I’m a tour guide who often does tours at Herodium, the palace complex built by King Herod about 15 km south of Jerusalem and where, according to Josephus, Herod was buried. Ehud Netzer, in excavating Lower Herodium, described a building that he called the Monumental building at the end of of an elongated course. He suggested that the building could have been Herod’s burial place. Since then Netzer has discovered the base of a mausoleum with finely carved decorations and 2 sarcophagi on the north-western side of the hill.
On p. 38 of his booklet entitled Herodium (published 1999) Netzer writes
“Present-day visitors are always puzzled by a series of grooves cut into all of the half-columns. These grooves were apparently carved to accommodate a piping system which was probably added later during the period of the Roman pro curators, who may have converted the hall into a nymphaeum.”
Interesting. The nymphaeum that comes to mind in Israel is the one in Bet Shean. So I looked up nymphaeum and came across a very interesting article about Hadrian’s Villa near Tivoli:
There’s a diagram of the Canopus/Serapeum complex, an open air triclinium/nymphaeum and water course. This is very reminiscent of the Monumental building and course that Netzer describes (course at Lower Herodium is ~300m in length and ~25m wide).
A plan of the Canopus/Serapeum complex (original image from Sear, p. 180.)
There is another nymphaeum in the plan, in the area called the Piazza d’Oro (based on Figure 103 on p. 177 of Sear’s Roman Architecture; the central dark grey area comes from Figure 114 on p. 96 of Macdonald and Pinto’s Hadrian’s Villa and its Legacy).
(A) A large colonaded pool with garden. (B) The octagonal entrance vestibule. (C) The eight-sided space on the southeastern side of the courtyard. (D) The nymphaeum with five niches for fountains of flowing water.
The article includes a photo of the remains of this nymphaeum, made up of 6 niches (which would have held the fountains) separated by pilasters. There is a channel that would have allowed water to run from the nymphaeum to the pool in the courtyard.
I was struck by how similar this is to the Monumental building, so I have included a photo of it here.
In guiding, I’ve had a number of tourists ask me what the curved cuts in the stone in the lower part of the pilasters (between the niches along the walls, 2 in the end, 3 on each side) were used for. If this was designed as a nymphaeum (either in the time of Herod or by later Roman governors) perhaps the channels were used for water. The course and building are just south of the large pool.
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