Archeologists from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Institute of Archeology announced on Thursday the discovery of an elaborate entryway into the Herodian hilltop palace at Herodion National Park, located on the edge of the Judean Desert.
The unique entry was uncovered during excavations by the Herodium Expedition over the past year as part of a project initiated in memory of Prof. Ehud Netzer to develop the site for tourism, the university said in a statement.
“The main feature of the entryway is an impressive corridor with a complex system of arches spanning its width on three separate levels,” the university said.
According to the archeologists, the arches buttressed the corridor’s massive side walls, allowing King Herod and his entourage direct passage into the palace’s courtyard. The 20-meter-long and 6-meterwide corridor has been preserved to a height of 20 meters by the entryway’s supporting arches, they said.
The Hebrew University archaeologists, Roi Porat, Yakov Kalman and Rachel Chachy, said the corridor was built as part of Herod’s plan to turn Herodion into a massive artificial volcano-shaped hill to commemorate the architect-king.
“Surprisingly, during the course of the excavations, it became evident that the arched corridor was never actually in use, as prior to its completion it became redundant,” the archeologists said.
“This appears to have happened when Herod, aware of his impending death, decided to convert the whole hilltop complex into a massive memorial mound – a royal burial monument on an epic scale. Whatever the case, the corridor was back-filled during the construction of the massive artificial hill at the end of Herod’s reign.”
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The university’s archeologists added that the upper section of a new stairway stretching from the hill’s base to its peak, constructed during the course of this building phase, appears to have been built over it.
The excavators further noted that the arched corridor was covered during the course of the construction of the hill-monument, as were all the structures built earlier by Herod on the hill’s slopes, including the royal theater, uncovered by the expedition in 2008.
“The only edifice not covered over was the splendid mausoleum- style structure, identified by Netzer and the expedition, of Herod’s burial place,” the statement continued. “Together, with the monumental coneshaped hill, this constituted the unique Herodian royal burial complex.”
During the course of the current excavations, the original elaborate palace vestibule, which was blocked when the corridor became redundant, was also exposed.
“This entry room, decorated with splendid painted frescoes, had a magnificent entryway leading into it, and offered evidence of the rebel occupation during the Great Revolt (66-71 CE), including Jewish Revolt coinage and crude temporary structures,” the university said.
Moreover, the excavations in the arched corridor also turned up compelling evidence from the Bar-Kochba Revolt period (132-135/6 CE), including hidden tunnels dug on the site by the rebels as part of the guerrilla warfare they waged against the Romans.
“Supported in part by wooden beams, these tunnels exited from the hilltop fortress by way of the corridor’s walls, through openings hidden in the corridor,” the university said. “One of the tunnels revealed the well-preserved construction of 20 or so cypress-wood branches, arranged in a cross-weave pattern to support the tunnel’s roof.”
Shaul Goldstein, director of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, said that, in the future, the excavation of the arched corridor will allow visitors direct access to the Herodion hilltop palace-fortress in the same way that Herod entered it 2,000 years ago.
There are also plans to provide tourists direct access from the structures on the slope, the royal theater and the mausoleum, via the earlier monumental stairway to the hilltop palace, Goldstein added.
The authority, the Heritage and Commemoration Department in the Prime Minister’s Office, the Antiquities Authority, and the Etzion Bloc Regional Council and civilian administration are all co-partners in the development of Herodion.
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