Biqa, Al

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Al Biqa (äl bēkä´), or El Bika (ĕl bēkä´), upland valley of Lebanon and Syria, 75 mi (121 km) long and 5 to 9 mi (8–14.5 km) wide, between the Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon ranges; highest part of the Rift Valley complex. The village of Baalbek, site of one of the Roman Empire's largest temples, is located on the divide between the headwaters of the Orontes and Litani rivers in the northern part of the valley. In the area N of Baalbek, located in the rain shadow of the Lebanon Mts., nomadic pastoralism is dominant. South of Baalbek, the Litani River (90 mi/145 km long) flows south through the most fertile part of the valley before turning west and cutting through the Lebanon Mts. to the Mediterranean Sea. This section of Al Biqa, called the granary of Lebanon, is very flat, and farming is highly mechanized; vegetables, cereals, fruits, grapes, and cotton are the chief crops. A dam and irrigation project on the lower Litani supplies water to the dry, extreme southern part of Al Biqa, where cereals and grazing are important; through a mountain tunnel, the project also irrigates the Lebanese coastal plain. The Biqa valley, once the heart of ancient Coele-Syria, has been the scene of warfare since the dawn of history. Al Biqa was included in a province of the Persian Empire and was later bitterly contested by the Seleucids and the Ptolemaic kings of Egypt. The city of Antioch, Turkey, was founded by Seleucus I, king of Syria, to dominate the region. The area has been a strategic base for the Syrian military in the late 20th cent. The name also appears as El Beqa, El Bukaa, and El Bekaa.