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Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Herodion©

Written by Vardah Littmann           Photos by Rimonah Traub

 Photos taken on a Tiyul organized by 'Mercaz Hishtalmiyot of Mercaz Bais Yaakov Jerusalem "
   It used to take three quarters of an hour to reach the Gush Etzion area from Jerusalem, but things have changed. By taking the new Kvish HaMinarot you can reach the Herodion within a short ten minutes.
   Twelve kilometers south of Jerusalem, the Herodion is located at the summit of one of the Judean hills.
When viewed from far off, the ancient fortress at the top of the hill looks like a volcano. King Herod selected this site because of its high altitude. Its location near the desert road commemorates Herod’s victory near the site in 40 BCE.
  Herod, who was the Roman-appointed king over Judea from 37-4 BCE, took three years to build the fortress. Known for his cruelty and killing sprees, Herod made sure to murder all the remaining descendants of the Hasmonean dynasty. He also killed his wife, three of his sons, 45 members of the Sandhedrin, and many of the Jewish sages.
  The Herodion is only one of his many building projects which included the building over the Maaras HaMachpelah, the city of Caeseria, and most importantly, the renovation of the Second Temple. With his extraordinary megalomania and energetic willfulness, Herod insisted on completely changing thenatural landscape in order to elevate the Herodion as high as possible. To that end, the upper third of the hill was manmade using slave labor.
  The view from the Herodion over the rolling hills is simply magnificent. On clear days, Jerusalem Bethlehem, and Maale Adumim are visible to the north, as well as Jewish and Arab settlements in the surrounding pastoral fields. On the hillsides are shepherds tending their sheep, and you can hear the call to prayer several times a day from the mosques in the area.
  At the foot of the hill, the lower Herodion has a built-in pool which was used for swimming or even for sailing small boats. It is twice the size of modern olympic sized pools. Unlike the water supply for the upper Herodion, the water for the pool did not come from rainwater, but was brought in from Solomon’s Pools in Jerusalem which supplied up to 400,000 cubic meters a year. This meant that the water could be refreshed regularly. The remains of the water channel can be seen in several different places on the way from Jerusalem to the Herodion. The artificial island at center of the pool is thought to have been three floors high.
     A dirt trail leads up to the top of the hill and the upper Herodion. At the old ticket office which is about halfway up the slope, there is a memorial plaque to the ticket seller who was murdered by terrorists in 1982. The dirt road that is now used by visitors to the Heroidan was not used by Herod and his important visitors. There is an eastern stairway whose steps are very steep and much too large to climb, but that posed no problem to Herod and his guests because they were hauled up by an elevator manned by slaves. 
   The upper palace has a unique circular design, and is heavily fortified with impenetrable double walls.
Inside the fortress was Herod’s private residence, with courtyards, rooms, and bath houses. .The first room next to the southern portico was the salon. Here Herod received his guests and threw intimate dinner parties. According to Josephus, the Roman emperor’s representative Agrippa was Herod’s guest in Herodion in 15 BCE.
    The benches along the sides of the walls do not date from Herod’s period, but belong to a church that was built in this room at a later time. And before the church existed, this palace served as a synagogue for the Zealots at the time of Destruction of the Second Temple. Bedrooms are located in the middle section of these private quarters. Against the north wall is the bathhouse. The entrance to this bathhouse is through a large hot room (ancient version of a sauna), and then through into a smaller round relaxing room, whose domed roof is the oldest in Eretz Yisroel. The bath also includes a cold room and a dressing room. The prominence and size of the bathhouse, which is in the Roman style, shows
how Herod had taken on ways and habits of the Romans. According to a modern historian, an average Roman, or an adopted one like Herod, spent an average of three hours a day in the bathhouse.  
Herod was buried on the Herodion, in a royal procession, as described by the historian Josephus Flavius. Before his death he extracted an oath from his sister, Salome, to slay one man in every principal family as soon as he would die. By this action, he wished to guarantee that there would be great mourning on the day of his death, and no one would be able to rejoice at his passing. He had already imprisoned men in the Hippodrome for this purpose. But Salome did not do as her brother commanded. A large grotto which is believed to be Herod’s tomb stands on one side of the hill. 
At the time of the rebellion against the Romans which he led, Bar Kokhba declared the Herodion his secondary headquarters. Much archaeological evidence from the revolt is found all over the site. Supporting walls inside the water system built by Bar Kokhba’s men were discovered, as well as a
system of caves. In one of the caves, burnt wood dating back to the revolt was found. 
  Recently Herod’s private theater was restored at the Herodion after the excavations of 2009-2010 uncovered a small 450-seat capacity theater with an elaborately decorated royal theater box. 
  To reach the Herodion, take the 166 Egged bus from Jerusalem’s Central Bus Station until the bus stop at Sde Bar (where wonderful goat’s cheese and yogurt-with a mehadrin hechsher-can be bought). Then take a 15 minute stroll to the foot of the Herodion, and please don’t forget to bring a sun hat and plenty of water.

To buy dairy goat products contact Benyamin: 0525-255713

Published in "The English Update" 2 December 2010


  1. Thank you for posting this. What's quicker, taking the Gilo tunnel road or taking the road near Har Homa?

  2. Taking the road near Har Homa is much shorter. Thank-you for asking.

  3. Is it better to take the Egged bus to Nokdin Herodian Base to get to the Herodion? Also, is the parking lot a lot further up the mountain than the bus stop?