We settled into our lovely hotel on the Dead Sea, and then this morning we headed bright and early for Masada, the top tourist attraction in Israel. Masada has been awarded World Heritage Site status and it is well deserved. This was the stronghold of the Jews in their revolt against Rome. After Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 AD by the Romans, this lone outpost in the Judean desert was all that remained of the uprising.
The rebels took refuge in Herod’s fortress above the Dead Sea. Herod had built this complex in 30 BC as an escape from his imagined enemies. It was well-fortified with lots of water and food and could easily withstand a siege for up to 3 years. When he died in 3 BC place was abandoned.
The 1,000 or so Jewish rebels occupied the complex in about 73 AD. Almost immediately the Romans besieged the place and established encampments around the fortress. The Jews withstood the Roman attacks for several months before the Romans conceived the plan that would eventually win the day. They built a ramp, on the eastern side of the fortress, using Jewish slaves to construct the ramp so that the rebels would not attack them.
Once the ramp was completed, they made numerous incursions but were always repelled. Finally a fire in the Roman siege tower was blown by a wind toward the complex and the door began to burn. The Romans knew they had breached the walls and went back to their bivouacs for the night, ready to storm the complex in the morning.
Meanwhile, the Jews also knew that the end was near. Instead of steeling for a major defense they decided to commit mass suicide rather than endure a life of slavery. The ten strongest men were chosen to kill their own families and then the rest of the men, women and children. Then they drew lots to determine who would be last. That person killed the nine and then killed himself. A total of 980 Jews perished in this final act of bravery.
This is the story of Masada. The site is extremely well-kept and labelled, with an introductory film. We toured the site, marvelling at the engineering that went into the construction of the palace and also appreciating the sacrifice of the Jews here. It was a very impressive place.
Here are some pictures from Masada National Park:
We took a cable car to reach the fortress.
Some of the rooms were restored to what they probably looked like (the black line separates what was found when the site was first excavated — below– and what was added to increase the impact)
We walked to the Western Palace, which was well below the summit of Masada. It was known as the “hanging palace.”
We had to walk down 163 steps (and then up again, of course) to get to the palace but it was worth the effort.
We spent quite a bit of time wandering the ruins and admiring the views from the complex.
Some of the Herod’s lovely mosaics are still preserved here.
Then it was back to our hotel for some time on and in the Dead Sea.