Masada

Masada, Israel, photo by Itamar Grinberg, Israel Ministry of Tourism

Masada, Israel, photo by Itamar Grinberg, Israel Ministry of Tourism

The first I ever heard of Masada was from a very effective Israel tourism TV campaign way back in the early 1990s. Before then, I hadn’t thought much about traveling to Israel, if at all. The ad sparked in me an interest in the ancient land of Israel that continues to this day. It may have been the very gleam that became my work at Ya’lla Tours, including this blog.

Now that I have credited an Israel tourism ad with setting me on my life path, I must tell you I don’t remember much about it. There was a boy on top of Masada, wind in his hair, casting a poetic gaze out over the Judean desert. A dramatic voiceover spoke of heritage and heroism. Mostly I remember being stirred right down to my core. That’s good advertising!

Masada, Israel

Masada, Israel

Herod the Great, the Roman-Jewish ruler of Judea 37-4 BCE, was very fearful of assassination, so he built 8 isolated, desert fortresses in which to take refuge if needed. Masada is one. Around 30 BCE, he had a fabulous palace, complete with storage facilities to outlast a long siege, built atop this 1300-foot plateau overlooking the Dead Sea. It’s the perfect defensive spot. You can see for miles in every direction and the walls of the rock are steep. There’s no sneaking up on this place.

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During the last Jewish rebellion against Rome (which ended in 70 CE with the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple), a group of Roman-resisters escaped to Masada and held out there for several years. In early 70, the Romans laid siege to Masada. After spending a few months building a massive ramp, they overtook the fortress. According to the ancient Jewish historian Josephus, they found almost 1,000 inhabitants, men, women and children, dead by their own hands, and buildings ablaze. Excavations have only found the remains of 28 men, so Josephus may have exaggerated for effect. Whether 1,000 or 28, the story and Masada came to symbolize Jewish defiance and resilience in the face of suppression, as well as the loss of the Jewish homeland.

remains of Roman siege camp at the base of Masada and the attack ramp used to take the fortress

remains of Roman siege camp at the base of Masada and the attack ramp used to take the fortress

Masada is an easy drive from Jerusalem, less than an hour. If you’re in good shape, you can climb up in about 45 minutes on the snake path, a good trail with lots of switchbacks, or zip up and down in a cable car. The extensive excavations and restorations include two palaces, a synagogue, a bathhouse, storehouses, and cisterns. From the top, look down on the Roman siege camp, the Dead Sea and out over the beautiful desolation of the Judean Desert.

Click to see tours that include Masada.

NAME THAT COUNTRY

This stretch of the Kidron Valley lies between Mount Moriah and the Mount of Olives in one of the world’s holiest cities. The valley continues eastward about 20 miles to the Dead Sea. The valley and adjacent slopes have been burial grounds for thousands of years due to their association with End Times in Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

 

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The Dead Sea: Grab a Natural High at the Lowest Place on Earth

salty shores

the Dead Sea forms part of the border between Israel and Jordan

the Dead Sea forms part of the border between Israel and Jordan

The Dead Sea is almost 1400 feet below sea level, the lowest place on earth. There is no outlet for the water, which flows into the Dead Sea, technically a lake, from the Sea of Galilee (also technically a lake) via the Jordan River. Water leaves the Dead Sea only by evaporation, leaving minerals behind in high concentration. Because of the extremely low elevation, the barometric pressure is higher than anywhere else on earth, there’s a greater concentration of oxygen in the air, greater filtration of ultraviolet sun rays, and the air is practically free of pollen and other allergens.

The Dead Sea has been known for its healing properties for thousands of years, and even today, the unique climactic and mineral properties are used in therapies for conditions such as psoriasis, arthritis and cystic fibrosis. Continue reading

NAME THAT COUNTRY Episode 119

In 1947, local Bedouins found the first cache of what came to be known as the Dead Sea Scrolls in a Judean Desert cave. Eventually, eleven caves would yield pieces of some 800 ancient manuscripts, the last found in 1956. It’s generally accepted that the scrolls were collected by the Essenes, or a similar Jewish sect, which had a community living at Qumran, in the shadow of the caves.

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