Archaeologists Unearth Entryway to King Herod's Palace

Image: Arches
Workers stand near the newly uncovered monumental entryway to the Herodian Palace in Herodium National Park, outside of Bethlehem in the West Bank. The entry, at right, is a corridor with a complex system of arches on three separate levels. The arches buttressed the corridor's massive side walls, allowing the king and his entourage direct passage into the palace courtyard.Hebrew Univ. of Jerusalem via EPA

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Israeli archaeologists are showing off the monumental, many-arched corridor that led to Herod the Great's hilltop palace near Jerusalem in the first century. The corridor in the ancient fortress of Herodium, about 7 miles (12 kilometers) south of Jerusalem, has been excavated to reveal a space 65 feet long, 65 feet high and 20 feet wide (20 by 20 by 6 meters).

In King Herod's day, the corridor was designed to lead directly into the palace courtyard — but archaeologists determined during the excavations that it didn't get much use. Instead, they say it was back-filled when the palace was converted into Herod's burial monument.

Herod the Great — who's infamous for his role in the Bible's Christmas stories — died in 4 B.C., reportedly after an excruciating illness. (The Herod mentioned in the stories of Jesus' crucifixion was his son, Herod Antipas.)

Archaeologists say a series of arches on three separate levels led up to the courtyard of Herod the Great's hilltop palace, but they were back-filled when the palace was converted into a burial monument.Hebrew Univ. of Jerusalem via EPA

The dig team also uncovered a palace vestibule that was decorated with painted frescoes, as well as hidden tunnels that were used by Jewish guerrillas during a second-century revolt against the Romans.

Even though Herodium is in the West Bank, the Israeli government has designated the site as a park and wants to turn it into a tourist destination.

"The excavation of the arched corridor will allow visitors direct access to the Herodium hilltop palace-fortress, in the same way that Herod entered it 2,000 years ago," the Hebrew University of Jerusalem said in a news release.