In the period before the birth of Jesus, the Jewish people lived under control of the Roman Empire and a local king named Herod the Great. Herod was a pretty shrewd guy, so he worked his way into favor with the Romans after they conquered Jerusalem in 63 BC. By 40 BC, Herod the Great was considered the “king of the Jews.”
Although Herod had the support of the Romans, the Jewish people never really accepted him. He wasn’t fully Jewish. As a result, Herod never felt safe in his role as king. So he built huge palaces and forts all around Judea to give him a sense of royal power and security.
Herod the Great was a “great” builder. Ruins of many of his projects still survive. Here are some of the most incredible places to visit in Israel today, all compliments of Herod and his family about 2,000 years ago.
Masada, one of the most widely known of Herod’s construction projects, was a fortress palace located on top of a large rock plateau on the west side of the Dead Sea. As one of his earliest major projects, Masada was completed about 31 BC. This mountain fort was nearly impossible to attack.
At the Herodium, southeast of Bethlehem, Herod used thousands of workers to build his own hill. Then, he built a circular fortress and palace on top. The fortress was 200 feet across and had four towers rising high into the air. The lower complex had a pool so big that Herod was known to sail a small boat on it.
In Jerusalem, Herod built a huge city with walls, a palace, a fortress, a theater, a stadium, and an amphitheater. However, the highlight of his Jerusalem project was the temple complex. Herod wanted to surpass even the splendor of Solomon’s temple, so he expanded the temple mount and reinforced the walls.
Although the Jerusalem temple was probably the most impressive of Herod’s projects, the city that most displayed his construction skills was Caesarea Maritima. Named in honor of Caesar Augustus, this city was built on the Mediterranean coast and eventually became the Roman capital of the Judaea Province. Caesarea’s layout is incredible, including planned streets, an underground sewage system, an aqueduct, a Roman temple, and an amphitheater. It also has one of the most impressive harbors of the ancient world.