The rock of Masada, located at the eastern edge of the Judean desert, is a place of majestic beauty. With a sheer drop of more than 400 m (1,300 ft) overlooking the Dead Sea, Masada is the most spectacular site in Israel and the scene of one of the most dramatic episodes in the history of the country.
The only written source on the history of Masada comes from Josephus Flavius’ The Jewish War. Masada (which derives from a Hebrew word for “fortress”) was first fortified by Alexander Jannaeus (103-76 BC), one of the kings of the Hasmonean dynasty. Herod the Great captured it during the power-struggle which followed the murder of his father Antipater in 43 BC. Under the influence of Rome, king Herod the Great built a series of palaces and buildings for himself and planned the fortress as a last refuge in the event of a revolt. His Northern Palace, constructed against the northern cliff-face, is Masada’s most impressive structure. It was built on three rock terraces, each containing grand rooms and supported by gigantic retaining walls to expand their size.
From 6 AD the Romans controlled Masada but in the summer of 66 AD it became a place of refuge for Jewish rebels during the first Jewish revolt against the Rome (66-73 AD). The rebels turned the palaces into their command posts and used them as public buildings. In 73 AD, the Roman governor of Judea, Lucius Flavius Silva, headed the Roman legion X Fretensis and laid siege to Masada. The Romans succeeded in reaching the steep fortress after constructing a huge earthen ramp on its western side. The remains of the Roman siege are the most complete examples of such a siege in the world. The siege ended up in a tragic way for the zealots who decided to commit suicide rather than being captured by the Romans.
Declared a World Heritage Site in 2001, Masada National Park features a Visitors’ Center, a fascinating interactive museum showcasing archaeological finds unearthed at Masada and a thrilling audio-visual production.
Visitors to Masada will find that there are three ways to reach the fortress; on foot by hiking up the steep“snake path” on the east side, via the siege ramp on the west side or by cable car.