When you visit Israel’s Masada you not only take in the beauty of an ancient Jewish settlement, but also learn of a people who refused to submit to slavery. A trip to the Holy Lands isn’t complete without a trip to Masada National Park, about 30 miles southeast of Jerusalem.
A breathtaking plateau overlooking the Dead Sea, Masada was the last citadel of the Jewish freedom fighters against the Romans in the early first century AD. Its fall in 70 AD marked the end of the Second Temple period as well as the destruction of the kingdom of Judea. Today Masada is a popular tourist attraction, included in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2001. The site preserves a grand 1st century Roman villa, the remains of the most complete Roman siege system in the world.
Location of Masada
Located on the eastern fringe of the Judean Desert, Masada is a huge plateau overlooking the Dead Sea. It lies between the ancient Old Testament cities of En Gedi (where King David hid from Saul as recorded in 1 Samuel 24:1) and Sodom (Genesis 19:24-25).
Masada rises about 1/3 mile or about 1500 feet above the level of the Dead Sea and is about ½ mile long and .2 miles wide (650 meters x 300 meters). Because of its remote location and natural defenses, it served as an excellent fortress during the Second Temple period.
Herod the Great built the ancient fortress of Masada in 37-4 BC. After Rome captured and destroyed Jerusalem as well as the Second Temple in 70 AD, the surviving Jewish Zealots retreated to Masada for refuge where they survived for three years. Rather than surrender to Roman authority, the Zealots committed suicide. Only a handful of women and children hid, not joining the others in taking their own lives.
It is located around 18Km south of En Gedi and 12Km north of En Bokek. You can either reach Masada by cable car (on the east via road 90) or by using the Snake Path. Besides getting you there, the ride provides a breathtaking view.
On the other hand, if you’re in good physical shape and able to walk for 2-3 hours, you can go via the Snake Path. It’s a longer trail originates from the eastern parking lot of Masada. sometimes, you can climb the path in 45mn. It opens an hour before the sunrise and might be closed during extreme weather conditions.
Thanks to recent excavations, archeologists are still learning about Masada. The ruins of Herod’s palace are still visible as well as caves surrounding it. Even bones of some of Jewish Zealots who died there have been uncovered.
Camping is available for groups if you do prior reservation arrangements. You will be closer to the site of Sound and Light Show which you can go see if you buy tickets. They are around NIS 45 for an adult and 35 for a child. The camp site has toilettes, a kitchen area and showers. The area is ideal for fun group activities. for group reservation. Call the 08-628-0404.
At first Masada was used as a stable and then transformed into a synagogue, characteristic of a Galilean synagogue with columns between the seating of benches along the walls. Incredibly, pieces of the scrolls of the books of Deuteronomy and Ezekiel were found in a back room. The synagogue at Masada dates from the time of the Second Temple, which was destroyed in 70 A.D.
The Byzantine Church :
Ruins of a Byzantine church are remarkably well preserved. Originally, the floor had mosaic tiles and the walls were adored with a pottery design. A pit, which probably was used as a crypt, is on the floor. Surrounding the church courtyard is a low stoned wall.
Bathhouse and Herod’s Swimming Pool:
As bathhouses were an important feature of the Roman culture, it’s no wonder that Masada included a huge bathhouse. Used not only for getting clean, Roman bathhouses were also social and political centers where citizens discussed current events. The two Roman bathhouses were more like lavish palaces, each with twelve enormous water cisterns.
A flight of stairs leads down to a plastered swimming pool. What looks like a huge pool was probably also used for bathing. These are only a few of Masada’s wonders. Most importantly, when you visit Masada you learn of how an ancient people chose death over surrendering to bondage.