Located less than 10 miles south of Jerusalem, and a stone’s throw from Bethlehem, the ancient city of Herodium stands in stark contrast to its surrounding area. One of the most immediately notable features is the nearly 2,500-foot volcano-like hill which seems to rise majestically out of the desert. It is on this hilltop where King Herod built one of his palace-fortresses, and where his subsequent tomb was discovered.
Herod’s list of accomplishments doesn’t stop here. Aside from his infamous reputation as a merciless ruler, he was a prodigious builder and visionary, spearheading many of Israel’s most recognizable structures, including the Second Temple in Jerusalem, the palace-fortress atop Masada, and the port of Caesarea.
The Jewish priest, scholar, and historian Flavius Josephus chronicled that the site was built after Herod conquered Antigonus, the last of the Hasmonean kings, in 37 B.C. Josephus described in rich detail the site’s features. It reads almost like a real estate site:
This fortress, which is some sixty stadia distant from Jerusalem, is naturally strong and very suitable for such a structure … At intervals it has round towers, and it has a steep ascent formed of two hundred steps of hewn stone. Within it are costly royal apartments made for security and for ornament at the same time.
Herodium features two sections, an upper part—which includes the two-story palace, complete with courtyards, halls, and chambers—and a lower part, a small city which sits on 40 acres of land. Springs in the vicinity were redirected to supply water to Herodium’s extensive aqueduct system, elaborate gardens, and an enormous pool on the hilltop.
What to see at Herodium:
Arguably the most popular site in Herodium, the palace-fortress at one time boasted seven levels with towers at the four corners.
Visitors can see the remains of the palatial bathhouse, decorated with intricate mosaic floors and elaborate frescoes on the walls. There is a changing room, stretching room, steam room, and cold bathroom.
Synagogue and Tunnels
When Jewish rebels took over Herodium during the Great Revolt, they converted a section of the palace into a synagogue. During the Bar Kokhbar Revolt of c. A.D.132–A. D. 135, the fighters bore tunnels through the manmade hill. The well-lit tunnels can be viewed by visitors.
Three churches have been uncovered on the site, believed to have been constructed by monks after the Jewish occupation of Herodium.
A two-story mausoleum containing an elaborate limestone sarcophagus was uncovered in the excavation of Herodium, and is believed to belong to Herod himself.
The Herodium park is easily accessible, and the tour lasts about 90 minutes. This unique site can be integrated into your Israel tour.