The day I visited Masada was a 40 degree day, in the dry desert mountains west of the Dead Sea. Not a lot grows in the mountain sides of Masada. It is dry. And hot. But it is a fascinating place which Herod the Great built, and later where Jews fled after the destruction of Jerusalem. It tells many stories of Herod’s wealth, engineering feats, and the plight of the Jew who hid there. It tells of the commitment of the Romans to seek out the remaining Jews, and an awful story of destruction. The views are rugged, vast and carry a beauty of it’s own.
There are two ways to get up to the fortress at Masada. One is up a long dusty trail called the snake trail. The way we chose was by gondola…a much better choice I thought, given the heat of the day! At the top was the most amazing views of the area, right across to the Dead Sea.
Herod the Great (37-4 BC) originally built this palace and fortress on the top of the mountains. It was built as a castle winter retreat for Herod. The palace had the best engineering, with cutout gutters down the mountain to collect every inch of precious water into big cisterns. There was even a spa room, which had a raised floor, warm air would rise and with water added it produced a steam room.
The word ‘Masada’, means strong foundation or support. This is an apt word to describe this place that was high up on the rocky mountain. Unfortunately not strong enough to protect the Jews from the Roman onslaught in the first Century AD, despite its double walls and vantage point.
“After Herod’s death and the annexation of Judea, the Romans built a garrison at Masada. When the Great Revolt of the Jews against the Romans broke out in 66 A.D., a group of Jewish people known as the Sicarii, led by Menahem, took over the Masada complex“
“With Jerusalem in ruins, the Romans turned their attention to taking down Masada, the last community in Judea with 960 rebels, including many women and children. Led by Flavius Silva, a legion of 8,000 Romans built camps surrounding the base, a siege wall, and a ramp on a slope of the Western side of the mountain made of earth and wooden supports.
After several months of siege without success, the Romans built a tower on the ramp to try and take out the fortress’s wall. When it became clear that the Romans were going to take over Masada, on April 15, 73 A.D., on the instructions of Ben Yair, all but two women and five children, who hid in the cisterns and later told their stories, took their own lives rather than live as Roman slaves.”https://www.history.com/topics/ancient-middle-east/masada
The Western Palace was one of the first buildings built by Herod, along with a storeroom and barracks, in what was called the first phase. In the second phase the northern palace was built, along with a large food storage area. It also included the large bath house. The third stage of building, included building the large wall that surrounded the complex of Masada. It was a double wall, which made room for living quarters and food storage.
In some of the ‘room’s there are remains of beautiful mosaic patterned floors. I could just imagine Herod the Great commissioning this work to some excellent mosaic artists of the day! There is a lovely preserved square mosaic in the ruins of the synagogue.
The outlines of the Romans camps on either side of Masada, can still be seen very clearly in the ground below, on both sides of Masada. On the side we went up by gondola, and then on the other side of the mountain. The Romans had them surrounded.
The breaching point was the part of the wall that the Romans had built a ramp up to. Out of dirt. That is a lot of dirt, and a lot of dedication! Once the ramp was built they were able to pound the wall again and again, to break into Masada.
There were also so many of these interesting birds. They are called ‘Tristram’s starling’. They nest in the rocks in the cliff faces, as trees are very rare around here!
Also nearby are the mountains where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. From this we can put together a bit picture to get an idea of a nation who were desperate to protect sacred manuscripts that would later be found, and put together as the Holy Bible that we treasure today.
Some more museum artefacts…