Herodium (Herodion) National Park guide starts with directions, map, hours, and history. And then we tour the site (Herod’s palace, tomb). Let’s begin!
Herodium (Herodion) National Park is a truncated cone-shaped hill, located 12 kilometers south of Jerusalem. That places it behind the green line and driving there may be not very pleasant, but once inside, you will feel safer as you pass security.
Map of the area:
Plan of this national park (courtesy of Israeli Nature And Parks Authority):
If you are driving there, enter “Herodium Park” into Waze or Google Maps. And then recheck the route. Make sure you are sticking to the main roads and do not enter any Arab villages or cities (for Jews or cars with Israeli plates, I would suggest avoiding them to avoid unpleasantries).
There is a bus station next to Herodion National Park. Bus line #374 and #366 that start from Jerusalem arrive there. Check out this preset Moovit for additional information. Also, note that if you take the bus, you will have to climb the mountain palace-fortress.
Sunday – Thursday And Saturday: 8 – 17 (16 during winter).
Fridays: 8 – 16 (15 during winter).
On holidays usually 8 – 13.
Adults 29 NIS, children 15 NIS, and Students 25 NIS. And free for National Parks annual subscribers.
If you are going to visit several National Parks, then consider purchasing a combo ticket. You can find additional info at National Parks And Nature Reserves post.
Note: opening hours and ticket prices were updated in November 2019. In any case, recheck the official site before visiting.
We joined a free tour (at no extra price beyond entrance fee) on a Saturday morning. The tours are usually available on weekends, and I would advise joining one of them. You can always explore by yourself when the tour ends.
For additional information about available tours and the languages contact Herodium Park at 02-5953591, 02-5953592, and [email protected]
Herodion in the Bible
Direct Mentions – Romans 16:11
Herodion is mentioned only once in the Bible at Romans 16:11 (King James Version):
Salute Herodion my kinsman. Greet them that be of the household of Narcissus, which are in the Lord.
What does this mean?
Paul continues to list individuals and families to whom he would like his readers to pass on his greetings. Now Paul mentions a man named Herodion. Since this would have been an unusual name in Rome, scholars suggest this may have been either a family member or former slave who served one of the royal lines of the Herods. Since Paul calls him a kinsman or relative, it is assumed the man is Jewish.
Paul also offers his greetings to those in the Lord who belong to the family of a man called Narcissus. Paul does not offer greetings to Narcissus directly. In other words, Paul offers his greeting to the Christian members of this man’s family, suggesting that some in the family had not come to faith in Christ. It’s possible this is the same Narcissus known from history as a servant to the Roman Emperor Claudius. Claudius died in AD 54. Narcissus is said to have committed suicide sometime later.
King Herod is also mentioned. And according to the verse in Matthew, when Herod heard the prophecy about the birth of a new King of the Jews (who was a direct threat to Herod’s position), he acted. Since he did not know who will replace him, he ordered to kill newborn babies of Bethlehem.
However, the historical evidence for the massacre of the innocents is only Biblical and only one verse in Matthew mentions it (absent from the other gospels).
Pontius Pilate is also mentioned in the Bible. Pontius Pilate was the Roman prefect (governor) of Judea. And he was the official who presided over the trial of Jesus and ordered his crucifixion.
Recently Pilatus ring was found at Herodium. Though scholars argue whether this ring belonged to Pontius Pilate or to a person in his administration, the find itself is interesting.
Herod was born in 74 BCE to an influential family of Idumean origin. During the Hasmonean period, many Idumeans converted to Judaism and entered the service of the kingdom. Herod’s grandfather, Antipas, was governor of Idumea under the Hasmonean king Alexander Jannaeus. Herod’s father, Antipater, was an adviser to John Hyrcanus II. Much of what we know of Herod’s life comes from the writings of the Jewish historian Josephus Flavius.
In 47 BCE Herod was appointed ruler of the Galilee, and in that same year, he married the first of his ten wives. After the Sanhedrin tried him for executing Jewish rebels in the Galilee, he was forced to flee. But under the aegis of the Romans, he conquered the rest of the country and in 37 BCE became king of Judea, which he governed until his death in 4 BCE. Herod, whose reign marked the end of the Hasmonean dynasty, ruled under Roman auspices, but with a great deal of autonomy.
Note: unless stated otherwise, all quotes were taken from the official site.
Herod The Builder
He was famed for his grandiose building projects in the Land of Israel and beyond – including the rebuilding of the Temple and the expansion of the Temple Mount Esplanade. In addition to founding cities like Caesarea and Samaria, he built the port at Caesarea, as well as palaces, temples, gardens, and water systems, and strengthened desert fortresses. The king’s construction projects revealed his vision and organizational skills, while his use of new techniques and technologies, such as the use of concrete, led his architectural achievements to new heights. No wonder Pliny the Elder described Herod’s Jerusalem as the most famous city in the East. Judea prospered during Herod’s reign. However, after his death, his descendants were unable to stabilize their rule, and Judea became a Roman province. This period led to the Great Revolt and the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem.
Note: check out Caesarea National Park for additional info.
In 40 BCE, Herod was forced to flee Jerusalem from Antigonus Mattathias, the last of the Hasmonean kings. Antigonus had allied with the Parthians (the empire that blocked the Romans from the east), against the Romans – Herod’s patrons. At that time, the Parthians controlled the region of Syria, which also included Jerusalem, and appointed Antigonus as ruler of Judah, and so Herod was forced to flee from Jerusalem. Antigonus and his allies pursued him, catching up with him east of Bethlehem. Herod escaped with great difficulty. He left his family behind at Masada and set out for Rome, where the Romans appointed him king of Judah.
The Construction Of Herodium
Herod returned to Judah, defeated Antigonus Mattathias, and became king of Judah. The memory of this desperate battle stayed with him, and in around 28 BCE he began to build Herodium, naming it after himself. Herod moved the Beth Tzur district administration to Herodium, and brought water to the site from Solomon’s Pools in Jerusalem, a distance of some 6 km. At Herodium he built himself a tomb estate where, according to Joseph ben Matityahu (Josephus Flavius), he was buried.
In the Great Revolt (66 CE) the rebels seized Herodium and entrenched themselves there. Some six months after the destruction of the Temple, the Romans set out to capture the peripheral areas of Judah from the Zealots. Apparently, due to its proximity to Jerusalem, Herodium was their first target. According to Josephus Flavius, the Roman historian, Herodium surrendered, but finds in the field indicate otherwise. For example, we know that the entry gate to the upper palace was burned and that the fire spread to underground areas, causing considerable damage. During the Bar Kokhba Revolt (132 – 135/6 CE) Mt Herod also served as a base for the rebels, and they left behind them, among other things, secret tunnels, and caves carved in the rock.
During the Byzantine period (4th – 7th centuries CE), a large village with three churches was built in Lower Herodium, over the remains from Herod’s time, and a chapel was built in the fortress at the top of the mountain.
At The National Park
Note: we visited Herodium National Park back in 2008. Herodium is still an active archeological site, and for example, Herod’s tomb was found only in 2007 (and during our visit we could not see it). Thus, though we will go through all the main POI, and I do not have photos of all of them.
We started our visit at the top of the human-made mountain with the palace-fortress. While there, you will be able to see several POI.
Mount Herod, the human-made mountain – the steep slopes surround the “crater” in which Herod built the Herodium complex. Herod turned the hill into a prominent cone, a kind of giant monument. In the outer wall of the hill, a passageway was found, serving as an entry to the hill, with a great flight of stairs leading to it. The mountain was built of layers of earth and small stones. The observation point at the top of the conical mountain offers a view into the crater within, and the two fortification walls that surround the crater in two circles. The crater was originally a building rising five stories above the level of the courtyard (25 m). The circumference of the outer wall is 150 m.
Here are several images of Herod’s Palace and its surroundings:
Earth was heaped up around the walls, which created a cone-shaped artificial mountain. At its foot, Herod built a kind of royal ‘country club,’ including a large pool, a bathhouse, and a roofed pool.
Despite its desert location, the complex was surrounded by magnificent gardens watered by the pool. A unique aqueduct from the area of Solomon’s Pools near Bethlehem brought water to the palace.
Herod’s Palace palace was the starting point of our tour. The guide started with explanations about Herod the builder and Herod’s Palace.
Herodium Fortress – Herod’s Palace
Herod himself commissioned a lavish palace to be built between 23 and 15 BCE atop Herodium for all to see. The palace itself 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. Once Herod died, and the Great Revolt started, Herodium was abandoned. The Jews eventually had a base at Herodium where they built a synagogue which can still be seen today, unlike much of Herod’s Palace.
View of a nearby village:
The Palace is a square building encompassed by a circular wall. The palace included an ornamental garden surrounded by a colonnaded peristyle, a bathhouse, several living rooms, and a reception and banqueting hall. The palace walls were decorated with frescoes, depicting geometric patterns. The bathhouse was built following Roman bathing rules and had an apodyterium (an entrance lobby and dressing room), a caldarium (hot room), a circular tepidarium (warm room), and a frigidarium (cold room) with a small bathing pool. The hot air came up from the double floor, through channels carved in the walls. In the warm room, an impressive stone dome has survived in its entirety, the oldest of its kind in Israel.
The remains of a rectangular building at the bottom of the photo above are what was left from a synagogue built by rebels during the great revolt.
The original ceiling of the room was replaced by a lightweight ceiling, supported by four columns that were not there originally. Outside the entrance to the hall, a small room was used as a purification pool. Another mikveh dating to the Great Revolt was found in the center of the courtyard, close to the east tower. This mikveh contained a small pool, and alongside it a water storage tank.
Remains inside the palace:
A village and the Dead Sea:
After getting explanations about the site, our guide took us down through ancient tunnels down.
Beneath the hilltop fortified palace three systems were found:
- Four Herodian water cisterns.
- The remains of a tunnel from the time of the Great Revolt. The tunnel was intended for bringing water up from the lower systems to the fortified palace without being exposed to the view of the Romans besieging the place.
- Bar Kokhba era tunnels emerging from the fortress cellars and leading to sortie exits, intended for taking the Roman army units by surprise. The Herodium tunnels are high enough for a person to stand upright in them, unlike the low and narrow concealed systems found in the Judean plain.
Unfortunately, as I mentioned before, we did not see Herod’s tomb. But, today you can see it.
According to the description of Josephus Flavius, Herod is buried at Herodium. Researchers searched for his tomb for many years and were unable to find it.
In 2007, Prof. Ehud Netzer amazed the world when he revealed the remains of a large structure and splendid sarcophagus in the hillside facing Jerusalem. The mausoleum was built as a square structure (10 x 10 m at its base), 25 m in height. It appears that the rebels of the Great Revolt almost completely dismantled the structure.
The mausoleum had three stories, with rooms in them. Above the base was a square story, and above it, a circular story surrounded by 18 pillars. The mausoleum was excellently constructed of hard, white limestone, and entirely decorated, with well-worked moldings. At the top of the roof, built in the form of a hollow cone, like the Tomb of Absalom in Jerusalem, stands an urn (a special jar for holding body ashes). Other pots were placed at the bottom of the cone.
The remains of three sarcophagi were found. Prof. Netzer suggested that one of them, a sarcophagus in a reddish shade decorated with rosettes, was the one in which Herod was buried since it stands out for its meticulous quality. The sarcophagus was found smashed. The other two sarcophagi were made of white stone, and they were thrown out of the mausoleum before it was dismantled, and located in pieces on the ground. Two members of Herod’s family were buried in the sarcophagi, one of them his fifth wife, the mother of his heir Archelaus. The remains of a supporting wall, and above it garden soil and an irrigation pond, are evidence that an ornamental garden surrounded the mausoleum.
In 2007, after many years of excavation, Prof. Ehud Netzer uncovered the burial site and determined that this was the tomb of Herod. Later, a royal theatre and other buildings were also uncovered on the hillside. In October 2010, during a visit to the site, Prof. Netzer slipped on the steep slope by the theatre. He was seriously injured and died a few days later.
Today, Herod’s sarcophagus is on display in the Israel Museum.
At this point, a little more than an hour after it started, our tour ended. But, you can also visit the Lower Herodium.
At the Lower Herodium, you can find remains of Byzantine village, church, bathhouse, and others.
Lower Herodium complex was meticulously planned, on an area of around 150 dunams. It includes the “Great Palace” building, the magnificent pools and gardens, the bathhouse, and accommodation for guests and members of the district administration. In the area between the mountain and the pool (an area partly covered by dense Byzantine period buildings), the “funeral complex” was built, with a large hall (the “monumental structure”) alongside which was a large ritual purification pool (mikveh). From the hall, a long walkway extends eastward (30 x 350 m), built for the king’s grand funeral ceremony, before ascending the monumental staircase to the mausoleum on the hillside.
A few years before his death, Herod began to complete the vast tomb estate at Herodium: on the north-eastern slope of the hill, alongside a flight of stairs, a beautiful mausoleum-like burial structure was built, and around it, the artificial mountain was constructed – a giant monument to preserve his memory. For the creation of the artificial cone-shaped mountain, vast quantities of earth and stones were piled up around the fortified palace (some 450,000 m³), completely covering the side of the hill, apart from the mausoleum on the hillside, which remains visible and conspicuous in the landscape.
According to Josephus, Herodium was built on the spot where Herod won a victory over his enemies. To commemorate the event, Herod built a fortress and a palace there, which he named after himself.
According to Josephus Flavius, Herod is buried at Herodium. And in 2007, Prof. Ehud Netzer amazed the world when he revealed the remains of a mausoleum and splendid sarcophagus in Herodium. It is considered as the burial place of Herod.
Overall, it was quite a short, nice, and informative tour. Depending on your route, a typical visit will take several hours.
The site offers excellent views of the surroundings and a dive into a part of history. The walks are not long but require effort. The trails include steep climbings on top of loose rocks and dirt. Thus, wear sturdy shoes or hiking boots.
Have you ever been to Herodium National Park? Tell us about your experience in the comments below.
That’s all for today, and I’ll see you in future travels!
Additional ResourcesHere are several resources that I created to help travelers:
- Israel Trip Planner is the page that will help you to create your perfect travel route.
- National Parks And Nature Reserves page lists and put all national parks on the map. There is also a top list, information about ticket types and campsites.
- If you are looking for things to do, here are the pages for Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Sea Of Galilee, and Makhtesh Ramon.
- Wondering what events are there in Israel? Here is the Events And Festivals By Season guide.