Masada

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.

Coordinates: 31° 18′ 56″ N, 35° 21′ 14″ E

The only written source on the history of Masada comes from Josephus FlaviusThe 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.

Model of Masada.
Model of Masada.

From AD 6, the Romans controlled Masada but in the summer of AD 66, it became a place of refuge for Jewish rebels during the first Jewish revolt against the Rome (AD 66-73). The rebels turned the palaces into their command posts and used them as public buildings. In AD 73, 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, the 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.

The Masada cableway, built in 1971 to carry people to the ruins at the top of the plateau.
The Masada cableway which lifts visitors from well below sea level up the top of the plateau. The original cable car was constructed in 1971 and later replaced in 1998 by an aerial tramway system.

PORtFOLIO

THE WESTERN PALACE

The entrance to the Western Palace, the largest structure in Masada, covering 3,700 square metres.
The entrance to the Western Palace. It was the largest structure in Masada, covering 3,700 square metres and the main ceremonial and administrative building.
The entrance to the Western Palace with Hellenistic-style wall painting featuring painted stucco panels imitating the facings of a real wall.
The entrance to the Western Palace with Hellenistic-style wall painting featuring painted stucco panels imitating the facings of a real wall.
Overview of the Western Palace.
Overview of the Western Palace.
Mosaic floor with geometric patterns in the corridor leading to the bathhouse of the Western Palace.
Mosaic panel featuring a single rosette in the centre of a polychrome mosaic in the bathhouse of the Western Palace.

THE NORTHERN PALACE

Looking down on Herod's spectacularly situated Northern Palace, Masada
Looking down on Herod’s spectacularly situated Northern Palace.
view of the triple-terrassed northern palace. Herod designed it for personal use. Square staircase towers linked the three levels.
View of the three terraces of the Northern Palace. Herod designed this palace for personal use. Square staircase towers linked the three levels.
The lower terrace of Herod's Northern Palace.
The lower terrace of Herod’s Northern Palace. It was used for receptions and banquets and was enclosed on all four sides with porticoes and included a bathhouse.
The magnificent frescoes on the southern part of the lower terrace of Herod's Northern Palace.
The magnificent frescoes on the southern part of the lower terrace of Herod’s Northern Palace.
Close-up of the corners of the inner row of columns. The artists' efforts to imitate the veins of marble are characteristic of the period.
Close-up of the corners of the inner row of columns. The artists’ efforts to imitate the veins of marble are characteristic of the period.
The middle terrace of Herod's Northern Palace, it was founded on concentric circular walls with an outer diametre of 15.3m, two rows of columns supported a pointed roof.
The middle terrace of Herod’s Northern Palace. It was founded on concentric circular walls with an outer diametre of 15.3m. Two rows of columns supported a pointed roof.
The upper terrace of Herod's Northern Palace where a small courtyard separated the semicircular balcony from mosaic-floored rooms.
The upper terrace of Herod’s Northern Palace where a small courtyard separated the semicircular balcony from mosaic-floored rooms.

THE LARGE BATHHOUSE

Herod's large bathhouse located on the north side of the plateau. It is composed of several rooms - a cold, warm and hot baths, and dressing room.
Herod’s large bathhouse located on the north side of the plateau. It was composed of several rooms; cold (frigidarium), warm (tepidarium) and hot baths (caldarium), and dressing room (apodyterium).
North-east corner of the apodyterium (undressing room), the lower parts of the original frescoes have been covered by a tiny bathing pool added either by the Zealots or the Roman garrison.
North-east corner of the apodyterium (dressing room). The lower parts of the original frescoes have been covered by a tiny bathing pool added later by the Jewish Zealots.
A section of the hot room (caldarium) in Herod's large bathhouse with a double floor suspended over small stones and clay pillars.
A section of the hot room (caldarium) in Herod’s large bathhouse with a double floor suspended over small stones and clay pillars.
A section of the hot room (caldarium) in Herod's large bathhouse with clay pipes along the walls that were used to allow the hot air to warm up the side of the pool.
A reconstructed section of the hot room (caldarium) in Herod’s large bathhouse with clay pipes along the walls that were used to allow the hot air to warm up the side of the pool.

THE COMMANDANT’S RESIDENCE

The Commandant's Residence consisting of several rooms arranged around a central courtyard, Masada.
The Commandant’s Residence consisting of several rooms arranged around a central courtyard.
Fresco decorating one of the rooms inside the Commandant's Residence.
Fresco decorating one of the rooms inside the Commandant’s Residence.
The Commandant's Residence consisting of several rooms arranged around a central courtyard.
The Commandant’s Residence consisting of several rooms arranged around a central courtyard.

THE STOREROOMS COMPLEX

The storeroom complex.
The storeroom complex located near the northern side of the hill. The complex included 29 long halls built side by side in long rows. Each storeroom was 27m long and 4m meters wide.
The storeroom complex. Each storeroom was used to hold a different commodity. This included essentials like olive oil, grains, nuts and seeds.
The storeroom complex. Each storeroom was used to hold a different commodity including food essentials like olive oil, grains, nuts, seeds and wine (imported from Italy). In addition to food the storerooms would have held weapons.
View of the storeroom complex and the large Bathhouse.
View of the storeroom complex and the large Bathhouse.

THE OFFICERS BARRACKS

The Officers Barracks located in the center of the hill.
The Officers Barracks located in the center of the hill.

THE CISTERNS

One of the cisterns built at the top of Masada to preserve water during times of siege and to supply the king’s swimming pools and baths.
One of the cisterns built at the top of Masada to preserve water during times of siege and to supply the king’s swimming pools and baths.
One of the cisterns built at the top of Masada. Herod had a huge network of 12 cisterns on two levels dug out of the stone at the base of the mountain on the northwestern slope.
One of the cisterns built at the top of Masada. Herod had a huge network of 12 cisterns dug out of the stone at the base of the mountain on the northwestern slope each holding roughly 3,450m3 of water. The water would be transferred up to other cisterns on the top of Masada by donkeys.

THE COLUMBARIUM TOWERS

One of the columbarium towers with niches for doves an pigeons located on the south side of Masada.
The circular columbarium with niches for doves an pigeons located on the south side of Masada.
One of the columbarium towers with niches for the raising of pigeons for their meat, and bird droppings which were used as a fertilizer for growing food.
One of the columbarium towers with niches for the raising of doves and pigeons. Bird droppings were used as agricultural fertilizer. These birds were also used for sending messages and supplied meat for the Masada’s inhabitants.

THE DEFENSE WALLS AND GATES

The defense wall surrounding the mountain top and built by Herod, it was 4m wide and 6m high with 37 towers 25m high every 70-80 metres.
The defense wall surrounding the mountain top and built by Herod. It was 4m wide and 6m high with 37 towers 25m high every 70-80 metres.
The South Gate.
The South Gate.

THE ROMAN SIEGE RAMP AND CAMPS

View from the hilltop of Masada of the Roman siege ramp and remnants of Camp E, one of several legionary camps.
View from the hilltop of Masada of the Roman siege ramp and remnants of Camp E, one of several legionary camps.
Remnants of Camp A, one of several legionary camps seen from the hilltop.
Remnants of Camp A, one of several legionary camps seen from the hilltop.
Remnants of Camp B, one of several legionary camps just outside the circumvallation wall around Masada seen from the hilltop.
Remnants of Camp B, one of several legionary camps just outside the circumvallation wall around Masada seen from the hilltop.
Remnants of Camp C, one of several legionary camps just outside the circumvallation wall around Masada seen from the hilltop.
Remnants of Camp C, one of several legionary camps just outside the circumvallation wall around Masada seen from the hilltop.
Remnants of Camp D, one of several legionary camps just outside the circumvallation wall around Masada seen from the hilltop.
Remnants of Camp D, one of several legionary camps just outside the circumvallation wall around Masada seen from the hilltop.
Remnants of Camp E, one of several legionary camps just outside the circumvallation wall around Masada seen from the hilltop.
Remnants of Camp E, one of several legionary camps seen from the hilltop.
Remnants of Camp F, one of several legionary camps just outside the circumvallation wall around Masada seen from the hilltop.
Remnants of Camp F, one of several legionary camps just outside the circumvallation wall around Masada seen from the hilltop.
Remnants of Camp F, one of several legionary camps just outside the circumvallation wall.
Remnants of Camp F, one of several legionary camps just outside the circumvallation wall.
Roman catapult stones dating from the First Jewish Revolt.
Roman catapult stones dating from the First Jewish Revolt.

Links:

Bibliography:

  • Yadin, Yigael. Masada: Herod’s Fortress and the Zealots’ Last Stand. London, 1966

Herodium

Driving south from Jerusalem, the landscape is dominated by an artificial cone-shaped mountain on which Herod the Great built the fortress-palace he dedicated to himself. Herodium rises 758 metres above sea level with breathtaking views overlooking the Judean Desert as far as the Dead Sea and the mountains of Moab. It is one of the most important and unique building complexes built by Herod and is considered among the most impressive structures of the ancient world.

Coordinates: 31° 39′ 57″ N, 35° 14′ 29″ E

The construction of Herodium began around 25 BC on the location of his victory over his Hasmonean and Parthian enemies in 40 BC. To commemorate the event, the king built one of the largest monarchical complexes of the Roman Empire which served as a residential palace, an administrative centre and a mausoleum. Herod built many magnificent palaces throughout the Land. These palaces included guest rooms, bathhouses, swimming pools, and luxurious gardens, all decorated in the style of the lavish palaces of Rome. It was at Herodium that Herod entertained Agrippa, the son-in-law of the emperor Augustus, in 15 BC.

Herod planned the site as a complex of palaces consisting of three parts:

  • 1. The fortified mountain palace; The combination of fortress and palace is a uniquely Herodian innovation, which he repeated on several other sites, including Masada.
  • 2. Lower Herodium, combining a magnificent recreation area, a bathhouse, an administrative centre, and a system of structures to serve during the king’s funeral (including the procession way).
  • 3. The slope on the northern part of the hill where Herod built a huge three stories high mausoleum that could be seen from afar.
Reconstruction drawing of Greater Herodium from the time of Herod.
Reconstruction drawing of Greater Herodium from the time of Herod.

The search for Herod’s tomb was one of the greatest archaeological quests in Israel. The historian Josephus wrote that Herod was buried in Herodium, but archaeologists had been unable to locate the tomb until 2007. Finally, after thirty years of searching at the site, the late Prof. Ehud Netzer of the university’s Institute of Archaeology announced that he had found the tomb of Herod. What he discovered were the remains of a large tomb and opulent coffins on the northern slope of the mountain facing Jerusalem.

Following Herod’s death, his son and heir Archilaus continued to reside at Herodium. After Judea became a Roman province, the site served as a centre for Roman prefects. During the Great Revolt, the Zealots captured the fortress in AD 66 but then handed it over without resistance to the Romans following the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70. Fifty years later, Herodium was captured again by the rebels during the Bar Kokhva revolt. As part of their defence measures, they dug tunnels around the cisterns and hid there. During the Byzantine period, Lower Herodium was rebuilt on top of the ruins and constituted of a large village with three churches. The settlement appears to have continued until the 9th century AD after which the site was abandoned.

Today, Herodium is a national park under the management of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. An astonishing archaeological site complete with a labyrinth of cool underground caves and tunnels, the Park recently opened a small Visitors Center with a lovely film production about King Herod and his funeral procession.

This post is dedicated to the memory of Prof. Ehud Netzer who died in October 2010 following a fall while preparing an exhibition of the findings for the Israel Museum. The exhibition “The King’s final journey” finally opened in 2013, showing Herod’s impact on the architectural landscape of the Land of Israel. More than 200 objects found at Herodian sites, including Jerusalem, Jericho, Cypros and Herodium were exhibited for the first time as well as the King’s reconstructed burial chamber.

PORtFOLIO

The great colonnaded pool (70x46x3m) at Lower Herodium, it held almost 10,000 cubic metres of water and was used as a swimming pool as well as a water reservoir for the irrigation of the adjacent orchards.
The great colonnaded pool (70x46x3m) at Lower Herodium. The pool held almost 10,000 cubic metres of water and was used as a swimming pool as well as a water reservoir for the irrigation of the adjacent gardens. Lower Herodium covered an area of some 38 acres
Overview of Lower Herodium from the mountain-palace fortress.
Overview of Lower Herodium from the mountain-palace fortress with the great pool in the middle. To the left of the pool stood the bathhouse with included an apodyterium (changing room), a large caldarium (hot room) and a frigidarium (cold room). To the right of the pool stood the monumental building whose function is still unclear.
Reconstruction of a part of the round hot room (caldarium) from Herod's bathhouse at Herodium with remains of the frescoes and flues from the walls of the room and a mosaic floor decorated with scrolls, 1st century BC. Israel Museum, Jerusalem.
Reconstruction of a part of the round hot room (caldarium) from Herod’s bathhouse at Lower Herodium with remains of frescoes and flues from the walls and a mosaic floor decorated with scrolls.
Israel Museum, Jerusalem.
Model of the fortress in Upper Herodium.
Model of the mountain palace-fortress in Upper Herodium.
Reconstruction drawing of the mountain palace-fortress. The unusual structure served simultaneously as a palace, a fortress and a monument.
Reconstruction drawing of the mountain palace-fortress. The unusual structure served simultaneously as a palace and a fortress.
Overview of Upper Herodium surrounded by a double wall and by four towers. The diametre of the structure was 63m while the height was ca. 30m.
Overview of Upper Herodium surrounded by a double wall and by four towers. The diametre of the structure was 63m while the height was ca. 30m.
View of the round eastern towers and the central courtyard surrounded by on three sides by colonnades with Corinthian capitals.
View of the round eastern towers and the central courtyard surrounded by on three sides by colonnades with Corinthian capitals.
Corinthian capitals decorated with acanthus leaves and volutes.
Corinthian capitals decorated with acanthus leaves and volutes.
The palace courtyard.
The palace courtyard.
Reconstruction drawing of the of the palace courtyard surrounded by a roofed colonnade whose columns bore Corinthian capitals. Two large exedrae were built on both sides of the courtyard.
Reconstruction drawing of the palace courtyard surrounded by a roofed colonnade whose columns bore Corinthian capitals. Two large exedrae were built on both sides of the courtyard.
The reception room (triclinium) on the southwestern side of the palace used for banquets. During the Jewish revolts the reception hall was turned into a synagogue and benches were built along its walls.
The reception room (triclinium) on the southwestern side of the palace used for banquets. During the Jewish revolts the reception hall was turned into a synagogue and benches were built along its walls.
Mosaic floor from Herod's Palace at Herodium with a rosette at its centre and palmettes and pomegranates in the corners. Israel Museum, Jerusalem.
Mosaic floor from Herod’s Palace at Herodium with a rosette at its centre and palmettes and pomegranates in the corners.
Israel Museum, Jerusalem.
Migveh (ritual bath) and weapons foundry from the time of the Bar Kokhba revolt (132-135 AD).
Migveh (ritual bath) and weapons foundry from the time of the Bar Kokhba revolt (132-135 AD).
The underground tunnel network.
The underground tunnel network.
One of the largest water cisterns from Herod's time which collected rainwater from the hill’s slopes. The large stones came from Herod's tomb.
One of the largest water cisterns from Herod’s time which collected rainwater from the hill’s slopes. The large stones came from Herod’s tomb.
The underground tunnel network from the Great Jewish Revolt (66–73 AD).
The underground tunnel network from the Great Jewish Revolt (66–73 AD).
The underground tunnel network from Bar Kokhba's time (132-135 AD).
The underground tunnel network from Bar Kokhba’s time (132-135 AD).
The Monumental Stairways which served the King and his court and any distinguished visitors invited to ascend to the upper complex and later used for Herod’s sumptuous funeral procession.
The Monumental Stairways which served the King and his court and any distinguished visitors invited to ascend to the upper complex and later used for Herod’s sumptuous funeral procession. (source)
The royal theatre (under scaffolding in 2016), measuring about 12m in diametre with seating for about 400 located at the west of Herod's mausoleum. At the top was a private chamber for the King and his guests.
The royal theatre (under scaffolding in 2016), measuring about 12m in diametre with seating for about 400 located at the west of Herod’s mausoleum. At the top was a private chamber for the King and his guests. (source)
One of the ornate window paintings that adorned the royal room above the theatre. The scene depicts a sea view along with bull, trees, a temple, a palm tree and a boat alluding to the conquest of Egypt by Augustus, 20-15 BC. Israel Museum, Jerusalem.
One of the ornate window paintings that adorned the royal room above the theatre. The scene depicts a sea landscape along with bull, trees, a temple, a palm tree and a boat alluding to the conquest of Egypt by Augustus, 20-15 BC.
Israel Museum, Jerusalem.
Wall painting fragment from that decorated the royal room above the theatre. The scene depicts a naval battle, it may represent the victory of Octavian at Actium, 20-15 BC. Israel Museum, Jerusalen.
Wall painting fragment from that decorated the royal room above the theatre. The scene depicts a naval battle which may represent the victory of Octavian at Actium, 20-15 BC.
Israel Museum, Jerusalem.
Location and model of Herod's tomb built on the slope of the hill, it was free-standing and three storeys high (25m) and would have been clearly visible from Jerusalem.
Location and model of Herod’s tomb built on the slope of the hill. It was three stories high (25m) and would have been clearly visible from Jerusalem.
The podium of Herod's mausoleum preserved in situ.
The podium of Herod’s mausoleum preserved in situ. It was built from hard white limestone, suitable for carving, which was carried near the site.
The model of Herod's mausoleum, the first storey was a plinth which supported the second, square one; above this was a circular tholos, which incorporated an internal chamber surrounded by an Ionic colonnade, topped by a dome.
The model of Herod’s mausoleum. The first storey was a plinth which supported the second, square one; above this was a circular tholos, which incorporated an internal chamber surrounded by an Ionic colonnade, topped by a dome. (source)
The model of Herod's mausoleum.
The model of Herod’s mausoleum. The roof was a concave cone crowned by a magnificent Corinthian capital with an urn (imitating cinerary urns) above it, while another six urns surrounded the roof’s edge. (source)
Architectural elements from Herod's mausoleum and his sarcophagus. Israel Museum, Jerusalem.
Architectural elements from Herod’s mausoleum and his sarcophagus carved from reddish limestone.
Israel Museum, Jerusalem.
Rosette on the sarcophagus of Herod the Great which was found in 2007 after 35 years of search. Israel Museum, Jerusalem.
Rosette from the shorter side of Herod’s sarcophagus which was found in 2007 after 35 years of search.
Israel Museum, Jerusalem.
Panoramic view from the top of the hill towards the Judean desert and the Dead Sea.
Panoramic view from the top of the hill towards the Judean desert and the Dead Sea.

Links:

Source:

  • Herod the Great: The King’s Final Journey by Rozenberg, Silvia and Mevorah, David, The Israel Museum, 2013 (buy it here).