Masada 3

Masada Region is an ancient fortificationin the Southern District of Israel situated on top of an isolated rock plateau, akin to amesa, on the eastern edge of the Judeans Desert, overlooking the Dead Sea 20 kilometers (12 mi) east of Arad.

Herod the Great built palaces for himself on the mountain and fortified Masada between 37 and 31 BCE. According to Josephus, the Siege of Masadaby troops of the Roman Empire towards the end of the First Jewish–Roman War ended in themass suicide of 960 people – the Sicarii rebels and their families hiding there.

Masada is one ofIsrael's most popular tourist attractions.


The cliffs on the east edge of Masada are about 400 m (1,300 ft) high and the cliffs on the west are about 90 m (300 ft) high, the natural approaches to the cliff top are very difficult. The top of the plateau is flat and rhomboid-shaped, about 550 m (1,800 ft) by 270 m (890 ft). There was a casemate wall around the top of the plateau totaling 1,300 m (4,300 ft) long and 4 m (13 ft) high, with many towers, and the fortress included storehouses,barracks, an armory, the palace, and cisterns that were refilled by rainwater. Three narrow, winding paths led from below up to fortified gates.


Masada 2Almost all historical information about Masada comes from the 1st-century Jewish Roman historian Josephus. Josephus writes that the site was first fortified by Alexander Jannaeus in the first century BCE. Herod the Great captured it in the power struggle that followed the death of his father AntipaterIt survived the siege of the last Hasmonean king Antigonus II Mattathias, who ruled with Parthian support. In 66 CE, a group of Jewish rebels, the Sicarii, overcame the Roman garrison of Masada with the aid of a ruse. After the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, additional members of the Sicarii fled Jerusalem and settled on the mountaintop after slaughtering the Roman garrison. According to Josephus, the Sicarii were an extremist Jewish splinter group antagonistic to a larger grouping of Jews referred to as the Zealots, who carried the main burden of the rebellion. Josephus said that the Sicarii raided nearby Jewish villages including Ein Gedi, where they massacred 700 women and children.

In 73 CE, the Roman governor of Iudaea, Lucius Flavius Silva, headed the Roman legion X Fretensis and laid siege to Masada. The Roman legion surrounded Masada, and built a circumvallation wall and then a siege ramp against the western face of the plateau.

According to Dan Gill geological investigations in the early 1990s confirmed earlier observations that the 375-foot (114 m) high assault ramp consisted mostly of a natural spur of bedrock. The ramp was complete in the spring of 73, after probably two to three months of siege, allowing the Romans to finally breach the wall of the fortress with a battering ram on April 16. The Romans employed the X Legion and a number of auxiliary units and Jewish prisoners of war, totaling some 15,000 troops in crushing Jewish resistance at Masada. A giant siege tower with a battering ram was constructed and moved laboriously up the completed ramp. Originally, Jewish rebels on top of Masada threw stones at those building and constructing the ramp. When this plan was realized, the Romans put captured Jewish prisoners from previously conquered towns to work the ramp. The Jewish people on top of Masada stopped killing those who built the ramp, choosing not to kill their fellow Jews, even though they understood this might result in the Romans penetrating the fortress. The walls of the fortress were breached in 73 CE. According to Josephus, when Roman troops entered the fortress, they discovered that its 960 inhabitants had set all the buildings but the food storerooms ablaze and committed mass suicide or killed each other. Josephus wrote of two stirring speeches that the Sicari leader had made to convince his fellows to kill themselves. Only two women and five children were found alive. Josephus presumably based his narration upon the field commentaries of the Roman commanders that were accessible to him. There are significant discrepancies between archaeological findings, and Josephus' writings. Josephus mentions only one of the two palaces that have been excavated, refers only to one fire, while many buildings show fire damage, and claims that 960 people were killed, while the remains of only 28 bodies have been found.

The year of the siege of Masada may have been 73 or 74 CE.

Masada was last occupied during the Byzantine (Eastern Roman Empire) period of rule, when a small church was established at the site.


Masada 1The site of Masada was identified in 1838 by Americans Edward Robinson and Eli Smith, and in 1842, American missionary Samuel Wolcott and the English painter. Tipping were the first moderns to climb it.After visiting the site several times in the 1930s and 1940s, Shamaryahu Gutman conducted an initial probe excavation of the site in 1959. Masada was extensively excavated between 1963 and 1965 by an expedition led by Israeli archeologist Yigael Yadin. Due to the remoteness from human habitation and its arid environment, the site remained largely untouched by humans or nature for two millennia. The Roman attack ramp still stands on the western side and can be climbed on foot. Many of the ancient buildings have been restored from their remains, as have the wall-paintings of Herod's two main palaces, and the Roman-style bathhouses that he built. The synagogue, storehouses, and houses of the Jewish rebels have also been identified and restored. The meter-high circumvallation wall that the Romans built around Masada can be seen, together with eleven barracks for the Roman soldiers just outside this wall. Water cisterns two-thirds of the way up the cliff drain the nearby wadis by an elaborate system of channels, which explains how the rebels managed to conserve enough water for such a long time.

Modern tourism

Masada was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001. In 2007, the Masada Museum in Memory of Yigael Yadin opened at the site, in which archeological findings are displayed in a theatrical setting. Many of the artifacts exhibited were unearthed by Yadin and his archaeological team from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem during the 1960s.

It is within Masada National Park, and there is a park entrance fee (even if by hiking). There are two very steep hiking paths:

  • The Snake Trail leaves from the eastern (Dead Sea) side at the Masada Museum and gains approximately 300 metres (980 ft) in elevation. A dawn hike up the Snake Path on the eastern side of the mountain (access via the Dead Sea Highway) is considered part of the "Masada experience".
  • The Roman Ramp trail is also very steep, but has less elevation gain, and is accessed from the western side of the mountain (with access by car from the Arad

Hikers frequently start an hour before sunrise, when the park opens, to avoid the mid-day heat, which can exceed 43 °C (109 °F) in the summer.

Alternatively, for a greater fee, visitors can take a cable car (the Masada cableway opens at 8 am) to the top of the mesa. A visitors' center and the museum are at the base of the cable car. Visitors are encouraged to bring drinking water for the hike up; however, water is available at the top. An audiovisual light show is presented on some summer nights on the western side of the mountain (access by car from the Arad road or by foot, down the mountain via the Roman Ramp path).

EIN GEDI: Famous as a lush oasis in an otherwise barren landscape, Ein Gedi is a haven for desert wildlife such as ibexes and rock hyraxes, which look like large rodents, while the more remote areas are the abode of the desert leopard. Several springs provide plentiful water to support a luxuriant mix of tropical and desert vegetation.

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