Last weekend on Saturday (Nov 21/2020) the day after our daughter - Keren and Elie got married in Haifa, and during when the Israeli heaven manufactured a spectacular "audio visual" display of roaring thunder, blinding lightning, and sheet loads of unusual rain downpour, across the country's northern coastline, we escaped the storm's racket and floods, in the safety of the
desert's Herodion National Park.
Amazingly, once we exited the "State of Tel Aviv" leaving behind the gushy coastal horizon, and 20 minutes into the mountainous drive up toward Jerusalem through the "State of Judah", most smiley bright sun hanging off the clear cloudless deep blue sky, greeted warmly, our arrival.
A group made up of 3 additional couples, all dear class-mates of mine from Haifa elementary school era, (Yosi, Shay and Shuki) with whom we have kept in touch all these long years, also were lured with the wives (Shlomit Ella and Tali) to escape the blizzard of the north, and joined us and the guide, for the tour I organized.
By all means this excursion to Herodion, was the best dry and pleasurable way to spend that day.
Although I had visited a few times in the past, this unique archaeological Herodion site's new exciting findings at the truncated-cone-shaped hill have been continuously, unearthed, to the present, which is worth sequential visits.
Adam - The Tour Guide who is an expert on Jerusalem, and who, if one can tolerate his nudging overbearing personality, is a walking wealth of knowledge. He has lead such tours to the site, periodically, and one can arrange a visit there and also to other sites, by calling him in advance at 050 5920520
A Brief Summary of the 3 hours tour
Herodion - Har Hordus ("Mount Herodes") of Jabal al-Fureidis "Mountain of the Little Paradise", also was known by the Crusaders as the "Mountain of Franks"
The name Herodis was found in the 1960s inscribed in one of the Bar Kokhba letters recovered from the Muraba’at Caves in the Judaean desert.
There is a lot of write-up on the archaeological excavated hill which looms from a far, over the desert terrain landscape, so only some highlights will be mentioned, and the rest can be further read via the links.
The con hill site is located 12 km south of Jerusalem and 5 km southeast of Bethlehem, 758m above sea level, and is the highest peak in the Judaean Desert. Just next to this hill site, there are remains of a twin hill, facing the Jerusalem side, whose top was flatten, dug up and used, according to King's Herod instruction, to cover up and bury the complex built on the first hill.
Herodion is one of the Judean/ Edomite king Herod's most ambitious building projects. It served as summer palace, fortress, monument, burial ground and district capital, and is the only site, of all the sites (Caesarea, Masada..) built by the "builder-king", that bears Hordus' name.
Edward Robinson's (same as Jerusalem Robinson Arch) identification of the site as Herodion was based on the description found in the Jewish historian who exiled to Rome - Josephus Flavius - Yoseph Ben Matityahu.
Herod was born in 74 BCE to an influential family of Edumite origin. In 47 BCE he was appointed ruler of the Galilee and married also the first of his ten wives, whom he also murdered, along with their mutual sons, and many others.
In 37 BCE he became king of Judea, which he governed until his death in 4 BCE. His reign marked the end of the Hasmonean dynasty. The paranoid ruthless king ruled under Roman auspices, but with a great deal of autonomy.
The immense Herodion complex, near the ancient roads to the Dead Sea, was built between 23 and 20 B.C.E. . The panoramic views seen of the hill are spectacular and stretch all the way to the Dead sea.
The site is divided into two sections: Upper and Lower Herodion
Excavations were carried at the Lower Herodion from 1972, by the Israeli archeologist Ehud Netzer, of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, until the archaeologist's tragic death on site in 2010.
The lower palace, at the base of the hill was mostly his finding.
The large pool (70 X 45 meters) at the site's foothill was used for swimming, boating and as a reservoir.
This lower site was not toured, but was clearly observed along with the other desert stunning panoramic views from the top of the hill.
Upper Herodion excavations of the citadel, on top of the hill, started in 1962
The lavish palace built between 23 and 15 BCE at this high altitude for all to see from Jerusalem
It consisted of four towers of seven stories, a bathhouse, courtyards, a Roman theatre, banquet rooms, a large walkway ("the course"), as well as extravagant living quarters for himself and guests.
A surprise assault system from the bar Kochba period which we were amazed to walk through, was found down deep in Upper Herodion.
It includes water cisterns, tunnels and hidden apertures for sneak attacks.
Emerging out from the underground tunnel network to the daylight of the circular design of upper Herodion, was owe striking.
The 2 round thick walled circumvents with a corridor between them to allow a cooling flow of air, were surrounded by round towers, were most innovative, and rare in ancient architecture. The Royal quarter was situated high up in the tallest tower which most of it crumbled down by one of the earthquakes in the area, and only low remains are left.
There are plans to reconstruct it to its higher altitude
A large guest reception space which was used as such, during Herod's era was transformed into a Synagogue, by the Jewish Zealots, rebels at the outbreak of the great revolt against Rome in 66 C.E. Next to it also ritual baths (Mikve) were found.
In 2007 Prof Netzer reported that he had discovered the tomb of Herod, above the tunnels and water pools, at a flattened site halfway up the hill to the hilltop palace-fortress. The unearthed site is Herod's mausoleum. The uncovered base of the tomb is visible, and the found broken marble tomb's pieces were assembled, and are on display at the Jerusalem Museum.
The impressive reconstructed long steep staircase, seen just next to the mausoleum, leading up via the intact arches corridor, to the top palace area, will be open to visitors, only next month in December on Hanukkah 2020
The exterior reconstructed Royal Roman Theater which could accommodate about 450-650 people, was uncovered in late 2010 near the base of Herod's tomb.
Above it, there is a large high ceiling Guest Reception Room from which
the theater performances also could be observed. The fresco painted remains of the room's walls are decorated by window-like framed exquisite drawings.
The unique frescoes are of landscapes depicting scenes of Italy, the burning ships from the battle of Actium, and even the Nile River in Egypt, assuming that the painters were on loan to Herod, from Caesar in Rome.
The 8 minutes worth seeing films, which is now being screened at this guest room, to only 20 viewers at a time, brings vividly into life, how once the room was specially decorated, for the VIP visit of the Roman General/ Statesman/ Architect - Marcus Agrippa. Agrippa was a close friend, son-in-law, and lieutenant to Augustus, and was responsible for the construction of some of the most notable buildings in the history of Rome, and for important military victories, most notably at the Battle of Actium
The 31 BC naval battle in the last war of the Roman Republic, fought between the fleet of Octavian and the combined forces of Mark Antony and Egyptian Queen Cleopatra in the Ionian Sea near the promontory of Actium in Greece.
Hundreds of artifacts were found, including a copper alloy ring, possibly belonging to the evil Pontius Pilate - the fifth governor of the Roman province of Judaea, serving under Emperor Tiberius from the year 26/27 to 36/37, best known today for being the official who presided over the trial of Jesus and ordered his crucifixion
Once Herod died and the Great Revolts started and ended, Herodion was abandoned, left for the use of the rebels for a while until all were liquidated by the Roman hands, and the site was deserted and covered-up unearthed for over 2000 years, until the modern era.
Israel asserts that it is entitled to work the area under the Oslo Accords, but Palestinian authorities say Israel has no right to undertake digs there or remove artifacts to Israel discovered in excavations there.
A Feast at the Ambassador Hotel's Restaurant - Al Diwan
Hard to imagine, but pre-booked, we all managed to have a fantastic Arabic meal inside the quint open air plant's covered Gazebo of the hotel's restaurant, where we also raised a glass of wine, toasting the marriage of the just married young couple, who also joined us in the feast.
That was the most tasty finale, to a great weather touring day, in the company of most precious old-timers.
There is a lot to be Thankful for, in this unusual year, if one managed to stay healthy, managed to travel, see the kids and grands and marry off a daughter....
So we wish you too a very happy, Healthy and Tasty Thanksgiving!!!