A stunning structure that has no analogs in the ancient world is the palace, fortress, and mausoleum of one of the most famous rulers of the past - King Herod the Great. Herodion rises above the hills of the Judean desert and silently looks over Bethlehem - the city where Jesus was born. Who knows, maybe it was the Herodion from where Herod the Great gave the order to kill all the babies in Bethlehem to destroy Jesus. Professor Netzer spent 30 years searching for Herod’s tomb and died in Herodion. Who knows, maybe in this way the king’s curse came true, imposed on the one who will disturb his grave. Herodion is the place where Bar Kochba rebels hid and the place where the desert blooms in spring with the blue Iris, so rare for these places.
Herodion is one of the most impressive and exciting structures of the ancient world. In 23 BC, Herod the Great started to build an architectural ensemble combining palace structures and mighty fortifications. In 15 BC, the magnificent mausoleum was ready to serve the king in his life and after his death.
The whole complex was surrounded by two rows of concentric walls that rise to the height of a seven-story building. The interior space, 63 meters in diameter, was dedicated to palace structures, embellished by beautiful arcades and surrounded by luxurious bathing complexes. The outside surface of the fortress walls was covered by a colossal mound, at the foot of which a new bathing complex with an artificial pool was built. Try to imagine the impressive artificial hill ascended in the middle of the desert-like a huge mount, decorated with fragrant gardens, diverse vegetation, and water splashing fountains. A long aqueduct was constructed to supply vast complexes with water from the Solomon Ponds in the Bethlehem area.
The complex was named after the king himself (Herod) - The Herodion, which indicates the particular importance of this structure for King Herod the Great. The picturesque view from the top of the mound to Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and the virgin Judean desert, probably was the last picture captured by the deading eyes of the king. He was buried in Herodion, but the exact place of his burial chamber was discovered almost only 2000 years after his death.
Herodion’s one-to-fifty scale model allows you to understand the in-depth engineering of this one-of-a-kind structure of the ancient world. Concentric walls rest on a round north tower. This design reduces the load on the walls and strengthens them using semicircular of the towers on each wall segment. The staircase portal rose along the hill to the north tower. The staircase was climbed in front of the odeon and an elegant tower with an unusual stone roof, which for many years was considered the burial of Herod the Great.
A view to the southeast captures the eyes on the tiled roofs, which are not typical for Arab villages. This is the new Jewish settlement of Tekoa (Hebrew: תקוע) According to the Bible, the descendants of Ephraim from Bethlehem and Hebron founded the ancient town of Tekoa. Tekoah was one of the most important cities in the mountains of Judea, conquered by Jewish tribes after their leaving Egypt. Its strategic location on the road running along the eastern slopes of the Judean mountains led to the rapid development of the city. In biblical times, local people were engaged in stone processing, construction, and agriculture. The people of Tekoa participated in the restoration of the Jerusalem Temple after Jews returned from the Babylonian exile. In Roman times and during the Judean War, according to Josephus Flavius, peasants of Tekoa were the country's largest suppliers of wheat. Shimon Bar-Giora and Bar-Kokhba acted here. At the beginning of the 4th century AD, Saint Khariton built one of his koinobion on the slopes of Wadi Tekoa (Fekuya Creek). Koinobion is a monastery housing a community of monks or nuns and emphasizing a communal and egalitarian way of life. The Persians destroyed the monastery in 614. On the slopes of the gorge is the Khariton Cave - the largest cave in Israel. A later legend claims that it was there that David was hiding from King Saul. The main trade route for transporting salt from the Ein Gedi to Jerusalem passed through Tekoa. The new settlement is a large and beautiful village, founded about 30 years ago. A mixed Arab-Bedouin population establishes the Arab communities around Tekoa, mostly members of the Bedouin tribe of Taamre.
Among the various buildings on the top of the Herodion Palace, the bathhouse is of particular interest. This bathing complex was small and intended for the personal use of the king. As usual, there were three rooms of different temperatures from cold to hot. The roof of one of the rooms was made of stone blocks that make up the dome. There are segments of red-painted stucco discovered in this room.
A large rectangular courtyard was located near the northern round tower. Colonnades and covered arcades surrounded it. Around this courtyard, gardens were bloomed, and there were various rooms — for example, the king’s throne room and a bath for ritual bathing - a mikvah. During excavations, stones were discovered that were used by the Romans in the siege of fortresses. These findings tell of the fate of Herodion during the Bar Kochba rebellion.
During the Bar Kochba rebellion, a complex and ramified system of underground passages and hidden shelters was carved on the site of the fortress and palace of Herod the Great. Part of the underground passages is lit and open to visitors.
The underground passages partially use the Herodian system of water accumulation. This system made it possible to collect rainwater from the surface of the hill and direct them to reservoirs carved into the rock.
The water storage tank was carved into the rock. The builders of Herodin designed it as the main water reservoir of the fortress. The entrance to the tank was outside the hill slope. The stone-carved staircase allowed to go down the stairs to the bottom. An underground tunnel delivered water to this tank from the top of the fortress. Excess water was discharged into a neighboring tank.
The exit from the additional water reservoir leads to a modern structure, which is the pavilion of the Herod the Great's burial chamber.
The king’s sarcophagus discovered broken. Researchers believe that Bar Kochba rebels broke the sarcophagus because they hated Herod. However, it is not clear why the bones of the ruler disappeared. The rebels of Bar Kochba were extreme religious fanatics. Strict religious regulations do not allow touching the bones of the dead. Ehud Netzer professor of archeology spent 30 years to find Herod’s grave in Herodion. In 2010, during an excursion to Herodion, Professor Netzer fell, was seriously injured and died three days later in a hospital. He devoted his life to discovering the king’s burial place, and the ancient Herod's curse placed on those who disturb the grave probably came true.
Spring is the most beautiful time of the year to visit Herodion. The desert blooms and here you can see a rare flower for these places. This is iris (Iris Vartanian), which is named after its researcher - a doctor from Nazareth of Armenian origin. Vartan discovered and explored this beautiful flower with blue petals in the early twentieth century.
Finishing a walk along Herodion, two things do not cease to amaze: the scale of an artificial mountain and the spring flowering of the desert.