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Herodium entrance 2

Herodium, located 10 km southeast of Jerusalem, is an archaeological site featuring the ruins of a fortress, palace, and the burial of King Herod the Great. Constructed around 23-15 BC, Herodium is renowned for its strategic hilltop location and the elaborate architecture of its palace complex.

The History of Herodium

Herodium theatreIn 40 BC the Romans appointed Herod the great King of Judea. Among others, near Bethlehem he constructed a fortified desert palace. To achieve this task, he raised the mountain to the shape of a volcano and built in it a grand palace. He humbly named the site after himself and set it also to be his burial place. A century later, Jewish rebels seized the mountains and dug strategic tunnels in them. However, in 72 AD, The Romans conquered the site and later Masada, the last stronghold of the Jewish rebellion. Centuries later, monks resettled the site and established in it a monastery and possibly a leprosy center. The Muslim conquest of the Holy Land in the 7th century AD brought it to its final abandonment, and eventually even its location was forgotten.

Only in the 19th century Herodium was identified, and surveyed. In the 1960s, a Christian Franciscan expedition dug the site, and since the 1970s, an Israeli team has been excavating the site and its surroundings. For many years, Prof. Ehud Netzer from Hebrew University led the Israeli expedition. In 2007, he announced the discovery of lost tomb of King Herod at the site, a sensation that led to much development and interest.

Herodium and Herod’s Elusive Tomb

herodium-tomb-modelFirst-century Historian Josephus provides a detailed account of Herod’s death and grand funeral procession to Herodium, where he was buried. Despite the lengthy description, the archaeological expeditions failed to track the royal tomb until 2007.

In 2007, Netzer and his team dug some probes on the citadel’s side. To their surprise, they found the foundations of a royal tomb on the northeastern slope. The original structure was an elaborate sepulcher containing three royal-scale burial coffins (Sarcophagi). Netzer published them as the lost burials of King Herod and some of his family members. The discovery led to an influx of visitors to the site, although not all scholars agree this is indeed Herod’s lost tomb.

Touring Herodium

Herodium loggia showThe discovery of the royal tomb in Herodium led to an unprecedented development at the site. A new visitors’ center at the entrance displays a site model. It is followed by a movie on the funeral of King Herod, with detailed virtual and computer-generated reconstructions. Near the tomb, a large-scale model presents its assumed original shape. The archaeologists also uncovered a theatre with unique, colorful frescoes presented in a lively audio-visual show. A steep ascent to the summit reaches the Citadel’s palace, which had its bathhouse. During the Big Jewish Rebellion (66-73 AD), Jewish rebels settled in the castle and converted its dining hall (triclinium) into a synagogue. Beneath the citadel, an impressive set of Water cisterns attest to Herod’s scale of engineering and ingenuity.

Israel’s National Parks Authority maintains Herodium and is open every day of the week from 8:00 to 17:00.

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