Herodium (Palestinian Territories) (AFP)
Israeli authorities are set to unveil previously banned structures at King Herod’s palace-fortress, Herodium, which the tyrannical ruler of the Roman era buried as his massive burial plot.
Herodium, an extremely popular tourist destination, is located near Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank, but is in an area where Israel exercises full military and civilian control.
Archaeologists say Herod decided towards the end of his life to bury his palace, using the soil from under the hill on which he was perched, until the outline of the structure was no longer visible.
The Israel Nature and Parks Authority plans to open the renovated site on Sunday, allowing visitors to see the arched staircase, foyer and private Herodium theater for the first time.
The Judean Desert Complex was built by the Romans appointed king, known both for his brutality and the magnificent structures built during his reign over Judea from 37-4 BC.
The hilltop palace, its main entrance facing Jerusalem, was Herod’s favorite.
It is the only one he named after himself and where he chose to be buried, said Roi Porat, the Hebrew University archaeologist in charge of the excavations.
A simple funeral plot, however, would not have satisfied Herod, who wanted his final resting place to eclipse his palace.
“That’s why he covered the mountain, including the palace, to highlight it,” Eran Kruzel of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority said.
– ‘Unmatched’ –
And while the palace’s burial during his lifetime gave Herod the satisfaction of knowing his grave would stand out, it also helped preserve and protect the site for 2,000 years.
“It’s an unprecedented archaeological laboratory,” Porat said, comparing it to the preservation of Pompeii in lava.
A wide staircase leads from the tomb to the main hall of the palace.
There are three levels of support arches above the hearth, from the time Herod decided to bury his palace but still needed access while he was still alive.
The foyer itself contains striped frescoes in their original auburn, green, and black, creating patterns mimicking the marble panels, in line with the royal Judean style.
At the bottom of the stairs on the other side of the tomb is the theater of about 300 seats, as well as the private cabin and the royal salon that overlooks it.
Herod welcomed Marcus Agrippa, Caesar Augustus’ second in command, to this room in 15 BC, according to Porat.
“It was an extremely important visit for Herod,” noted Porat, with the ruler of Judea redecorating the visitation room to include a series of designs mimicking the open windows and depicting Agrippa’s conquest of Egypt, with reliefs bold and lavish stucco above.
“Before that, Herod was following the Jewish tradition which avoided images of animals and people, but here anything was possible,” Porat said.
“It really is a Roman capsule in Judea. ”
Excavation and preservation of the last parts of the palace began 13 years ago with the discovery of Herod’s tomb.
For Porat, the site illustrates Herod’s state of mind, “when all he cares about is how to preserve his memory for eternity”.
“His name has been kept here,” Porat said.
“For better or for worse, the landscape here in this region south of Jerusalem has been changed. ”
© 2020 AFP