HERODIUM NATIONAL PARK, Israel - Hebrew University archaeologists have nearly finished excavating a "royal box" at the site of King Herod's theater in the Herodium National Park.
The excavation, led by Pro. Ehud Netzer of the university's Institute of Archaeology, has uncovered the 8 x 7 x 6 meters (yards) structure.
Archaeologists dated the theater to 15 BC, the year the Roman Empire's Marcus Agrippa visited King Herod, according to the university's press release.
Researchers believe the king, his family and friends watched performances on the theater's stage from the box, much like celebrities today.
The elaborate paintings and molding - unlike anything discovered in Israel - resemble work from the same period discovered in Rome and Campania, leading archaeologists to conclude that Italian artists did the work.
Higher up on the walls, elaborate paintings - some remarkably intact - depict windows with shutters and landscapes.
The museum, which is in the throes of planning the first exhibition of findings from Herod's mausoleum, financed the excavation and has also played a key role in the meticulous restoration of the royal box.
The discovery of Herod's grave, sarcophagus and mausoleum in the Herodium park was first announced in May 2007.
The theatre, located about halfway up a manmade hill in the park at the eastern edge of the Gush Etzion settlement bloc, is one of many structures built by Herod, who reigned from 37 to 4 BC.
Before the site can be open to the public, a protective structure will be built around the room.
The Gush Etzion Regional Authority, Ministry of Tourism, Nature and Parks Authority and private donations have underwritten the excavation.
Gush Etzion Regional Authority chairman Shaul Goldstein hopes the ongoing discoveries at Herodium will bring increasing numbers of visitors to view firsthand the luxurious lifestyle of the biblical King Herod.