Here, atop a mountain on the edge of the Judean Desert, at the site where he wanted to be buried, he built a summer palace and at the foot of it, an architectural marvel that still inspires wonder today
The importance of the site:
Herodium National Park is south of Jerusalem, some 10 minutes' drive from the city, east of Gush Etsyon and near to Tekoa. Access to the site is from Road 398, through the Har Homa neighborhood of Jerusalem.
In 40 BCE, Herod was forced to flee Jerusalem from Antigonus Mattathias, the last of the Hasmonean kings. Antigonus had entered into an alliance with the Parthians (the empire that blocked the Romans from the east), against the Romans - Herod's patrons. At that time, the Parthians controlled the region of Syria, which also included Jerusalem, and appointed Antigonus as ruler of Judah, and so Herod was forced to flee from Jerusalem. Antigonus and his allies pursued him, catching up with him east of Bethlehem. Herod escaped with great difficulty. He left his family behind at Masada and set out for Rome, where the Romans appointed him king of Judah.
Herod returned to Judah, defeated Antigonus Mattathias, and became king of Judah. The memory of this desperate battle stayed with him, and in around 28 BCE he began to build Herodium, naming it after himself. Herod moved the Beth Tzur district administration to Herodium, and brought water to the site from Solomon's Pools in Jerusalem, a distance of some 6 km. At Herodium he built himself a tomb estate where, according to Joseph ben Matityahu (Josephus Flavius), he was in fact buried.
In the Great Revolt (66 CE) the rebels seized Herodium and entrenched themselves there. Some six months after the destruction of the Temple, the Romans set out to capture the peripheral areas of Judah from the Zealots. Apparently due to its proximity to Jerusalem, Herodium was their first target. According to Josephus Flavius, the Roman historian, Herodium surrendered, but the finds in the field indicate otherwise. For example, we know that the entry gate to the upper palace was burned, and that the fire spread to underground areas, causing considerable damage. During the Bar Kokhba Revolt (132 - 135/6 CE) Mt Herod also served as a base for the rebels, and they left behind them, among other things, secret tunnels and caves carved in the rock.
During the Byzantine period (4th – 7th centuries CE), a large village with three churches was built in Lower Herodium, over the remains from Herod's time, and a chapel was built in the fortress at the top of the mountain.
Lower Herodium – the Lower Herodium complex was meticulously planned, on an area of around 150 dunams. It includes the "Great Palace" building, the impressive pools and gardens, the bath house, and accommodation for guests and for members of the district administration. In the area between the mountain and the pool (an area partly covered by dense Byzantine period buildings), the "funeral complex" was built, with a large hall (the "monumental structure") alongside which was a large ritual purification pool (mikve). From the hall, a long walkway extends eastward (30 x 350 m), built for the king's magnificent funeral ceremony, before ascending the monumental staircase to the mausoleum on the hillside.
A few years before his death, Herod began to complete the vast tomb estate at Herodium: on the north-eastern slope of the hill, alongside a flight of stairs, a splendid mausoleum-like burial structure was built and around it the artificial mountain was constructed - a giant monument to preserve his memory. In order to create the artificial cone-shaped mountain, vast quantities of earth and stones were piled up around the fortified palace (some 450,000 m³), completely covering the side of the hill, apart from the mausoleum on the hillside, which remains visible and conspicuous in the landscape.
Mt Herod, the man-made mountain - the steep slopes surround the "crater" in which Herod built the Herodium complex. Herod turned the hill into a prominent cone, a kind of giant monument. In the outer wall of the hill a passageway was found, serving as entry to the hill, with a monumental flight of stairs leading to it. The mountain was built of layers of earth and small stones. The observation point at the top of the conical mountain offers a view into the crater within, and the two fortification walls that surround the crater in two circles. The crater was originally a building rising five stories above the level of the courtyard (25 m). The circumference of the outer wall is 150 m.
The east tower - a circular tower with 5 stories of royal suites. The total height of the structure is 40 m. Towers of this kind were an architectural innovation, the fruit of Herod's imagination. From the royal rooms at the top of the tower a breathtaking vista could be seen.
The Palace - a square building encompassed by a circular wall. The palace included an ornamental garden surrounded by a colonnaded peristyle, a bath house, several residential rooms, and a reception and banqueting hall. The palace walls were decorated with frescoes (paintings made on wet plaster),depicting geometric patterns. The bath house was built in accordance with Roman bathing rules, and had an apodyterium (an entrance lobby and dressing room), a caldarium (hot room), a circular tepidarium (warm room), and a frigidarium (cold room) with a small bathing pool. The hot air came up from the double floor, through channels carved in the walls. In the warm room, an impressive stone dome has survived in its entirety, the oldest of its kind in Israel.
Remnants of the revolts against Rome – the rebels of the Great Revolt built a synagogue in the palace hall. The original ceiling of the room was replaced by a lightweight ceiling, supported by four columns that were not there originally. Outside the entrance to the hall, a small room was used as a purification pool. Another mikve dating to the Great Revolt was found in the center of the courtyard, close to the east tower. This mikve contained a small pool, and alongside it a water storage tank.
The underground system - beneath the hilltop fortified palace is a system of three excavation enterprises:
Herodium lies on the edge of the desert - the region on the eastern slopes of the Judean hills facing towards the Judean Desert. The desert frontier region is defined mainly according to the climatic conditions - an area with annual precipitation of between 250 and 400 mm. The desert frontier is also a lithological transition zone in which the rock changes from hard limestone to soft, white chalk. Terra rossa soil forms on the hard limestone, while on the chalk – it is a light rendzina. The limestone marks the "Judea group" rock characteristic of the slopes of the geological anticlines. The chalk rocks, which belong to the Mt Scopus group, settled in synclines in the Judean desert. In the terra rossa soils of the desert frontier, which are more fertile and store greater quantities of water, dry farming takes place. The other areas are used for grazing. There are no water sources in the area, and throughout history the problem of water has been solved by digging out cisterns to collect the surface run-off.
How to get here:
The site is near to Nokdim and Tekoa.
Before the entrance to the Har Homa neighborhood, take the second exit at the traffic circle, drive about 7 km along Road 398 from Har Homa towards Tekoa-Nokdim, and turn left 2 km before Tekoa junction, following signs to Herodium up to the parking lot.
Follow Road 375 to Beitar Ilite, continue on Road 60 to Efrat junction, and from there take Road 3157 and then Road 356 towards Tekoa-Nokdim.
Take Road 367 to Gush Etsyon junction, turn north towards Efrat and continue east on Road 3157 to a T-junction. Turn north-east to Road 356 to Herodium junction, which is about 2 km after Tekoa junction.
Kiosk and gift shop
Guided tours every Friday and Saturday at 12 noon
Close view of the tomb, access path to the area of Herod's tomb and lookout over the Herodian theatre
* Last entry to the park is one hour before closing time
Sunday - Thursday and Saturday – 8 am – 5 pm
Fridays and the eve of holidays – 8 am – 4 pm
Sunday - Thursday and Saturday – 8 am – 4 pm
Fridays and the eve of holidays – 8 am – 3 pm
On the eve of New Year, the eve of the Day of Atonement, and Passover eve: 8 am – 1 pm
Telephone: 02-5953591, 02-5953592
Mountain and Valley Education Center, tel: 02-6541255
Individuals: Adult - NIS 29, child - NIS 15
Groups (over 30 people, collective payment): Adult - NIS 23, child - NIS 14
Students: NIS 25
10% discount on entrance fee for people reserving a guided tour through the Nature and Parks Authority education center (in addition to the group and agent discounts)
Click here for site pamphlet
In the Herodium National Park adaptations to make the site accessible to people with disabilities are being made. Adaptations currently in place include: