About three miles southeast of Bethlehem, amid the rolling fields where Angels once announced the birth of Yeshua, there is an unnaturally tall cone-shaped hill. This hill is home to one of Herod the Great’s many fortified palaces, which he named Herodium (or Herodion), for himself. Herod built the palace on the site where he defeated Atigonus in 40 BC, but raised the hill above its natural height providing King Herod with stunning views and visibility from Jerusalem, seven miles to the North.
Excavations at Herodium began in 1962 and have continued into the 21st century. The archaeological findings include a palace, bathhouse, theater, synagogue and most significantly, Herod’s tomb.
The palace at Herodium was itself a part of the mountain Herod built. He constructed a double-walled cylinder, 200 feet in diameter, filling the center of the cylinder with earth, raising the mountain to its current elevation of 2,460 feet above sea level. Between the double walls that held the mountain together, Herod constructed an elaborate seven-story palace, with two or three floors above ground, for his own luxury and pleasure.
In keeping with Herod’s reputation for extravagance, he built a full-sized Roman bathhouse at Herodium. Roman bathhouses consist of four rooms: apodyterium (changing room), tepidarium (stretching room), caldarium (steam room) and frigidarium (cold bath). Herod’s bathhouse was adorned with black and white mosaic flooring and multi-colored frescos.
This archaeological discovery at Herodium was not a part of Herod’s original design. Most likely it was originally a large dining room, but was repurposed by Jewish rebels who took over the fortress in 70 AD during the war against Rome.
One of the most recent discoveries (2010) at Herodium is a small 400 seat theatre, complete with an elaborately decorated private box seat, presumably for King Herod and his guests.
Note: Pictured here is a reconstructed replica of Herod’s Tomb on site at Herodium.
The first century Jewish Historian, Josephus Flavius, recorded Herodium as the place of Herod’s internment, but it took 45 years to locate the tomb. Israeli archaeologist, Ehud Netzer, finally identified it in 2007.
Today, Herodium is preserved as a national park and open to visitors.