Around Jerusalem and the Dead Sea Sights

Masada

  • Off Rte. 3199 Map It
  • Ein Gedi
  • Archaeological Site/Ruins
  • Fodor's Choice

Published 05/04/2017

Fodor's Review

A symbol of the ancient kingdom of Israel, Masada (Hebrew for "fortress") towers majestically over the western shore of the Dead Sea. Its unusual natural form—a plateau set off on all sides by towering cliffs—attracted Herod the Great, who built an opulent desert palace here in the 1st century AD. Masada became the last refuge of the Jews in AD 73 to 74, during their final fight against Rome. The historian Flavius Josephus wrote that the rebels (almost 1,000 people) chose to commit suicide rather than surrender, although no one can be sure what happened at the end. In recognition of its historical significance, this was the first site in Israel to be added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2001.

To reach the top, most visitors make use of the speedy cable car (NIS 74 round-trip). More intrepid visitors climb the eastern Snake Path (at least 45 minutes of steep walking), some even starting before dawn to watch the sunrise. Others take the less arduous western Roman Ramp path,

accessible only from the road that descends from Arad. Water fountains (but no other refreshments) are available on Masada itself, so save bottles for refilling. Allow no less than 1½ hours to explore the site. The most popular route heads counterclockwise. If time allows, be sure to visit the southern area as well (especially the huge cistern and echo wall). Maps, a detailed brochure, and a very useful audio guide are available at the top entrance.

The entire mountaintop—less than 20 acres—is surrounded by a 4,250-foot-long casemate, a double wall that included living quarters and guardrooms. Most of the important buildings are concentrated in the high northern area.

The Northern Palace, Masada's most impressive structure, is an extraordinary three-tiered structure that seems to hang off the highest and most northerly point of the mountain. The panoramic effect is awesome: baked brown precipices and bleached valleys shimmer in the midday glare.

Clearly visible from the upper terrace are the Roman camps—the remains of the most complete Roman siege system in the world—and "runner's path" (used for communication between the camps).

The synagogue, one of only four that have been uncovered from the Second Temple period, can be seen in the western casemate. The building's orientation toward Jerusalem suggested its function, but the stone benches (synagogue means "place of assembly") and the man-made pit for damaged scrolls (a genizah) confirmed it.

At an opening in the walls on the western edge, you can stand where the Roman legionnaires breached Masada's defenses. The original wedge-shape ramp is below, though its upper part has since collapsed. The Western Gate leads to a modern trail down this side of the mountain (access via Arad only).

Adjoining the lower cable-car station is the Masada Museum, with hundreds of artifacts from the site. Especially moving is a set of 12 pottery shards, each bearing a single name. Archaeologists believe these might have been lots drawn to decide the order in which the last remaining rebels would die. All the artifacts are placed within scenes of daily life.

A fine summer-night diversion is the sound-and-light show at Masada's western base. The show runs every Tuesday and Thursday from March to October and costs NIS 45.

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Sight Information

Address:

Off Rte. 3199, Ein Gedi, Southern District, 86935, Israel

Map It

Phone:

08-658–4207/8

Website: www.parks.org.il

Sight Details:

  • NIS 28, entrance and round-trip cable car NIS 74, museum NIS 20

Published 05/04/2017

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