Masada Israel is a symbol of Jewish Resistance. It is located near the Dead Sea Israel. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001 and today is must visit for all tourists to Israel. It is part of the itineraries of Jewish and Christian groups and individuals.
Aerial view of Masada Israel in front of the Dead Sea
Four hundred meters below Sea Level
To get here from Jerusalem the drop is about 1,200 meters since
Jerusalem is at an altitude of 800 meters above sea level and the Dead Sea is
400 below making it the lowest point on Earth. The ride takes about one hour or
a little more depending on traffic.
Once in the area, tourists probably stay overnight in one of the beautiful Dead Sea Hotels and enjoy swimming Almost floating in the salty waters, enjoy a Spa treatment in one of the hotels and visit the surroundings among them Ein Gedi Reserve.
Archaeological ruins of Masada Israel
What they found
Masada in Hebrew pronounced Metzada means fortress was built on an isolated rock plateau on the slopes of the Judaean Desert overlooking the Dead Sea. It was the last refuge of the Jews against the Romans who preferred death to surrender.
It was discovered the first half of the 19th century and real archaeological works started after the Creation of Israel, between 1963 and 1965 by an expedition led by the great archaeologist and historian Yigael Yadin.
The cliffs on the east are about 400 meters high and the ones on the left about 300 meters. The approach is very difficult. I mean were very difficult then, because today there is all kind of facilities including a cable car. For those that want to experience the “real Masada experience” there is a snake path leading to the top. The total area of the flat area is about 550 by 275 meters. They found there many towers, palaces, barracks, storehouses and armory. Few cisterns were built and filled with rain water.
Many of the ancient buildings have been restored from their remains, as have the wall-paintings of Herod's two main palace.
The palace of King Herod the Great
History of Masada Israel
All we know about the history of Masada and its siege comes from historian Josephus Flavius. Herod the great fortified Masada shortly before the beginning of the Christian era around 37 to 31 BCE as a refuge for himself. Almost 100 years later a group of Jewish extremists called Zealots and also by the name of Sicarii took over the fortress of Masada. After the destruction of the Second Temple in the year 70 another group of Zealots fled to Masada and continued their opposition and harassments to the Romans. Josephus noted that they made certain renovations to the existing facilities, like building of a synagogue facing Jerusalem and a couple of Mikvahs or bathtubs for ritual bathing.
You may go up to Masada Israel by cable car
The siege of Masada
The story was told to the historian Josephus Flavius by two women that survived with five children by hiding in a cistern.
In a few years the Romans build ramps to get them access to the fortress. The Jews led by Eleazar Ben Yair decided to perish instead of surrender to the attackers fearing certain imprisonment, slavery and eventually death. Since suicide is forbidden in Judaism the story tells that some of the leaders killed the others and the last one committed suicide. They also burnt all the buildings but kept the food supply untouched. Legend says that they did it to show the Romans that they did have food to survive but decided on self destruction instead of falling into their hands alive.
IDF soldiers on their swearing ceremony on top of Masada
Masada as a symbol
The Chief of Staff of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), Moshe Dayan initiated the tradition of making the swearing in ceremony of soldiers that completed their basic training on top using the declaration “Masada shall not fall again”. The soldiers come in with torches lighting the way as they climb through the snake path.
Bar Mitzvah ceremony in the Synagogue of Masada
A tourist attraction
I would say that after Jerusalem this is the number two attractions for tourists coming to Israel. It is very popular among Jewish families to celebrate their children’s bar or bat Mitzvah on top of Masada using the open-air synagogue. I have personally attended a few of them and can attest they are really emotional and meaningful.
Masada should be visited by everyone coming to Israel. While there, enjoy the Dead Sea and be pampered in one of the spas.
images are courtesy of wikimedia commons