Tag Archives: architecture

Tour of Herodium Palace Complex

In Ehud Netzer’s book on the Palaces of the Hasmoneans and Herod the Great he writes:

In its day, Herodium was one of the largest palaces in the Greco-Roman world. It is actually the most spacious one of that time that is known to us from archaeological studies.

When I guide Herodium, I include a comprehensive tour of Lower Herodium, outside the archaeological park and the area that Prof. Ehud Netzer excavated in 1972 looking for Herod’s tomb. I point out

  • the overall planning of the site – the relationship between the palace/fortress on a man-made mountain south of the site and the palace complex at its foot
  • the concentration of structures around the pool, more characteristic of present day complexes such as a university campus or large hospital
  • the addition of formal gardens against the background of the barren Judean desert
  • where and how Herod overcame the topography and lack of water to build Herodium
  • Netzer’s discovery of the Monumental building where he thought Herod was buried

In its current state it can be difficult to imagine what Herodium must have looked like. Then I was introduced to the Hungarian-born artist and illustrator, Balage Balogh. Balogh has done paintings where he has recreated (Biblical) settings with a startling degree of accuracy based on a combination of intensive archaeological investigation, scriptural and ancient text research and a measured dose of interpretive insight. He has kindly given me permission to include his illustration of Herodium here. To better picture the ancient world check out his website at
http://www.archaeologyillustrated.com/


(Click on the image to view it in more detail)

Aqueduct at Caesarea

The first aqueduct was built by Herod at the time the city of Caesarea-Maritima was founded and brought water from the Shuni spring, south of Mount Carmel, about 10KM to the northeast of the city. The water flowed on a single raised channel.

When this was not sufficient, a second “lower” aqueduct was built by the Legions of the Emperor Hadrian (2nd C CE). It brought water from Tanninim (Crocodiles) river. This section, with a tunnel of about 6KM long, was tapped into the older aqueduct, and doubled its capacity and its width. The builders used the same building materials and style, so it may be difficult to see that the pair of channels were built at different times. The aqueduct continued to supply water to Caesarea for 1200 years.

Just past the entrance to Beit Hanania you can find the northern section of the aqueduct and the second aqueduct (Hadrian) connecting to the older one (Herod). In this section there are two stone tablets that were placed into the wall by its builders, the legion of the Emperor Hadrian. The right tablet clearly shows: “IMP CAES(ar) TRIAN HADR(ianus)”. The other tablet is of the Tenth Legion (the Imperial eagle without its head standing on a wreath).

The Israel Trail winds its way beside the aquaduct, through the Arab town of Jizr a-Zarka and then south along the coast to Caesarea. On the beach closer to the Caesarea archaeological park there is another section of the aqueduct. In fact it makes a great hike with the whole family from here along the beach north to Dor or a little further to Habonim.

 

Nymphaeum at Herodium?

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:

http://www.dartmouth.edu/~classics/rome2005/updates/week9_10/nov14.html

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.

Roman Theater Box at Herodium

First discovered in 2008, the Royal loggia (theater box) above the regular rows of seats at Herod’s private theater has now been fully excavated.

Herod’s theater box, loggia; photo courtesy of Hebrew University

While ruling over Judea Herod wanted “to put Herodium on the map. In order to attract people, there were gardens and waterworks, and the place became famous.” said archaeologist Ehud Netzer, professor emeritus of archaeology at Hebrew University. “The theater indicates that the experiment worked: there was lots of life there. Hundreds, if not thousands, of guests would visit the place and there was justification to provide them with entertainment.”

On your next visit to Israel make sure that Herodium is on your itinerary. I can take you there and give you a comprehensive and fascinating guided tour.

“There is nothing like this in any other location” in Israel, Netzer said of the paintings and intricate moldings in Herod’s theater box. But the style was fairly common across the Mediterranean and reflects the Roman origins of Herod’s power.

Herod’s theater box, loggia, Herodium; photo courtesy of Hebrew University

“Our art history expert said, ‘Hang on, this is something very familiar from Italy,'” in terms of both style and method, Netzer said. “The technique used here was not particularly accepted in this region; it was secco rather than fresco“—painted on dry, rather than moist, plaster.

Depicting natural landscapes, nautical scenes, animals, and the Nile River, the paintings most closely resemble others in the roughly contemporary Villa Imperiale at Pompeii.

According to Netzer, the pictures are not only Roman style but Roman made, perhaps executed in advance of the visit of Marcus Agrippa to Judea in 15BCE. Agrippa was Augustus’ deputy and the man responsible for many of the building projects in his empire.  “It was a one-time mission. The artists came, they painted, and they returned to Italy.” says Netzer. There are other examples from the same period where Roman techniques and presumably builders and architects were sent to Judea for a specified period of time to assist in building projects. Archaeological excavation have uncovered walls at three sites built using the Roman opus reticulatum and opus quadratum techniques. These sites are Herod’s winter palace at Jericho, a temple at Banias and a round structure north of Damascus Gate in Jerusalem, apparently the mausoleum to members of Herod’s family, all mentioned in Josephus’ writings.