The mountain that became a symbol of determination and heroism -
UNESCO World Heritage Site
by Israel Nature and Parks Authority.
Herod's Masada Herod the Great is renowned as the builder of Masada. The plateau's natural defensive attributes - vertical cliffs some 400 meters above the Dead Sea - were not enough for the builder-king, and he fortified the 400 x 600-meter plateau further, with a casemate wall and towers. But he also saw to the site''s creature comforts, building large and small palaces, a bathhouse, storerooms for food and drink and many other amenities. The Northern Palace is Masada’s most impressive structure, constructed against the northern cliff-face as if hanging over the abyss. It is built on three rock terraces, each containing grand rooms and supported by gigantic retaining walls to expand their size. The four bedrooms on the top level had a semicircular balcony that revealed magnificent views of the surroundings, especially Ein Gedi to the north and the Dead Sea and the Mountains of Moab to the east. A staircase led to the middle level - a large, round hall surrounded by a colonnade that extended almost to the cliff-edge. On the lowest terrace was another large, colonnaded hall adorned with spectacular wall paintings, and a private bathhouse for the palace's residents.
Herod also built a large bathhouse atop the plateau for the other inhabitants of Masada. On the top of the mountain Herod built 29 storerooms, each one 27 meters long. Excavations there turned up hundreds of clay pots that could hold huge amounts of food. Herod also hewed 12 gigantic cisterns into the mountainside to collect flood water; they had a capacity of some 40,000 cubic meters, enough to supply water for all the needs of the inhabitants, from drinking water to a swimming pool, bathhouses and agriculture. Thus in a rare combination of natural conditions and human initiative, Masada became an impregnable fortress - almost.
Masada of the rebels - Despite the extensive evidence of Masada's grandeur, it seems that the most moving finds are the lowly objects left by the Jewish rebels, which make it possible to reconstruct the end of the Great Revolt. After the rebels took over Masada, they turned the palaces into their command posts and used them as public buildings. A building near the northern wall, which in Herod's day had been a stable, was turned into a synagogue. Used while the Temple still stood, it is one of the earliest synagogues in the world. The rebels also built two ritual immersion baths, whose forms were in keeping with the requirements of Jewish law. The rebels lived mainly in rooms in the casemate walls, as attested by stoves, niches for food storage and other finds from daily life unearthed in them. Articles of clothing, baskets, household implements and other items were found in piles of ash, apparently burned intentionally by their owners so as not to fall into the hands of the enemy.
More than 5,000 coins were found at Masada, mostly minted by the rebels. Especially moving are the silver coins bearing the words "Shekel of Israel " and "Jerusalem th e Holy", with letters indicating each of the five years of the rebellion. Portions of scrolls were uncovered, along with more than 700 ostraca (sherds bearing inscriptions). Hundreds of ballista balls fired at the fortress by the Romans and found atop the plateau attest to the heated battle between the rebels and the forces of their imperial enemy. Large rolling stones that the rebels may have used as ammunition, and skeletons, apparently of warriors who committed suicide, were found in various locations.
Remains of the Roman siege on Masada are the most complete examples of such a siege in the world. The Roman camps, siege wall and siege ramp are clearly visible from the top of the plateau. The siege wall that surrounded the base of Masada is two kilometers long and two meters thick. The extent of the Roman siege-works could be considered surprising in light of the fact that they were meant to counter the resistance of 960 men, women and children. As such the remains demonstrate the determination of the rebels to resist the might of the conqueror. 600-meter plateau further, with a casemate wall and towers. But he also saw to the site’s creature comforts, building large and small palaces, a bathhouse, storerooms for food and drink and many other amenities.
Access routes to the top of Masada:
The top of the plateau can be reached by cable -car from the Dead Sea side, or by two trails:
- The ramp trail - a steep but relatively short trail ascending from the western parking lot (access from the city of Arad), which takes about 20 minutes to climb, and has a height differential of about 100 meters. This trail was created by Byzantine monks.
- The Snake Path - a longer trail, with a height differential of about 350 meters, ascending from the eastern parking lot of Masada. It takes about 45 minutes to climb. The Snake Path opens about one hour before sunrise, and is closed in extreme weather.
Sound and Light Show:
A thrilling sound and light show on the western side of the mountain tells the story of the rebels’ last days at Masada. It takes place from March to October ever Tuesday and Thursday. Individuals may attend the show without reservations, groups of more than 30 participants must reserve ahead of time. Vehicle access is via the Arad - Masada road only (from the west), the drive from Arad takes approximately 25 minutes. The show is simultaneously translated into English, Russian, French, Spanish and German through ear-phones rented at the site.
How to get there?
Masada is located approximately 18 kilometers south of En Gedi and 12 kilometers north of En Bokek. The cable-car is on the east (Dead Sea ) side of the site. Access to the sound and light show by vehicle is from the city of Arad only.