An elaborate entryway into the hilltop palace King Herod, one of Jewish history's most central but reviled figures, has been uncovered in the West Bank, archaeologists report.
The corridor, 22 yards in length and 6-1/2 feet wide with a series of arches along its length, was built to lead into the palace courtyard, but there is evidence it saw little use as an entryway, they say.
Instead, they surmise, Herod ordered the corridor to be filled in as part of his plan for turning the ancient fortress known as the Herodium into a memorial mound intended to commemorate him after his death.
"Surprisingly, during the course of the excavations, it became evident that the arched corridor was never actually in use, as prior to its completion it became redundant," the archaeologists from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem said.
The entryway was apparently back-filled during the construction of the huge artificial hill at the end of Herod's reign.
"This appears to have happened when Herod, aware of his impending death, decided to convert the whole hilltop complex into a massive memorial mound," the archaeologists said.
The Herodian Hilltop Palace is part of the Herodium National Park, 7 miles south of Jerusalem near the Palestinian city of Bethlehem.
Despite its location in the West Bank, the Israeli government has designated the site as a national park, announcing plans to make it a tourist destination.
"The excavation of the arched corridor will allow visitors direct access to the Herodium hilltop palace-fortress, in the same way that Herod entered it 2,000 years ago," the university said in a news release.
Palestinian officials have complained about the excavations on the site, located in the West Bank on land they say would be part of a future Palestinian state.
They have also previously objected to artifacts being removed from the site for display in exhibition in Israel.
Officials of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, which displays some of those artifacts, say they are on loan and would be returned.
They also asserted Israeli archaeologists have permission to carry out excavation at Herodium under the 1993 Oslo Accords, pending future final status negotiations.