SIX DECADES.
1956 Creation of the Baalbeck International Festival
The Baalbeck International Festival was initiated in 1956 under the patronage of the President of the Lebanese Republic, Camille Chamoun. It was acknowledged that the glory of the Roman temples surrounding the festival would be a unique setting and would have an important cultural, touristic and socio-economic impact on Lebanon and the city of Baalbeck, and because of that, the infrastructure of this Lebanese region has been developed to facilitate the access to Baalbeck. Led by a committee of 12 volunteers from diverse cultural backgrounds, the festival became a beacon in promoting culture and tourism in Lebanon.
The festival successfully established a unique setting for innovative performances by local, regional and acclaimed international talents where it aspired to nurture a vibrant artistic environment rooted in cross-cultural exchange. The Festival there on became the most outstanding annual event in the region gained a boundless international reputation hosting some of the world’s legendary artists and also became an inspiration for other festivals in the Middle East. (see Highlights)
The Festival also had another mission, which was to promote Lebanese talents through an initiative now known as The Lebanese Nights. The Festival introduced spectacular Lebanese creations and ambitious shows to its program by bringing together local talents. This platform helped some of Lebanon’s most talented artists to emerge such as the Rahbani Brothers, Fairouz, Wadih El Safi, Roméo Lahoud, Sabah, and later on the Caracalla Dance Theater. The drive to support home-grown talent also led to the opening of a drama school for Lebanese productions in Beirut back in 1966.
1975 – 1996
The Festival’s activities were suspended for 22 years due to the Lebanese Civil War. During this period, the committee published, a luxurious book of 300 pages “Les riches Heures du festival” (1994) that features the history of the festival, spectacular photos of performances as well as testimonies of great artists who performed at Baalbeck. In 1998, the festival also published an exhaustive book on the Lebanese theatre.
1997 – 2005 Rebirth of the Festival
The festival resumed its activity in 1997 with the help of the President of the Lebanese Republic Elias Hraoui. Two major events marked the historical new edition: a classical concert with the Radio France Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Marek Janowski with the participation of Mstislav Rostropovich and a grand performance by Caracalla Dance Theater.
This bright era brought new genres to the Festival; this is when pop and world music shows were first introduced to the program. World-renowned artists performed in Baalbeck at the time such as Charles Aznavour (1999), Sting (2001), Johnny Hallyday (2003), Massive Attack (2004) along with unforgettable names in Jazz such as Ahmad Jamal (2003) and the Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Big Band (2005). The Festival also brought back to Baalbeck world famous Lebanese talents such as Rabih Abou-Khalil (1999/2004), ZadMoultaka (2000/2005), Fadia Tomb El Hage (1998/2000/2005/2015), as well as the Clavigo ballet presented by the Opera National de Paris with music composed by Gabriel Yared.
In 2005, the Festival celebrated its 50th anniversary with a documentary film directed by Philippe Aractingi in which he sheds light on 50 years of achievements and memories. (see videos)
Due to the Israeli war on Lebanon the 2006 Festival, which had programmed Fairouz and the Rahbani brothers, was canceled. The show was performed in Beirut in December that same year.
2008 – 2015 The years of cultural resistance
In 2008, The Festival was back with full energy and marked another successful season with Warda Al Jazairia and Abdel Rahman El Bacha headlining the Festival. The Festival showcased outstanding productions such as the famous Opera La Traviata (2009), The Béjard Ballet Lausanne (2009), The Boris Eifman Ballet (2011) and Jessy Norman (2012).
In 2013-2014, due to the war at the border with Syria, the Bekaa region witnessed some instability. As a testament to the Festival’s firm commitment to cultural resistance, the committee decided to relocate some performances to Beirut: Puz/zle by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui (2013), Marcel Khalife (2013), “La MusicaDeuxième” performed by Fanny Ardant and Gerard Depardieu (2014), Angela Gheorghiu recital (2014) and Dhaffer Youssef (2014).
In 2015 the Festival was once again back in Baalbeck with another epic Lebanese Night “Ilik Ya Baalbak” where internationally renowned Lebanese artists composed music and wrote lyrics and poems dedicated to Baalbeck. The success was immense as it was also showcased that year in a more intimate version at the Aix en Provence Festival and two years later at Arab World Institute in Paris.
2016 to 2019
In 2016, for its 60th anniversary, the festival’s committee and management, with the support of Friends and sponsors, were determined to make an outstanding comeback and celebrate this important milestone. That year the Festival hosted Jean Michel Jarre, Mika, Bob James, and the Caracalla Dance Theatre and attracted over 20,000 spectators, occupying more than 1500 hotel rooms in the region and catching the attention of the international media. It was then proven, with all the security measures taken and the support of many politicians that the Baalbeck International Festival was indeed a national priority.
Since then, the festival has been very successful in hosting world-renowned artists with Lebanese roots such as Ibrahim Maalouf (2016/2017/2018) and Matthieu Chedid (2018) along with other international stars such as Angelique Kidjo (2017), Ben Harper (2018) Melody Gardot (2019) and Jain (2019).
2020 – 2021 The years of the pandemic
The Baalbek Festival has remained true to its calling as a beacon of culture, adapting to the restrictions of the pandemic as well as to the new economic realities on the ground. The Festival’s 2020 and 2021 editions, with “Sound of Resilience’ and “Shine on Lebanon “, streamed on-line reached an astonishing 17 million viewers, the largest ever for a cultural event beaming from Lebanon’s unique Roman temples to the world!
At the forefront of it all stood the millennial Roman temples and Lebanon’s talented youth.
2022 Baalbeck International Festival is live again
Lighting a spark of hope to signify that we must not lose the taste for life despite the country’s hardships. Thus, traditional musical heritage was revived with Soumaya and Lubnan Baalbaki, their musicians, and the Notre Dame de Louaizé choir. Furthermore, we encouraged the emerging musical scene with the young band Adonis, we safeguarded international cultural exchanges with the Spanish flamenco trio and we promoted cultural dialogue with pianist Simon Ghraichy and Sufi dancer Rana Gorgani. The public was numerous and enthusiastic, with a total of 8,000 spectators on site and more than two million viewers on opening night. The media and social networks hailed our action, which was considered an act of cultural resistance. It was said: “When the Baalbeck Festival is alive, Lebanon breathes”.
The 2023 edition of the Baalbeck International Festival was a resounding success. We were able to present captivating performances from renowned artists across different genres. From the mesmerizing dances of Italy’s star Roberto Bolle to the mystical and Sufi music of Syria’s Al -Kindi Ensemble, from the Lebanese-Andalusian creation by Spanish artist Nacho Arimany to the Lebanese folklore with a singer proud of his Baalbeck origins, Melhem Zein, and finally the captivating closing act by French diva of African origin, Imany, the festival truly celebrated the spirit of diversity and artistic excellence.
Today, the Baalbeck International Festival continues to project a positive image of Lebanon to the world and aims for a better country by promoting culture,tourism and peace.