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  • Writer's pictureMark Vogel

Visiting Masada: Israel's Legendary Fortress

Masada National Park, Israel


Masada National Park in Israel
Masada National Park in Israel

While staying at the Isrotel Nevo Dead Sea Hotel, I had the opportunity to explore the ancient stone fortress of Masada National Park with my girlfriend. Masada is an ancient fortification in Israel that stands atop an isolated rock plateau, similar to a mesa, overlooking the Dead Sea. This majestic site, now a national park and UNESCO World Heritage Site, offers a window into the history of the ancient kingdom of Israel and an example of its people's bravery during a Roman siege.




“Masada is not only a site of historical importance but also a symbol of Jewish endurance.”

Located on the edge of the Judean desert, Masada rises about 1,300 feet above the Dead Sea. The desert's climate leaves the surrounding area largely uninhabited, contributing to the site's preserved state. Herod the Great built Masada as a castle complex in the last century B.C.E. as a winter retreat and a sanctuary from his enemies. The site's storerooms, cisterns, and walls still bear witness to its former grandeur.



The tragic history of Masada culminates in the siege of 73 A.D., where nearly 1,000 Jews chose death over enslavement by the Romans. This event, chronicled by historian Josephus Flavius, has been confirmed by subsequent archaeological excavations. These excavations, which began in the 1950s and continued through the 1980s and 1990s, have unearthed further structures, offering more insight into the site's historical significance.


Masada National Park in Israel

The modern experience of Masada is quite different, with a cable car built in 1977 to transport visitors to the top. This ride offers a breathtaking panorama of the surrounding desert and the Dead Sea. At the eastern entrance, most archaeological ruins, including Herod's palaces, can be explored, allowing visitors to step back in time and walk amidst history.


Visiting Masada was an impressive and educational journey into the past, made all the more profound by the serene desert landscape and the monumental ruins that speak to the indomitable spirit of its ancient inhabitants.


Masada is not only a site of historical importance but also a symbol of Jewish endurance. The fortress's strategic location and the remarkable engineering of its structures, including an intricate water collection system that sustained its inhabitants, are worth noting. The story of Masada is one of resistance, where a group of Jewish people stood against Roman domination. Today, it continues to inspire and is a place of commemoration; many Israeli soldiers take an oath of service there, stating "Masada shall not fall again," reflecting its cultural and historical significance to the people of Israel.


Today, Masada is one of Israel's most popular tourist attractions, drawing around 750,000 visitors a year. It's especially renowned for its challenging geography. Herod the Great's construction efforts are still evident in the high casemate walls, towers, and storehouses, with a water collection system that could sustain a large population for years.


Masada National Park in Israel

Guide for Visiting Masada:


Getting There:

- Masada is located in the Southern District of Israel, near the Dead Sea. It’s accessible by car or organized tours from major cities like Jerusalem or Tel Aviv.


Best Time to Visit:

- Early morning or late afternoon to avoid the heat and crowds.


Tickets and Tours:

- Purchase tickets at the site or in advance. Consider a guided tour to fully appreciate Masada’s history.


Transportation to the Top:

- Take the cable car for a scenic ride or hike the Snake Path at sunrise.


What to See:

- Explore Herod’s palaces, the storerooms, the barracks, and the bathhouse.

- Visit the Northern Palace with its three terraces, and the Western Palace, one of the largest structures.

- Don’t miss the ancient synagogue and the storied siege ramp.


Facilities:

- The site has food services, rest areas, and gift shops.


Tips:

- Wear comfortable shoes and sun protection.

- Carry water, although the site has drinking fountains.

- Allocate at least 3-4 hours for your visit.


Remember:

- Masada is not just a tourist site, but a symbol of courage and freedom for many Israelis. Respect the site and its history during your visit.


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