King Herod the Great (there were others), a biblical name to conjure with, founded a palace in the Judaean desert after being victorious against the Parthians there when fleeing to Masada (40 BC). On the edge of the hostile desert, on top of an artificial hill, this impressive location gave Herod a perfect place for a powerful palace.
Steep stairs wind around the side of the hill, taking you up to the remnants of the towers which enclosed the core of the palace. Although ruined, the basic shape and foundations of rooms and courtyards are still evident, with some areas more complete.
Not all of the site is accessible to tourists, as excavation is ongoing, and the terrain unforgiving. You can, however, see a whole complex of baths and other important buildings from the top, with maps available to identify features. The view is impressive, moving straight from the stronghold into the desert.
The view from the mountain, over the extended site below
The palace was about more than just political management, and even had its own theatre, with a special chamber (loggia) at the back reserved for Herod. Built into the natural slope of the hillside, it is small but beautiful, a fitting place to find next to where Herod's tomb is also located.
Getting from the theatre to the top is one of the site's greatest secrets. The mountain is riddled with tunnels, used especially during the Bar Kokhba revolt (c. AD 132-136). They're a source of cool shade in the intense heat of the summer sun, but also a beautiful and fascinating maze to explore in their own right, punctuated by occasional information signs and display cases.
Back up on the top, you can try to make sense of the ruins more carefully. Destroyed by the Romans in AD 71, they've been used in various ways since. Evidence of Jewish occupancy is there in the architecture, with a pre-AD 70 synagogue on top, featuring benches around the side for worshippers to sit on. A walkway around the top of the hill gives you a sense of the grandeur of the place, with stairs down into the living space in the middle.
The area has remained politically tense. A small shelter point at the entrance to the palace steps stands as a reminder of this tension. A commemorative plaque names David Ross Rosenfeld, who was killed there in 1982.
The very geography of the place makes it magnificent. Reminiscent of the great palace at Mycenae, it stands proudly visible for miles across the area. Getting there is hard by public transport (limited buses), but by taxi, it is not a problem. If you have a hire car, you may need to check the terms of the hire, as driving through the West Bank may not be allowed.
The shop has a snack station, also selling a range of books and other souvenirs. There are toilet facilities outside. Given the landscape, this is not a site suitable for prams or wheelchairs. One to two hours would be adequate for a general visit.