May 17th 2015
Some 2000 years ago, on the edge of the Judean Desert, King Herod the Great constructed a fortress and a summer palace at the top of a cone-shaped hill. Herod is often cited as the greatest builder in Jewish history, but he was also a madman who murdered members of his own family. Herodium National Park, where parts of this fortress retreat still stands, is also his burial site.
There are multiple sections of Herodium for visitors to explore. The part that draws the most attention is Lower Herodium, where remains of the summer palace, a large garden, bathhouse and other buildings remain from the time of the last king of Judea. Elsewhere, Mount Herod is a partially artificial hill that contains double walls, towers and other elements of fortification. Herod’s guests at the palace were treated to theatrical performances at the 400-seat theater. The site also includes tunnels, secret caves and cisterns that were built during the Bar Kochba Revolt and used as bases of clandestine guerilla warfare against the Roman Empire’s armies.
Herod’s tomb is perched on the rim of Mount Herod, facing Jerusalem. At 2500 feet above sea level, Herodium occupies the highest elevation in the area. A number of scenic outlooks make it possible to view Lower Herodium and the Grand Palace from the peak. Turn towards the east to see the Judean Desert, the Dead Sea and the mountains of Moab, in Jordan, where the story of the Book of Ruth begins. To the south, you can see as far as the communities of Tekoa and Kfar Eldad. To the north, you’ll take in various Bedouin settlements, Ramat Rachel and Jerusalem itself.
Herodium National Park is a short drive from Jerusalem. Guided tours last approximately two hours and help visitors better understand the historical significance of the site. The tour includes a film about Herodium that can be screened in English. A snack bar and souvenir shop are available as well. Children under age 10 must be accompanied by parents, and, as with all antiquity sites, visitors are asked to not remove any stones, shards, coins or other materials from the park.