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The Palace on the Hilltop

Herodian is the fortress/palace built by Herod the Great on a high hilltop 12 kilometers south of Jerusalem. It’s an extraordinary place to visit where you can see the grandeur with which Herod surrounded himself.

But first things first – a little bit about who Herod was and why he built this fortress here. I’ve written about Herod before, see my blog about Caesarea, but now I’ll go a little deeper into who he was. Herod was the son of an Idumean father who either converted to Judaism or whose father converted. His mother was a Nabatean. He was placed on the throne of Judea and named “King of the Jews” by Rome around the year 40 BCE. At the time, Rome was fighting the Parthians (Persians). The previous dynasty in Judea, the Hasmoneans, had two contenders for the throne, one supported by Rome and the other by the Parthians. Eventually the Romans won out but they decided to replace their Hasmonean client king with Herod. Needless to say, the Judeans (Jews) weren’t exactly thrilled with this situation and many saw Herod as an illegitimate ruler.

Inside the palace/fortress

The Hasmoneans built many fortresses around their kingdom and Herod reinforced and beautified them, the most notable being Masada. However, there was one fortress he built from scratch and that is Herodian. Why here? While fleeing the Parthians with his family his mother almost died here when her carriage crashes. To pay homage to the site Herod builds his fortress here. Nice story but there is a more practical reason. The hill is just outside of Jerusalem so if he needs to make a quick escape this is a close place to run to. Also important was the fact that the city can be seen from the hilltop and vice versa.

Herod, being Herod, built Herodian on a grand scale and of course named it after himself. The fortress contained a private palace, courtyard, refectory, Roman bathhouse, a Roman theater and cisterns for water collection. On the bottom of the hill were living quarters, another bathhouse and a magnificent pool surrounded by columns and gardens with a large statue in the middle (see the photo). The remains of all of these structures can be seen today and it’s easy to visualize how it must have looked 2000 years ago.

1/3 scale model of the monument at Herod's burial site

Herodian is where Herod was buried, in a spectacular mausoleum which could be seen from Jerusalem. Its remains of its base can be seen today along with a scaled down model. After Herod’s death the fortress was used by rebels who changed things around, but that’s a whole other story!

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