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 country’s history.
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. The only written source on the history of Masada comes from Flavius Josephus‘ The Jewish War. 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. Masada’s most impressive structure is his Northern Palace, constructed against the northern cliff face. It was built on three rock terraces, each containing grand rooms and supported by gigantic retaining walls to expand their size.
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 Great Jewish Revolt. 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 Legio X Fretensisand laid siege to Masada. The Romans reached 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 tragically for the zealots, who decided to commit suicide rather than be 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 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.
Megiddo is a tell (an ancient hilltop settlement) in northern Israel overlooking the Jezreel Valley in Lower Galilee. Known for its historical and theological importance, especially under its Greek name Armageddon (“Battle of the End of Days”), the city was strategically located on an ancient trade road, the Via Maris, linking Egypt and Damascus. In ancient times Megiddo was an important city-state and assumed a prominent role. Excavations have unearthed 25 layers of ruins representing every single period of ancient history in the Land of Israel.
Meggido was first inhabited in the 6th millennium BC during the Neolithic period, although the first significant remains date to the Chalcolithic period (4500–3500 BC). Later, during the beginning of the Early Bronze Age (ca. 3300 BC), a temple was constructed on the tell, described by its excavators as “the most monumental single edifice so far uncovered in the Early Bronze Age Levant“. By the beginning of the 2nd millennium BC, Megiddo was already a fortified city with massive walls, and a thousand years later, it became a centre of Egyptian rule over Canaan. Because of its strategic location, Megiddo was the site of several historical battles. The first reference to Megiddo in a written source dates from 1479 BC. It is a detailed account (the first recorded battle in history, The Battle of Megiddo) of the campaign of the pharaoh Thutmose III to reassert Egypt’s dominion over the territories in Canaan.
Megiddo was taken by the Israelites at the time of King David, and the city reached its peak under King Solomon in the 10th century BC. Solomon rebuilt Megiddo as a royal city, administering the northern part of the kingdom. Several structures dating to the reign of Solomon have been identified, such as palaces, fortifications, stables, administrative buildings and a water system. These structures, however, were destroyed in the late 10th century BC, possibly by Pharaoh Shoshenq I, but the city was rebuilt. In 732 BC, the Assyrian king Tiglath-pileser III took the city and destroyed it. After 720 BC, a new city was built at Meggido, and it became the capital of an Assyrian province named Magiddu. The city was abandoned after the Persian period. A small garrison known as Legio was stationed nearby during the Roman era.