Remember the character from the Bible: King Herod? Well, he was also known as Herod the Great…not because he was a “great guy” (quite the opposite!!!!), but because he was a builder of incredible enthusiasm and ability. He was also paranoid – well, maybe not paranoid because in many cases his fears may have been well-founded – and constructed fortresses where he could escape if forced to abandon his palace in say, Jerusalem.
One such fortress was south of Jerusalem and east of Bethlehem – about one day’s journey from Jerusalem. On a fairly clear day, you can see the outlines of two peaks in the distance from Jerusalem. One appears to be flat. On top of the larger of the two peaks is one of the escape fortresses Herod the Great built. It was built between 23 and 15 BC. The fortress was surrounded by a double wall 207 feet in in diameter and seven stories high. Inside, Herod built a palace fortress including halls, courtyards and bathhouses.
Earth was heaped up around the walls, which created a cone-shaped artificial mountain. (The dirt was moved from one of the two peaks to the site of the Herodium to be put around the walls. At the foot of this edifice, Herod built a kind of royal ‘country club,’ including a large pool, a bathhouse and a roofed pool.
Despite its desert location, the complex was surrounded by magnificent gardens irrigated by the pool. A special aqueduct from the area of Solomon’s Pools near Bethlehem brought water to the palace.
The importance of Herodium to the king is clear from the fact that it is the only place he constructed to which he gave the use of his name. The discovery of Herod’s magnificent tomb there after long years of searching strengthens the understanding that the Judean “builder-king” had a special attachment to this site. Its special charm is also revealed in the breathtaking view from the top, which takes in Jerusalem, Bethlehem and the unspoiled Judean Desert.
During the Great Revolt of the Jews against the Romans the rebels had a base at Herodium, constructing a synagogue there that can still be seen. During the Bar Kokhba Revolt, Jewish fighters hewed tunnels within the artificial mountain, part of which are lit and accessible to visitors. The fighters would come out at night, attack the Romans, and then disappear again before they could be found.
Today’s photo is a panorama of the ruins of the Herodium from atop the peak upon which it is built that I shot earlier this month. The Herodium (or Herodian as it is also called) is now a national park in Israel.
ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY: in 1883, heavy fog in the North Sea caused the collision of two steamers and the death of 357 people.
The Cimbria was a 330-foot, 3,000-ton steamship built in 1867 and operated by the Hamburg-Amerika Line. It left Hamburg, Germany, on January 18 with 302 passengers and 120 crew members. Among the passengers were eastern Europeans heading to America, French sailors on their way to Le Havre and a touring group of Native Americans who were exhibiting Wild West paraphernalia.
The Sultan, a smaller Hull and Hamburg Line steamer traveling with only a crew, was also moving through the North Sea on January 19. Although there was heavy fog early that morning, neither boat took any precautionary measures, like reducing their speed, and the Sultan smashed straight into the Cimbria on the port side.
Both steamers were badly damaged and the Cimbria‘s lifeboats were launched. Seven were inflated, but in the confusion, they weren’t filled anywhere near capacity. In addition, three lifeboats quickly disappeared in the heavy fog and were never seen again. For those people who did not make it onto a lifeboat, the cold water was deadly. Hypothermia and drowning claimed hundreds of lives within minutes.
A few nearby ships picked up a couple of lifeboats soon after but the bulk of the 65 survivors from the Cimbria were not picked up until two days later. The captain of the Sultan, which had managed to stay afloat, was widely criticized for his failure to provide any assistance to the passengers and crew of the Cimbria. In total, 357 people lost their lives.
TRIVIA FOR TODAY: Iraq once had one of the highest quality schools and colleges in the Arab world. However, after the 1991 Gulf War and the United Nations sanctions, today only around 40% of Iraqis can read and write.