Archaeologists have uncovered a corridor into Herod the Great's ancient palace but say the infamous king never really put the hallway to use, NBC News reports. In fact he turned Herodium, roughly 7 miles south of Jerusalem, into a burial monument when he fell horribly ill. "Surprisingly, during the course of the excavations, it became evident that the arched corridor was never actually in use," the Israeli archaeologists say in a statement. Herod had the 65-foot-high corridor back-filled when he came down with an illness that, according to Medical Bag's report of one modern-day diagnosis, appeared to combine chronic kidney disease with gangrene of the genitalia. The "excruciating illness" took his life in 4 BC, NBC News notes.
But why did Herod have his lavish home—the Roman world's biggest palace complex—built at a strategically useless desert location? Because his mother nearly died there in a wagon accident when Herod, then Galilee's governor, fled the advancing Parthians in 40 BC; in thanksgiving for her survival, he promised to be buried there, Smithsonian reports. Today it's in the West Bank, where Palestinians say the palace belongs to them—but Israel has declared the site a park and wants it as a tourist attraction. Though Herodium was first IDed in 1838, it wasn't until 2007 that archaeologist Ehud Netzer said he was able to pinpoint the location of Herod's tomb. Though a rare, smashed sarcophagus was found there, bones weren't; Netzer said at the time that Jews who were rebelling against the Romans likely destroyed the space between 66AD and 77AD. (Another recent discovery suggests Kings David and Solomon were real.)