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Hyrcania fortress

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Hyrcania (הורקניה) is an an ancient Hasmonean fortress in the Judean Desert, built by John Hyrcanus (יוחנן הורקנוס) in the 2nd century BC.

Located 16 km east of Jerusalem Hyrcania was destroyed by the Romans in 57 BC, after supressing the uprising of Alexander of Judaea.

Herod the Great restored and extended Hyrcania in 32 BC, using it mainly as a political prison, where he tortured his enemies, including his own son and heir Antipater.

At the end of 5th century the place was rebuilt as a monastery called Kastellion. The monks abandoned it in 14th century, after which the ruins of the fortress remained forgotten, until 1960, when a young British archaeologist John Marco Allegro arrived to look for the hidden treasures, mentioned in the famous Copper Scroll. Treasure number 1 was hidden in "Haroubha that is in the Valley of Achor, under the steps that go eastward, 40 rod-cubits: a strongbox of silver and its vessels, a weight of seven talents." Allegro identified the Hyrcania valley as the valley of Achor and the Hyrcania fortress as Haroubha.

Allegro's team discovered two tunnels dug into the rock at the foot of the hill the Hyrcania fortress stands on. They cleared about 30 meters of the western tunnel, uncovering some 50 steps going down at a 30 degree angle, but have not found anything of interest.

Allegro published the story of his searches in a book that struck the imagination of Charles Robert Morgan, a Continental pilot and a Vietnam veteran. Morgan started visiting Israel in 1986, coming directly to Hyrcania and clearing the tunnels, working at nights, with the help of his friends and the local beduins, however he could not reach the end - inevitably there would be a flood in the Wadi during his absence, re-filling the tunnels with sediment. In 1999 Morgan realized that he needs to work in a more orderly fashion, so he apealed to the Archaeological Institute of the Hebrew University, which assigned Oren Gutfeld to help with the dig.

After 4 following seasons of excavation both tunnels were finally escavated, but no treasure was discovered. The tunnels remain a mystery. One theory says that the tunnels were dug by the Herod's prisoners and carry no purpose other than being a monument to the harsh punishment. Another theory agrees with them being a treasure stash, but assumes that the treasures were found by the Romans, who would routinely torture all suspected in hiding valuables.

Herodian-period mosaic floor

Water reservoirs and wall remains below the citadel

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