The volcano-shaped artificial mountain rises 2,460 feet (750m) above sea level. This mountain palace-fortress and the related lower palace and residential structures near the mountain’s base cover approximately 45 acres. Herod the Great completed this huge building project in one construction stage in 23 B.C.

At the foot of the artificial mountain, Herod built another complex of buildings. The outstanding extant feature of this vast lower complex was the pool, now dry, which covers most of the foreground of this photograph. The walls of large, rough-cut stones are over 9 feet deep, 210 feet long and 135 feet wide. In the center of the pool are remains of an island with a circular pavilion about 40 feet in diameter. A plan of the pavilion shows in dotted lines the base of 16 excavated piers in the pavilion whose exact function is unknown; the black circles show proposed positions for the inner and outer columns of the pavilion.

An aqueduct brought water to the pool even in the scorching heat of summer, from springs three and a half miles away. Here, in the middle of a desert was a true pleasure palace, in size and lavishness unique in Israel, and the third-largest palace in the entire Roman world.

The immense rectangular pool in the background of the photograph was the architectural focus of Lower Herodium. Here the royal family and their guests sailed small boats to the island in the center of the pool, where Herod gave parties in a round, colonnaded pavilion. An early explorer of Herodium, Felicien De Saulcy, excavated the remains of this pavilion, looking for Herod’s tomb, but found no evidence of a burial.

In the foreground of the photo is the Monumental Building, roughly 45 feet square and partially cut into bedrock. The purpose of this structure—massively built and isolated from the rest of Lower Herodium—has eluded excavators, and attempts to locate Herod’s tomb here have not yet met with success. But Netzer believes the building is somehow related to the as-yet undiscovered tomb of Herod.

In the section drawing, facing south, we see the pool on the right bounded by two black walls; in the center of the pool is the colonnaded pavilion. Elements shown in black are those actually found; other details are reconstructed. On either side of the pool are formal gardens. On the far left is a sheltered gallery that ran along almost the entire eastern side of the pool complex. Perhaps it was here that people could find shade and lounge in the late afternoon breezes.