From as far away as Jerusalem, eight miles to the north, Herodium is easily recognized by its distinctive silhouette. Here we see elements of the mountain palace-fortress, which nestles out of sight within the mountain’s cone.

The section drawing (1) is a vertical slice through the palace-fortress along an east-west plane, facing south. The stippled slopes on the outside of the towers represent the earth and gravel fill poured around the palace-fortress above the level of the natural hill. The elements of the round eastern tower are clear: the solid lower portion, the cistern and two small cellars, and the five levels of rooms. In contrast, the western tower contains rooms down to its base; on the very top floor, we see a colonnaded balcony.

The single dotted line on the section shows its relationship to the circular plan (2). This plan shows a bird’s-eye view of what one would see if a horizontal slice were made at the level of the dotted line, with the upper floors removed. Note that the plan is made at a level where the eastern tower is still solid and where we can see the tops of the columns in the peristyle courtyard and the walls of the reception room, living quarters and bath. Each of the three semicircular towers is divided into four rooms; none had windows since this level was surrounded by fill.

All four towers were connected at each level by corridors that ran within the double-walled enclosing cylinder of the mountain palace-fortress. These corridors are seen in the section (3) as horizontal double-dotted lines between the vertical inner and outer cylinder walls.

Before the fill was laid against the outer walls of the cylinder, the mountain palace-fortress would have appeared as it does in drawing (4).

Hurled from the top of the cylinder walls, rolling stones became lethal weapons. These stones may have been used by Jewish defenders occupying the mountain palace-fortress in 66–70 A.D. against the Romans attacking from below.

A niche or exedra was built at either end of the long peristyle courtyard in the mountaintop palace. Here we see the southern exedra. A statue originally stood in this semicircular niche and in an identical niche at the opposite (northern) end of the courtyard.

Inner and outer cylindrical walls curve around the mountaintop palace-fortress. The huge solid base of the eastern tower was constructed first. Then the cylinder walls were built; the cylinder consists of two concentric walls, one 207 feet in diameter and the other 166 feet in diameter. The area between the cylinder walls was divided into seven stories of storage areas and corridors connecting the towers.

The eastern tower of the mountain palace-fortress, 55 feet in diameter and solid to its extant height (except for two small rooms and a barrel-vaulted cistern visible in the photo, near the top of the tower), is the largest of Herodium’s four guard towers. Unlike the other three, which are semicircular towers, the eastern tower is circular and extends through the walls of both the inner and outer cylinder walls surrounding the palace; the tower protrudes into the peristyle courtyard. Several stories of rooms atop this tower, now missing, once provided a royal retreat from the windowless palace within the mountain; here there was always a breeze and a spectacular view of the Dead Sea and Judean wilderness.

Many scholars expected Herod’s tomb to be found within this tower, but the author counters that because Jewish law forbids burial inside a dwelling, the eastern tower could not contain Herod’s tomb.