Wednesday, April 16, 2008


During the summer of 2003, soon after we had made aliyah, my wife Ella and I were looking for a short day trip during the day while the kids were in day camp. Almost by accident we stumbled upon what many say is one of Israel's most interesting archeological sights, the burial place of Herod, King of the Jews, Herodium. From the southern outskirts of Yerushalayim you can clearly see the volcano-shaped mountain of Herodium.

Herod the Great was born in 72 B.C.E., almost 100 years before the destruction of the Second Bais Hamikdash. He was raised in the court of the Chashmonaim and was appointed governor of the Galilee. He was appointed by the Roman Empire in 40 B.C.E. to become the king of Judaea and ruled for 36 years. His greatest accomplishment was the rebuilding of the Second Temple in Yerushalayim. The Kotel which we so venerate today is from the remains of that building project some 2,000 years ago.

While still governor of the Galilee, in the middle of one night, Herod assembled his close family and his bodyguards to escape death from Antigonus of the Chashmonaim. Close to where Herodium would be constructed, Antigonus caught up to Herod. Herod was victorious. The chariot of Herod's mother overturned and Herod feared for her life. In the end, she survived. The combination of these two episodes made a great impression on Herod. Twenty years after these events, he built Herodium where he wished to be eventually buried, in that very same location.

There are a number of things to see in Herodium. First are the remains of the magnificent Mountain Palace-Fortress constructed by Herod within the crater of the man-made volcano-like mountain. There are also the remains of Lower Herodium and its large swimming pool. Only in the past few months has the much sought after tomb of King Herod been discovered. Archaeologists are busy digging and studying the sight.

Before the destruction of the Second Bais Hamikdash, Herodium was occupied by Jewish rebels who used Herodium as a base to attack the Roman army. The flames from the destruction of the Temple on Har Habayit could be observed by the Rebels standing on Herodium. In commemoration, Herodium today is utilized on Tisha B'Av for the community reading of Eicha.

On Herodium, you can also visit one of the world's oldest synagogues, constructed during the time of the Second Bais Hamikdash by the Jewish rebels, as well as a mikvah.

More than 60 years after the destruction of the Second Temple, Herodium was again used by Jewish rebels against the Romans, this time by the fighters of Bar Kochva. You can walk through the vast network of tunnels dug by these rebels deep into the mountain and water cisterns originally built by Herod. The kids will have a great time exploring around.

You can combine a visit to Herodium with a visit to the many interesting sights in Gush Etzion and the Hills of Hebron. When I first visited Herodium in 2003, the drive from Jerusalem was over 30 minutes, driving past Efrat. Only recently was a new connection opened between Har Choma in Jerusalem and Herodium, drastically cutting down your drive time. Bring plenty of water, good walking shoes and a cap when visiting Herodium. Like all National parks, Herodium closes at 4PM in the winter, 5PM in the summer.

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