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Masada Israel

MasadaMasada is an ancient fortress on the top of an isolated mountain in the Judean Desert, near the Dead Sea. Masada is among the highest ranking sites in Israel, and is one of the most popular tourist sites. Some tourists spend only the journey from Jerusalem to Masada to learn about Masada Israel, others spend hours increasing their knowledge about Masada to have a better understanding of what they don’t “see”. Both groups give Masada a very high rate.

What makes this site so different? Many reasons contribute to that. The challenge to get there combined with endless clear horizons and the story of the place, cause the visitors to have an unforgettable experience.


As Masada has a rich history and some of it needs to be compiled from related subjects and sites, this article is divided to three main parts:

Part 1: What you must know about Masada.Nasada

The meaning of the word Masada in Hebrew is fortress. It means a place that can protect its inhabitants from their enemies outside. The paths to this fortress are steep and exposed; anyone climbing the mountain can be easily seen from the top. This fortress has been built by King Herod, who was afraid for his life and used it to protect himself against his own family. This fortress has been built in the Judean Desert where water and supplies are scarce, and they become almost impossible to get in times of war. King Herod built storages for food and water on top of the mountain which gives an advantage to the fortress inhabitants.

Masada Today:

The mountain of Masada gives the impression as if time has stopped. On the west side of the mountain, the Roman ramp is still there. The palace in the north side is shaded and you can enjoy the northern cool breeze. Endless horizon views are at every direction, and to the east we see the reflection of the Moab Mountains in the Dead Sea.  The mountain has been excavated by Israeli archeologists for many years, and the main findings are presented to the public at the museum next to the entrance, and in the Israeli Museum. Masada National Park includes a museum, a cable car that takes the visitors to the mountain top, and the archeological site on top of the mountain.

The Story of Masada:

The story of Masada is given by Josephus Flavius in the first century. Although the story raises many questions in the Jewish world; it has spirituality strengthened the morale of the Jewish pioneers in the land of Israel. Josephus describes Masada’s inhabitants as zealous to their Masadafaith. While the Romans came to conquer the fortress with 8,000 soldiers, only 960 men, women and children defended it. The Romans built a wall 1.25 miles long and 6 feet wide around the mountain to ensure no one would escape during the siege they laid to the fortress. King Herod’s engineers took advantage of the local topography and added strength to the fortress by building a thick 15 feet high wall on top of the cliffs. It was impossible for the Romans to ram the walls as the cliffs and the high walls protected the fortress. So, with 8,000 soldiers and the prisoners they took from the conquered Jerusalem, they built a ramp for their batting ram and eventually knocked the wall down. Although the Roman camps and siege story is fascinating and impressive; the end of the story as is told by Josephus and supported by the archeological findings is what gives this mountain its importance and significance. When the Romans were ramming the wall and it was obvious that the last stronghold of the Jews would fall into their hands, the zealous chose death to slavery. The last ten men drew lots to decide who would be the last one to stay and commit suicide by writing their names on pieces of ceramic. One of the names on these ceramics was “Ben Yair”, the commander’s name mentioned by Josephus.


Part 2: The impact of Masada on Israel.

As the Jews suffered from anti-Semitic campaigns in Europe during the eighteen and nineteen centuries, they were looking for a better future. Israel the Holy Land, the Promised MasadaLand, was a possible solution. But life in the Promised Land was not easy at all. The hot and dry land filled with deadly enemies seemed to break the pioneers’ spirits; but where else could they possibly go? For the Jewish immigrants the land of Israel was their only hope. During 1923 two important essays were published. These essays strengthened the pioneers’ spirit during those hard times. The first one was the complete and precise translation of Josephus’ book, “The Wars of the Jews” by Jacob Shimhoni, which gave legitimation to the book and to the zealots in the story of Masada. The second one was the poem “Masada” by Yitzhak Lamdani.  Lamdani described in his poem the desperation of the pioneers after escaping Europe and their difficult lives in Israel. The pioneers and the Jewish leaders positioned Masada as a symbol for dedication and an uncompromised struggle to achieve a goal. This approach was developed into a tradition of educational tours to Masada, which for many years were physically difficult (the only way up was by foot). The combination of physical accomplishment and the heroic story of the zealots contributed to the positioning of Masada as a legend among the youth groups. Masada became a legend even though many people did not agree with its message.  In time, Israel developed roads, cable cars, and hiking paths to make the fortress more accessible and easy to visit.  Sentences like ‘Masada of the north’ or ‘Masada shall not fall again’ show the use of the word in Modern Hebrew to describe dedication, courage and perseverance.


Part 3: More about Masada.