Wednesday, November 23, 2011


Herod's Palace in Jerusalem

Hello My Friend and Welcome.

During his lifetime, Herod the Great, who exhibited extreme paranoid tendencies, built or rebuilt eleven fortresses throughout Israel. Some of them remained just that, defensive military outposts, but others he expanded into full blown palaces.

His palaces, in alphabetic order, were:
Caesarea Maritima. West of Jerusalem, it was a thoroughly Roman city and prosperous port city thanks to an artificial breakwater constructed by Herod’s engineers. His palace overlooked the Mediterranean and served both as his primary residence and the residence of Roman Prefect and procurators who follow d him.

Herodium. Near Jericho, it sat atop a manmade mountain with a view of Lake Asphaltitis…now known as the Dead Sea. Herod was buried there around 4 BC.

Jerusalem. Herod’s little place in the city that he used when official duties demanded his presence in the Capitol.

Masada. Probably the most famous of the group, it was a mountaintop  palace in the Judean desert near the southernmost tip of Lake Asphaltitis.

Today, I plan to concentrate on Herod’s Jerusalem palace. The photos illustrating this post are taken from an incredible model of First Century Jerusalem built by Hans Kroch, the late proprietor of the Holyland Hotel. It is built to a 1:50 scale with authentic construction materials - Jerusalem stone, Marmor, and Steel all based upon historical accounts from the Mishna, the Gemara, and Flavius Josephus. Step back into ancient Jerusalem with me. The date is 66AD…skies are clear and the weather’s mild. 
Detail of the Courtyard and Matching Stoas
Modern excavations beneath the Citadel have found remains of the foundational platform which supported Herod’s palace. This model was reconstructed on the basis of finds in Jerusalem and excavations of Herod’s palace at Jericho. The dimensions of the palace were from the area of today’s Jaffa gate to the southwest corner of the present-day, Old City walls, estimated to be about 1,050 x 415 feet. That’s about three plus football fields, folks!

 The palace was built on an elevated platform made of a series of retaining walls rising from 13 to16 feet above ground level. Amiran-Eitan’s excavations revealed some parts of the superstructure which included sections of painted plaster. The construction covered over remains of older Hasmonean buildings.
Aerial View of the Matching Wings of the Palace
The palace had two main wings, each with its own banquet halls, baths, and accommodated hundreds of guests. It was surrounded by groves of trees, canals, and ponds, and studded with bronze fountains. The two wings were named after Agrippa and Caesar. In the center of the palace were gardens with porticoes.

To put Herod’s palace in perspective, we conducted an internet search on largest houses in America. The homes of most Hollywood stars fall into the 10-15,000 square foot range, which puts them out of the running. Hugh Heffner’s Playboy Mansion is nearly 22,000 sq. ft. However, the tidy bungalow Bill Gates calls home is three times larger at 66,000 square feet. A software billionaire is constructing a castle in Missouri that will be 72,000 sq. ft. The Versailles Mansion in Orlando tops that at 90,000 sq. ft. You’ve probably heard that it takes a lot more than a million dollars to live like a millionaire these days. If you’ve ever doubted that statement, consider that George Vamderbilt’s Biltmore Mansion in Ashville, NC measured a whopping 175,000 square feet.
Jerusalem: Herod's Palace in Foreground - Temple in Upper Left
While all of these people from Brad and Jennifer, to Cher and Heffner, to Vanderbilt are known to have extravagant tastes, Herod makes them all look like pikers. Are you sitting down? Herod’s Jerusalem palace had a footprint of about 435,000 sq. ft. When you consider that the palace consisted of multiple floors, it becomes apparent that it most probably exceeded 1,000,000 square feet. No matter how you cut it, Herod was a man who lived large. They didn’t call him “the Great” for nothing.

We plan to visit Herod’s other palaces in future posts. Meanwhile, you should know that this coming Sunday is the first Sunday of Advent…the liturgical season that precedes Christmas. Beginning this Friday we’ll begin a series of posts dealing with various aspects of the Christmas Season. We invite you to drop in often. You’ll find the posts interesting, enlightening and entertaining.

Until next time, we wish you Peace and Blessings.

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