Herod's Palace (Herodium Castle), east of Bethlehem
Herod’s Palace (Herodium Castle), east of Bethlehem
The Israel Antiquities Authority is expected to open to visitors parts of Herod’s Palace (Herodium Castle) east of Bethlehem, which the tyrannical king of the Roman era converted into a place for his burial.

Herodium Castle, or Herod’s Palace, is located several kilometers east of the city of Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank and is a very popular tourist destination, but Israel has maintained complete military and civil control over it.

The Israel Nature and Parks Authority plan to open the site next Sunday, which will allow first-time visitors to see the arched stairs, the hall, and the theater of the castle.

This desert complex was built during the reign of King Herod, who was appointed by the Romans and was famous for his brutality, and for the magnificent buildings that were built during his rule over the Judea region in the south of the country, between 37 and 4 BC.

This was Herod’s favorite palace. It was located on a summit 830 meters above sea level, and its entrance overlooked the city of Jerusalem.

If the burial of the palace during Herod’s life had satisfied him with the assurance that his tomb would remain prominent, it also helped preserve and protect the site for two thousand years.
The Hebrew University archaeologist and excavation officer Roy Porat say it is the only place Herod gave his name and chose to be buried. He also adds that Herod did not want it to be “just a place of burial,” but rather wanted it to be his last resting place and to dominate his palace.

“This is why Herod covered the mountain, including the palace, in an effort to highlight it,” said Eran Cruzel of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.

And if the burial of the palace during Herod’s life had satisfied him in reassuring that his tomb would remain prominent, it also helped preserve and protect the site for two thousand years.

Herod's Palace (Herodium Castle), east of Bethlehem
Herod’s Palace (Herodium Castle), east of Bethlehem

An archaeological laboratory like no other
Porat describes the site as an “unparalleled archaeological laboratory,” likening it to the site of the Italian archaeological city of Pompeii, which was preserved by the lava caused by the eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79.

A wide staircase up the side of the tomb leads to the main hallway of the palace. Three layers of supporting arches have been set above the hallway since Herod decided to bury his palace, but he still needed to reach it when he was still alive.

The foyer itself contains striped wall panels in their original colors: chestnut, green and black, providing patterns that echo the marble panels in keeping with the royal style of the Kingdom of Judah.

At the bottom of the stairs on the other side of the tomb is the theater that seats about 300 seats, the private cabin and the royal visiting room overlooking it, where Herod Marcus Agrippa, the second in command of Caesar Augustus, was hosted in 15 BC.

Porat notes that this visit was “so important to Herod” that the ruler of Judea redecorated the visiting room to include a series of drawings that simulate open windows and depict Agrippa’s invasion of Egypt, with bold and sumptuous carvings in the stucco above.

“Before that, Herod followed the Jewish tradition, which avoided portraying animals and humans, but here everything was possible,” Porat says.

Excavations and preservation of the most recent parts of the palace began about 13 years ago with the discovery of Herod’s tomb, and Porat believes that the site reflects the mentality of Herod, who “all he cared about was how to preserve his memory forever.” “His name has been saved here,” he says. “The scene has changed here, in this area south of Jerusalem, whether this change is for better or worse,” Porat added.

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