Herodium, or Herodion as it is more commonly referred to in Israel, is considered to be one of King Herod’s greatest architectural achievements. The mountain itself lies approximately 12 kilometers south of Jerusalem and 5 kilometers southeast of Bethlehem. Although it lies in the hilly and canyon-filled Judean Desert, Herodion clearly stands out as the largest mountain in the desert. In fact, you can spot it from a good distance away thanks to its gigantic size height in comparison to the surrounding area. To some degree, this is because Herod added around 20 meters to the mountain, making it partially artificial.
As soon as the mountain was large enough that it could be seen from all the surrounding areas, Herod gave out the order for a great palace to be built. Construction on the massive project took place between 23 and 15 BCE. After its completion, the location became his new resort, outfitted with bathhouses, an amphitheatre, a number of great halls, and pools to cool down from hot summer days in. Egotistical by nature, Herod did not disappoint in this regard when it came to his biggest architectural venture. The lavish and expensive project culminated in a seven-story home with several towers and courtyards. Herod was so enamored with the location that he had chosen for his newest palace that he decided that it would eventually become his final resting place. In preparation for his death, he ordered the construction of a beautiful tomb for his body, along with a long walkway down below the mountain that would eventually serve as the space in which his funeral would take place. Despite not ever really having the support of his people, Herod planned for his funeral to be a big event. His funeral is often described as a battle scene, as soldiers and military personnel made up most of the attendees rather than his own family, friends, or people.
We fully recommend that you make a day trip out to Herodion to hike and see the place that Herod considered worthy enough to eventually serve as his final resting place. The hike around the mountain should be done with a tour guide, as there is much to learn about Herod, early Judean history, and the location itself that books and readings can’t adequately provide you with. From the top of the mountain, you’ll be able to spot several noteworthy locations such as the Dead Sea, Jordan, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and more. This historical landmark has even more rich history relating to the events that transpired after Herod’s death embedded in the stones and sands that make it up.
One of the most interesting things to consider on your visit to Herodion is why Herod chose such a remote and desolate location for his extravagant home. During your visit, you’ll learn the answer to this important question through a story about a significant event in Herod’s life that ultimately proved to influence his life decisions more than anything.
Meharat Hariton (Hariton Cave)
If you’re in the mood to keep exploring, take a twenty minute drive to Wadi Tekoa Nature Reserve (Shmurat Teva Nachal Tekoa), near the town of Tekoa. Here, you’ll enjoy a beautiful hike along a valley that will lead you right down to Meharat Hariton (Hariton Cave). The cave, which is the largest limestone cave in Israel, extends four kilometers into the stone. Bring a flashlight and clothes you don’t mind getting dirty and dusty (leave most everything else in your car, as there are several tight squeezes to crawl through in the cave–hence our lack of pictures from the cave). We recommend to make this trip during the summer time, as the cool and humid cave is a great place to cool down in on a hot day. Additionally, it’d be a good idea to make this trip with a guide, as it’s pretty easy to get lost in caves that you’re not familiar with. Get in touch with HaChevra LeHaganat Hateva (Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel) for this. Once you reach the end of the cave, you’ll find a big room. If you have a seat and turn off your flashlight, you’ll find that the cave’s silence truly is relaxing and enjoyable. Christian monks used to frequent the caves in these areas for this exact reason. The silence that you can find in a quiet cave or the middle of the desert is unlike any other worldly phenomenon you’ll come across.
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Adam Schrag 2015