Tag Archives: Herod

Wadi Qelt by Jericho

As you drive from Jerusalem down to the Dead Sea you pass close by Wadi Qelt at various points. To access it you can go to the nature reserve below Anatot, St. George Monastery or Herod’s Third Palace at Jericho. The palace was built on both sides of Wadi Qelt which during the winter rains flooded and made the palace appear to be floating on the water. Although Jericho is in AREA A, under the control of the Palestinian Authority and out-of-bounds to most Israelis by Israeli law as a tour guide licensed by Israel’s Ministry of Tourism I am authorized to guide there.

This photo was taken of Wadi Qelt from near the archaeological remains of the palace, looking east as it flows to the Dead Sea. The technical details, shot with a Nikon DSLR camera, ISO 1000, 18mm, F13 at 1/1250 sec.

Aside: I’ve also just published my latest blog post on Times of Israel. Check it out at http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/visit-palestine-with-a-guide/ and please share with your friends.

Wadi Qelt below Herod's 3rd palace

 

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Photographs on this website are © Shmuel Browns (unless marked otherwise) – if you are interested in purchasing one of my photos or using one of my photos for your own project please contact me.

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Photo of the Week – View from Herodium

I guided a group today on my Herod the Great Tour visiting Herodium and then the monumental Herod exhibit at the Israel museum. This photo is one I took from the top of the man-made mountain at Herodium looking east towards Jordan. It’s quite amazing that on a clear day you can see as far as the Dead Sea and the mountains of Moab.

View from Herodium

The technical details – the photo was taken with a Nikon DSLR camera on November 2 (ISO 200, 70mm, F10 at 1/400 sec).

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Photographs on this website are © Shmuel Browns (unless marked otherwise) – if you are interested in purchasing one of my photos or using one of my photos for your own project please contact me.

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Herod – Design and Realpolitik

The New York Times article reporting on the Herod exhibit at the Israel Museum concludes with my comments.

Shmuel Browns, a tour guide and expert on Herodium who helped Netzer excavate the site as a volunteer, said he was awed by the meticulous reconstruction, particularly of a large basin adorned with several heads that was found in pieces in two disparate places at the site, now an Israeli national park.

“They’ve built things from what was found that you could never imagine from what you saw at the site,” Mr. Browns said. “The message is very, very strong about who Herod is and what he did. He wasn’t intimidated by topography, he wasn’t intimidated by material, he wasn’t intimidated by lack of water.

“He’s a fascinating character,” Mr. Browns added. “He just got very, very bad press.”

Silenoi headsWhile excavating Lower Herodium, archaeologist Ehud Netzer found marble pieces of a wash basin in the bath-house, including a pair of Silenoi heads – the companion and tutor of the wine god, Dionysos. Conceivably, it was a gift from the Emperor Augustus that his deputy Marcus Agrippa presented to Herod, on his tour of Judea in 15 BCE and installed as a fountain. Imagine this fragile and heavy object making its journey from Greece to Rome to Judea and the bath-house at Herodium. The conservation staff of the museum painstakingly reconstructed the basin with its ornate decoration.

Greek 3-footed basin

Though it is not known to what degree Herod observed traditional Jewish practices, he appears to have respected them. Aside from this basin, no other human images, in sculptural form, have been found in any of Herod’s palaces.

Loggia trompe l'oeil painting

Boat billowed sailWhen Netzer excavated above the theater at Herodium he found the loggia, the VIP box for Herod and his guests, like Marcus Agrippa. Delicate trompe l’oeil paintings were on the walls, done in secco – painting on dry plaster, a technique unusual for this area. Scenes of nature through a painting of an open-shuttered window, itself a painting hanging on the wall. Dudi Mevorah, one of the curators of the exhibit, pointed out a painting of a boat with billowing sail on plaster from the loggia, alluding to Marcus Agrippa’s history-changing victory over Mark Anthony at the naval battle of Actium. Herod dictated the images in the paintings as a lead-in to the discussions that Herod was interested in having with his guest.

Herod the Great: The King’s Last Journey is a monumental exhibit that should not be missed. It gives us new insights into the very complex figure that is Herod, his determination not be constrained by nature, topography or materials and his consummate grasp of realpolitik.

Herodium, Netzer, King Herod and the Israel Museum

Each day we rose before dawn and the unrelenting desert heat to continue digging east of the monumental staircase. In the summer of 2007, after Professor Netzer had discovered the base of the mausoleum, I volunteered at the archaeological site at Herodium. Among seas of pottery shards, we dug up baseball-sized stones hurled by a Roman catapult (ballista). Scanning with a metal detector, we found tiny, encrusted bronze coins, from the period of the Great Revolt.

Herodium Tomb areaWe uncovered a few well-carved stones strewn about – an egg and dart pattern, two five-petaled flowers from a decorative frieze. The high-quality limestone is meleke, from the root “king”, is not local to the site; it had been brought to Herodium specially for the mausoleum. At Herodium last week, these pieces were not to be found.

Herod the Great exhibitThe first image at the entrance to the Herod exhibit at the Israel museum opening today is neither architecture or artifacts, but the Judean desert – the site where Herod built his monuments is important.

Throne Room, JerichoFollowing Herod the Builder, museum staff re-constructed three rooms from Herod’s palaces at the museum. The first room you enter is a replica of the throne room from Herod’s third palace at Jericho, excavated by Netzer for his doctorate. The original frescoes with their intense natural colors were removed from the palace and moved to the museum. So fond of Herod, Augustus had permitted him to mine cinnabar, a red mineral pigment, from his private property in Almadén, Spain.

When Marcus Agrippa, Augustus’ deputy visited Judea in 15 BCE, he was so impressed by Herod’s building projects that he sent Roman builders and artists to Judea to contribute their sophisticated skills. Opus recticulatum is a technique for strengthening walls to resist earthquake damage. All three examples of this Roman technique are found in Herod’s projects, discovered by Ehud Netzer: in the palace at Jericho, at the remains of a building north of Damascus gate rumored to be Herod’s Family tomb, and in a section of temple wall at Banias.

Bathtub Opus SectileThe second room displays Herod’s private stone bathtub uncovered by Netzer at the palace in Cypros. The museum displays floors from Cypros and Herodium laid with a Roman technique, opus sectile. Natural-colored stone tiles are cut in geometric shapes and laid in repeated patterns. In other cases, the floors are mosaic – two mosaic floors from the bathhouse at Lower Herodian, one in an opus sectile pattern and the other geometric shapes with pomegranates.

Secco - loggiaThe third room is a reconstruction of the loggia, the VIP box from the Herodium theater with its unique secco wall paintings. According to this Roman technique, paint is added to dry plaster compared with the more usual fresco – fresh, wet plaster technique. These paintings are trompe de l’oeil views of an open window, with wooden shutters, that look out onto a natural scene, at the artistic standard found in the finest palaces and villas in Rome and Pompeii.

Herodium MausoleumThe exhibit is laid out faithfully to the site at Herodium where the loggia and the mausoleum flank the staircase. At the museum, we move through the viewing platform toward the full life-size reconstruction of the top-level of the mausoleum. The very decorative stones I excavated at Herodium are in their proper places in the frieze. A microchip was attached to each stone of 30 tons that were transported from Herodium to the Museum – as an aid to tracking and assembly. For the same purpose, the Hebrew letter “chet” can be seen on one stone, a sign left by the ancient Jewish stone masons. The structure is so heavy that the floor had to be specially reinforced.

In 1982, while Netzer was excavating, he came upon a water cistern in the mountain. He was puzzled that the cistern had been reinforced to support a great weight. Unbeknown to him, he had come within a meter of discovering the mausoleum. Why would Herod have insisted that the mausoleum be built on top of a cistern? According to the curator, Dudi Mevorah, Herod chose this precise location because it is best seen from Jerusalem. Once the mausoleum was complete, Herod dismantled the stage and buried his theater in order not to distract the eye.

The Israel Museum

The Israel Museum

Netzer drew on his familiarity with Herod’s oeuvre and his expertise as an architect and archaeologist to imagine the mausoleum. Netzer conceives a colossal three-story monument – 25 meters high. The first level is cube-shaped – only the base exists and can be viewed at Herodium halfway up the mountain on the north side. The second level is a tholos, a cylindrical structure with Ionic columns and crowned with a conical roof. In addition to the Roman style, there are Nabatean elements to memorialize Herod’s Nabatean mother Cypros – two stone replicas of Nabatean funerary urns are on display out of five that adorned the roof.Nabatean Funerary urn

Entering within the structure, the sarcophagus that Netzer claims was Herod’s rests. Netzer found its shards – the stone box had been smashed in antiquity and reconstructed by museum staff.

The Israel Museum/Meidad Suchowolski

The Israel Museum/Meidad Suchowolski

Made of reddish limestone, mizzi ahmar, from the Arabic, this is very hard stone and would have been difficult to carve – perhaps that made it all the more appealing. Originally, Netzer suggested that the side panels of the sarcophagus were decorated with five flower medallions. There are sarcophagi like that, one in the Louvre taken from the Tomb of the Kings, one outside the Islamic museum on the Haram el-Sharif. Based on the museum reconstruction, it seems that these panels are plain.

Two sarcophagiBeside the mausoleum, the other two sarcophagi that Netzer discovered are displayed. Netzer posits that these belonged to Herod’s family members. One is decorated with a vine pattern – very similar to the stucco decorations in Herod’s theater box. The other sarcophagus, displayed for the first time, is completely plain as if waiting for the stone-carver.

The Israel museum has built a monumental exhibit that expresses Herod’s architecture and aesthetics as discovered by archaeologist, Professor Ehud Netzer – Herod would have been pleased with the result. To understand more requires going beyond the exhibit halls, to experience the drama of Herod’s life in situ, at the sites that Herod built.


For an in-depth full-day tour of Herodium and the Israel Museum’s “Herod the Great: The King’s Final Journey” exhibit and/or personalized guided tours of Herod’s other sites and more, contact Shmuel.

Monumental enough for Herod the Great?

My article with Bonna Devora Haberman in Jerusalem Post:

So they went eight furlongs [a mile, per day] to Herodium; for there by his own command he was to be buried. And thus did Herod end his life.  Josephus, Antiquities, XVII, 8.3.

Herodium

From 37 B.C.E. until his grisly demise in 4 B.C.E., Herod the Great ruled over Judea. World history has anointed few with the epithet “the Great”. He masterminded and engineered the Jerusalem Temple – among the magnificent temples in the ancient world, the fortress-complex at Masada – the most-visited site in Israel, Caesarea – in its day, the largest all-weather harbor built in the open sea, imposing cities, aqueducts, and finally, Herodium – the most spacious palace known to us in the Greco-Roman world before the common era. A giant who moved mountains, Herod was respected, feared, and despised. Reckoning with Herod is indispensable to interpreting the historical and material landscape of Israel.

Herod’s passion lives on. Herod proved to be archaeology professor Ehud Netzer’s nemesis. The Israel Museum staff have been toiling for three years to present Netzer’s discoveries in the first exhibit in the world dedicated to Herod. Commensurate with his life and work, “Herod the Great: The King’s Final Journey” is unprecedented in grandeur and expense – displayed in 900 square meters, approximately 250 artifacts related to Herod are exhibited, many for the first time. To show even this tiny sampling of his massive production, Herod fittingly required the museum to reinforce its very foundations.

The Jewish Roman historian Josephus Flavius records extensive narrative about Herod – nearly a century after the events. Though he describes in precise detail Herod’s majestic funeral procession to Herodium – performed according to Herod’s own orders – Josephus mysteriously neglects to mention the location of Herod’s tomb. [Read more]


For an in-depth day with Herod – at Herodium and the Israel Museum and/or personalized guided tours of Herod’s other sites and more, please contact Shmuel.

Temple at Omrit—Herod or Philip

Visitors to Caesarea may have noticed the podium where Herod built a Roman temple to Augustus. We know about it from the writings of the Jewish Roman historian Josephus:

“Directly opposite the harbor entrance, upon a high platform, stood the temple of Caesar, remarkable for its beauty and its great size.”

In the 6th century a martyrium was built in its place and in time the site was occupied by a mosque, a widespread practice when one group supplants another. In Sebaste, the Greek equivalent to Augusta, Herod built a Roman temple to the emperor in fact, part of a marble statue of the emperor was uncovered in excavations of the site. We know about the temple from Josephus:

“… in the center of the new town [Herod] erected a vast shrine with precincts dedicated to Caesar 300 yards in length. The town he called Sebaste…”

Josephus continues and reports on a third temple built to Augustus but this time he is less clear exactly where it is located:

“When, later on, through Caesar’s bounty he received additional territory, Herod there too dedicated to him a temple of white marble near the sources of the Jordan, at a place called Paneion. At this spot a mountain rears its summit to an immense height aloft; at the base of the cliff is an opening into an overgrown cavern” (The Jewish War)

“When he [Herod] returned home after escorting Caesar to the sea, he erected to him a very beautiful temple of white stone in the territory of Zenodorus, near the place called Paneion. In the mountains here there is a beautiful cave, and below it the earth slopes steeply to a precipitous and inaccessible depth, which is filled with still water, while above it there is a very high mountain. Below the cave rise the sources of the river Jordan. It was this most celebrated place that Herod further adorned with the temple which he consecrated to Caesar” (Antiquities of the Jews)

If you follow Josephus’ account then there is little doubt that he’s writing about Banias, near the Cave of Pan. There are few remains there so it is hard to ascertain if the structure was a Roman temple. The majority opinion is that the remains of the building in front of the cave is the temple and based on archaeological evidence, an Augustan-period lamp embedded in the concrete interior of one of the building’s side walls, the building was constructed in the later first century BCE. Professor Netzer holds a minority opinion that the temple was to the left (west) of the cave on a prominent terrace because of the remains of a structure with opus reticulatum (a technique sent from Rome to Judea after the visit of Marcus Agrippa in 15BCE) walls, a Herod signature since the only other two examples are at Herod’s winter palace at Jericho and a circular wall uncovered north of Damascus gate that Netzer claims encloses Herod’s family tomb; some pottery remains could also be dated to the time of Herod. Last week I visited the archaeological site Omrit about 4 kilometers southwest of Banias. The site was first exposed by a brush fire in the summer of 1998 and excavations have been ongoing for ten years. Just as we crossed the stream to enter the fenced area of the site we came across a tangle of blackberries, ripe and delicious. I always try to add tastes when I’m guiding. In Roman times Omrit stood just south of the Scythopolis-Damascus road, a main route. Excavations uncovered a prostyle-tetrastyle temple measuring 25.22 meters by 13.16 meters with stairs leading up to four columns in front of the temple. The height is estimated to be 22 meters. The podium is a perfectly drafted, polished, mortarless structure made of ashlars—a signature of Herod’s grand building style. The temple’s plan reflects the type of Augusteum for celebrating the imperial cult that was common in the period. Similar temples were found at Pula, in Croatia, at Nimes, in the south of France and Pompei, in Italy; however, there were also variations in the model. Based on pottery and coins found the temple has been dated to the end of the 1st century BC. In a second phase, it was enlarged to a peripteral plan with 26 columns probably by one of the Agrippas or by Emperor Trajan at the end of the 1st century CE. The temple was destroyed by the earthquake of 363CE and a small chapel was built of stones in secondary usage at the beginning of the Byzantine period.

Aphrodite

Besides the architectural elements of the temple, bases, column drums, Corinthian capitals , architraves, friezes and cornices which constitue the bulk of the major finds, fragments of statuary and inscriptions were also recovered, one which may make  reference to Aphrodite.

A marble statue was found in the fields at the foot of nearby Tel Dan (on display at the Ussishkin museum) which may have stood in the temple at Omrit. The facade of the temple is similar to what is seen on coins minted by Herod Philip – the question is whether these coins depict Herod’s temple to Augustus or a later impressive temple built by his son to mark the edge of his new city of Caesarea Philippi.

Model of Herod’s Tomb

I was at Herodium today and took the opportunity to photograph the new smaller than life-size model of Herod’s tomb which has been installed by the path that leads to the palace-fortress. The model was built from drawings by Prof. Ehud Netzer based on the base of the mausoleum uncovered and Netzer’s expertise as both an architect and archaeologist on the Herodian period. Netzer estimates the nefesh as 25 meters high, with a cube-shaped lower level with two rows of decorations below the roof line, a row of egg and dart pattern and below it a row of medallions and vertical bars. On top of this cube sits a cylindrical second level, a tholos with columns and a conical roof. The model shows Nabatean funerary urns in four places along the roof line and the peak of the cone. We found two pieces of stone carved in the egg and dart pattern a few years ago when I volunteered at the dig.

There is also a short video, currently only in Hebrew, that attempts to illustrate the account by Josephus of Herod’s death.

Archelaus omitted nothing of magnificence therein, but brought out all the royal ornaments to augment the pomp of the deceased. There was a bier all of gold, embroidered with precious stones, and a purple bed of various contexture, with the dead body upon it, covered with purple; and a diadem was put upon his head, and a crown of gold above it, and a secptre in his right hand; and near to the bier were Herod’s sons, and a multitude of his kindred; next to which came his guards, and the regiment of Thracians, the Germans. also and Gauls, all accounted as if they were going to war; but the rest of the army went foremost, armed, and following their captains and officers in a regular manner; after whom five hundred of his domestic servants and freed-men followed, with sweet spices in their hands: and the body was carried two hundred furlongs, to Herodium, where he had given order to be buried.

There were a half dozen people working at the tomb site. I noticed the remains of some additional structures that have been uncovered. Unfortunately, access to the tomb area is still closed.