Monday, May 05, 2008

Herodion 4: Cisterns and Tunnels

While the lower Herodion was something of a Roman-era country club, ideal for large groups of visitors, upper Herodion was where the real business of state was taken care of.

The Ruins of Upper Herodion

Taking the path that snakes around the hill, we come to the entrance to the underground portion.

This network of three underground caverns was dug out when the hill was much lower, prior to Herod's building up of the palace above. Coated in thick plaster, the walls were completely watertight. This seems to be a system of cisterns. Since they are at a higher elevation than the pool, it seems that they would not have been filled by gravity like the aqueduct-fed pool below. Rainfall on the mountain top was also insufficient to fill the caverns. It seems that these vast caverns were filled, one donkey-load at a time, by slave workers.

Cistern 1. The floor actually goes down much further but is filled with dirt in this case.

Cistern 2, with the floor fully excavated.

A hole in the ceiling, through which people in the palace above would drop buckets into the cisterns to fill up.

Like many structures built by Herod, the Herodion was well-fortified, strong enough to hold up during a Jewish revolt until the legions of Rome could sweep in to the rescue. Like many of these well-fortified structures, it ended up being seized by the very Jewish rebels Herod had hoped to protect himself from, and holding out against Roman siege.

During the Bar Kochba revolt against Rome, 136 years after Herod's death, rebels captured the fortress. Facing the Romans on the open field of battle was suicide, so they began a system of underground fortifications in all of their strongholds. A maze of tunnels, stairways, escape hatches, and drop-offs were carved connecting the cisterns and the palace above.

The goal was to draw the Romans into the network and kill them on unfamiliar terrain. Needless to say, the revolt failed, the Temple was destroyed, the Jewish presence in Jerusalem was completely wiped out, and Jerusalem became a city forbidden to Jews.

Bar Kochba caves riddle the insides of the hill.

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