Forty-eight years have passed since I first encountered Herod's architecture. It was in 1963 at Masada during the large-scale archaeological excavations directed by Professor Yigael Yadin, which would eventually earn worldwide recognition. At the time of the excavations, I was a young architect working side by side with the veteran architect-archaeologist Immanuel (Munya) Dunayevsky, who passed away just a few years later. In the years to come, I also gained experience in contemporary architecture. Among other projects, I supervised the team that drew up the first master-plan for the design of Jerusalem's Jewish Quarter after the Six-Day War; participated in the renovation of the neighborhood Miskenot Sha'ananim, also in Jerusalem; and planned along with colleagues buildings for the welfare of Bedouin in the Negev. But the excavations I undertook at Jericho and Herodium changed the course of my life, and ever since the early 1970s, I have devoted all my time and energy to archaeology, especially to the architecture of Herod.
At Masada, the 20th-century architect comes face-to-face with a man born 2000 years ago, a king who never studied architecture and never claimed to be an architect, but who lived and breathed the art of construction, deeply understood its ways, and quite simply loved to build. It seems that over the course of his thirty-three year reign, Herod never once stopped building. Studying the path of Herod the builder, both in the field and at my desk, has been a process spanning many years. Over the course of this long period, I initiated the excavation of the remains of many of Herod's architectural projects, and I devoted time to the study of other sites related to this builder-king, including sites that have been excavated by other archaeologists and sites that have disappeared over the years. Chief among these is the Temple in Jerusalem.
We have no real information regarding the architects in Herod's employ – who they were, where they trained, and what were the relationships between them and their employer. However, based on the study of all that we know of the remains of his buildings and on the writings of Flavius Josephus, the most important source for the history of the king's life and works, I have gained an understanding of Herod's path as a builder. I have reached the conclusion that the king was personally involved in choosing the locations of his building projects, their contents (functions), their materials, and how these materials were to be used, and that he raised basic ideas regarding the actual architectural planning. Did Herod delve into the details of the buildings? I doubt it, but he was presumably involved in the supervision of the work. As analysis of his construction projects and his administrative-economic approach in general suggests, the king was clearly an outstanding administrator.
A single line in the writings of Josephus hints at his participation in, or actual presence during the time of, the construction of the areas around the Temple Mount. "Into none of these courts did King Herod enter since he was not a priest and was therefore prevented from so doing. But with the construction of the porticoes and the outer courts he did busy himself, and these he finished building in eight years" (AJ 15. 420).
The sick and aged king spent the last weeks of his life, until his death in 4 BCE, at the oasis of Jericho. Though it was a mere 25 km from the capital, its climate was entirely different from that of Jerusalem – an inferno in summer, paradise in winter.
During the excavations of the western Jericho Valley conducted by the Institute of Archaeology of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, which I began on the last day of 1972, the magnificent Winter Palace was discovered, along with a unique, multipurpose architectural complex that included a hippodrome, a theater, and apparently, a gymnasium. Josephus mentions this multipurpose complex three times, each time in the context of events that took place on the eve of the king's death or immediately thereafter: It was here that the army gathered to hear the announcement of the king's death; here that his will was read aloud, for all to hear; and from here that the spectacular funerary procession, planned by Herod himself, set out (BJ 1. 673). We can only guess the course of the procession, but its final destination is clear – Herodium, the fortress located ca. 40 km from Jericho and ca. 15 km south of Jerusalem. We are told this by Josephus, and the picture is corroborated by the excavations.
When I began my research at Herodium in the context of my doctoral studies, finding Herod's tomb was not my ultimate goal. Before me stood the remains of the impressive buildings that had survived at the foot of the well-known, volcano-shaped mountain, which were clearly visible even before the excavations, both on the ground and in aerial photographs. I began excavating at the site in 1972, but it was only in 2007 that I was fortunate enough, with the help of my colleagues and friends, to locate the remains of the tomb and the sarcophagi, which will be presented to the public for the first time in this exhibition.
The search for Herod's burial spot was a long one, but ours was not the only long journey: when it came to planning his tomb, Herod's route was long as well. The location of the tomb complex within the site, its design, and, as mentioned above, the organization of the funeral itself occupied the king for many years, during the course of which he changed his mind a number of times. The discovery that Herod's tomb was in fact a mausoleum came as a tremendous surprise. Throughout most of the time that I had been excavating at Herodium, I was in search of a "burial cave." While at the initial stages of the search we came across a structure, which we called "the monumental building," that I thought might have been Herod's burial place, the subsequent options that we considered were all structures that might have contained, or could have stood in front of, a burial cave (I can think of five such possibilities, each with its own internal logic). At the same time, I assumed that if the burial cave were found, it would have already been plundered by a tomb robber who had reached it at some point in time before us. That being said, had we found this hypothetical cave, we would have certainly considered it to an archaeological discovery of the first caliber. As for one of the five other candidates, discovered while we were working at the foot of the eastern round tower (of the Mountain Palace-Fortress), I admit that I imagined not only that we were on the right track, but that the cave we were about to reveal would be found sealed and full of treasures! No words could describe my excitement at that moment.
When we discovered, at long last, in April 2007, the first fragments of the red sarcophagus in which we believe Herod was buried, the theoretical possibility that the fragments came from an adjacent burial cave still hovered in the air. But from the moment I received the first phone call, on Friday morning, April 27, 2007, from my colleague Roi Porat, who informed me that near the spot where the sarcophagus fragments were found, on a slightly deeper level, a wall built of large, meticulously dressed stones was beginning to be exposed, it became clear to me, as it had to Roi, the first to set eyes on the discovery, that we had found what we were looking for.
In hindsight it appears that we were already quite close to the tomb in 1970. In my own "defense," I wish to repeat that in those years, discovering the tomb was not at all one of my goals. Our focus was on the excavations within the mountain, which were a source of much information and pleasure. In fact, I am grateful that the tomb was revealed only 32 years later, while we were still digging, unknowingly, alongside and below its remains! If it had been unearthed earlier, I don't know if we would have reached the area of Lower Herodium, which we called the "burial site," and which contained the early stages of the king's burial program.
I have been asked dozens of times what I felt at the time of the discovery (Roi's call reached me while I was in the car with my wife Deborah, and I remember yelling, "We found it!"). I have also been asked if I had realized my "greatest dream" or if this were my "highest achievement." My response was never an unequivocal "yes," but rather a stammer, for the discovery of the Hasmonean Winter Palace Complex at Jericho – which also came as a surprise – is an archaeological achievement of equal significance, and personally speaking, an accomplishment of which I am proud.
Nevertheless, the discovery of the mausoleum at Herodium was, and still is, clearly part of the fascinating, ongoing process of the excavation and study of Greater Herodium. In many respects, the complex might be Herod's crowning achievement in terms of his architectural creativity. While as mentioned above, the king did not have pretensions to being its designer, there is no doubt that his was the mind behind the designers. In my opinion, he thought like a contemporary architect.
Roi Porat, Ya'akov Kalman, and Rachel Chachy were full partners in the excavation of the tomb and the adjacent buildings. Ya'akov and Roi divided the everyday responsibilities of supervising the fieldwork from 2005 to the present. Rachel played an active role in measuring, in the architectural analysis, and in the organization of the many finds that began pouring in upon the discovery of the mausoleum and, following that, the theater. At the home front of the Hebrew University, Judith Gartner handled the varied ceramic assemblage (under the supervision of Rachel Bar-Natan); Silvia Rozenberg advised about the wall paintings that came to light; Orna Cohen assisted during the initial stages with the conservation of the sarcophagus; and Gabi Laron handled the photography. The Israel Museum was an active partner in the excavation and conservation of the Royal Room where Herod entertained his guests and in the conservation and restoration of the many remains from the mausoleum. Special thanks are due to the staff of the Israel Museum Restoration Laboratories – David Bigelajzen, Andrei Vainer, Victor Uziel, Connie Green, Annemarie Bartfeld, Paulo Recanati, Shmulik Freireich, Yoav Bezaleli, Alon Kedem, and Michael Maggen – whose intense and professional work transformed rubble into impressive finds. I am sincerely grateful to all the partners in the exhibition: Israel Museum Director James S. Snyder, Deputy Director Dor Lin, Chief Curator of Archaeology Michal Dayagi-Mendels, and, of course, the curators of the exhibition, Dudi Mevorah and Silvia Rozenberg, associate curator Rachel Caine, and assistant curators Tali Sharvit and Morag Wilhelm. To all, my deepest appreciation.
Jerusalem, September 2010