Friday, 19 December 2014

Herodium: The Palace and Tomb of King Herod

This place is located somewhere 12 kilometer south of Jerusalem, in the Judean desert. The Herodium is looks like an extinct volcano, but actually it is a fort built by King Herod the Great between 23 and 15 BC. King Herod’s palace and fortress was strongly built atop a natural hill, raised to a greater height by heaping earth around the walls, forming a cone-shaped mountain. The complex was well surrounded by double walls 7 stories high, within which Herod built a palace that included ample halls, courtyards and opulent bathhouses. Therefore at the base of the fortress was an inspiring royal compound with splendid gardens. A distinct aqueduct brought water to the desert from the area of Solomon’s Pools near Bethlehem. Being the highest peak in the Judean desert, Herodium commanded a spectacular view, overlooking the desert with the mountains of Moab to the east, and the Judean Hills to the west.

According to the Roman Jewish historian Josephus, Herodium was built on the site where Herod won a triumph over his Hasmonean and Parthian enemies in 40 BC. To honor the memorable event, the king built a fortress and a palace there, which he named after himself. He also built, in the plain below the hill, an administrative center for the region. The reputation of Herodium to the king is clear from the fact that it is the only monument he built to which he gave his name. Therefore since the place had slight strategic value to warrant the structure of a fort, so it is well believed that Herodium’s solitary purpose was to provide a place for the king to live out his last years.

However; after the death of Herod’s in 4 BC, Herodium became part of the kingdom of his lad Archelaus, who ruled for about ten years. The Roman procurators then held the place until the outbreak of the Great Revolt in 66 AD. As a result during this revolt, rebels entrenched themselves at Herodium until the Romans defeated them in 71 AD. The fortified mountain palace served as a vital center for the rebels during the Bar Kokhba Revolt in the 2nd century. As part of their defense measures, the rebels dug secret tunnels around the cisterns, and hid there. These tunnels can still be explored these days.

The site remained deserted until the 5th, when a big community of monks took residence in the area and built 4 churches at the base of the hill. While the settlement at Lower Herodium continued to exist until the 8th century, after which Herodium lay abandoned. It was only in the 1970s, that archaeologists initiated exploring the site. As the excavation advanced, widespread restoration was carried out on the structures of Herodium. Nowadays it is possible to walk on a contented path to the top of the fortress, to climb its walls and to enjoy, as in the past, the view of the surrounding region.