Herod’s Mountain Hideaway
At Herodian National Park, visitors can enter the labyrinth where this wild king built a summer palace to commemorate a battle he would never forget.
King Herod knew exactly where he wanted to spend eternity: at Herodium, a mountain in the wilderness where he won a battle with the Parthian (Iranian) army in 40 B.C.E. After his victory, Herod fled to Rome where an impressed Senate crowned him King of Israel. With the help of the Roman army, he took complete control of the country three years later.
Fortunately for the king, when the end came in 4 B.C.E. after a debilitating illness, his son Archelaus carried out his father’s wishes. At the funeral he “omitted nothing of magnificence. . . there was a bier all of gold, embroidered with precious stones, and a purple bed of various contexture, with the dead body upon it, covered with purple; and a diadem was put upon his head, and a crown of gold above it . . the body was carried two hundred furlongs, to Herodium, where he had given order to be buried,” as Josephus Flavius — Jewish warrior turned Roman historian during the Great Revolt of 66-73 C.E. — wrote in Wars of the Jews.
Today, Herod’s Herodium is located inside Herodian National Park, just a seven minute drive on a brand new road leading from Jerusalem’s Har Homa neighborhood. An astonishing archaeological site complete with a labyrinth of cool underground caves, the Park recently opened a small Visitors’ Center with a sparkling production about King Herod and his funeral procession.
Visitors spot the Herodian well before they arrive, for Herod added an artificial hill to an already existing, natural mound after he built a summer palace on the very top. Besides, its cone-like shape makes it impossible to miss: protruding as it does from the desert landscape, it looks very much like a volcano.
After taking a brochure at the Center, you climb the steps a few dozen meters to the top of the mountain. Although it is a bit strenuous, the climb is not nearly as difficult as that taken by visitors to Herod’s palace 2,000 years ago: they followed a straight line from bottom to top — with only the last third shaded from the sun.