JERUSALEM September 21, 2010, 06:21 pm ET
Israeli archaeologists have excavated a lavish, private theater box in a 400-seat facility at King Herod’s winter palace in the Judean desert, the team’s head said Tuesday.
Ehud Netzer of Jerusalem’s Hebrew University said the room provides further evidence of King Herod’s famed taste for extravagance.
Herod commissioned Roman artists to decorate the theater walls with elaborate paintings and plaster moldings around 15 B.C., Netzer said. Its upper portions feature paintings of windows overlooking a river and a seascape with a large sailboat.
This is the first time this painting style has been found in Israel, Netzer said.
Herod was the Jewish proxy ruler of the Holy Land under Roman occupation from 37 to 4 B.C. He is known for his extensive building throughout the area.
The team first excavated the site — sitting atop a man-made hill 2,230 feet high — in 2007. Netzer described the site as a kind of “country club,” with a pool, baths and gardens fed by pools and aqueducts.
But archaeological evidence shows the theater’s life was short-lived, Netzer said. Builders deliberately destroyed it to preserve the conic shape of the man-made hill.
After Herod’s death in the 1st century B.C., the complex became a stronghold for Jewish rebels fighting Roman occupation, and the palace site suffered significant battle damage before it was destroyed by Roman soldiers in A.D. 71, a year after they razed the Second Temple in Jerusalem.