Historian Josephus writes that King Herod the Great, who was appointed by the Romans to rule Judea between 37 and 4 B.C., built a magnificent circular palace at a spot located about 12 kilometers south of Jerusalem. Dominating the desert landscape south of Bethlehem is the volcano-like mound of Herodion with a distinct conical (Josephus calls it breast-like) shape, which Herod filled with lush gardens, elaborate apartments, and heavily fortified ramparts.

Today, 2,000 years after Herod's time, Herodion is a wonder to behold. Although the site was conquered and destroyed by the invading Roman army in 70 CE, the ruins are well-preserved and include the various halls of the fortress, ritual baths, water cisterns, and the remains of a first-century synagogue built in the Galilean style.

In 2007, after decades of research and after retiring, archaeologist Professor Ehud Netzer of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem claimed that he had discovered the tomb of King Herod midway up the hill on the northern slope of Herodion, at a spot that directly corresponds with a description of the King's burial place in Josephus. A team of his of researchers found by chance pieces of a limestone sarcophagus believed to belong to the ancient king. Although there were no bones in the container, Professor Netzer said the sarcophagus' location and ornate appearance revealed it was Herod's. However, what has not been found to date is an inscription, which would validate the tomb as King Herod’s.

The site of the tomb is one of Israel’s greatest archaeological mysteries. Netzer died in October 2010, several days after sustaining a bad fall when a railing gave way at the site, which he had been excavating for more than 40 years.

King Herod is renowned for his grand construction projects, including the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, the Caesarea complex, and the palace atop Masada.

Stay tuned for more episodes of CITYsights.

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