Masada is an ancient wonder, a Dead Sea beauty and a place of fanatical inspiration.
What happened here in 73AD was disturbing, bloody and now defines Israel as a symbol of freedom.
After staring down the Roman legion, almost one thousand people died here at their own hands. Children, mothers, virtually the entire community took their lives rather than become slaves.
Israeli historians describe the Zealots as emerging “victorious even in defeat.”.. but this version of history is being challenged.
Unfortunately it was in Hebrew with Russian subtitles. The doors had closed tight at both ends of the theatre so there was no choice but to soak up the dramatic, but unintelligible production.
The small little box takes just a few minutes to complete a journey that took the Romans many months.
It looks high, but is it? There is a strange Dead Sea calculation to Masada despite the plateau towering over the area.
Masada rises up 450 metres, but being next to the lowest place on earth, we only end up 58 metres above sea level.
The young men and women climb charge up the slopes with their packs and at the top swear allegiance to Israel declaring, “Masada shall not fall again.”
Originally built decades by the Judean king, Herod, as a palatial refuge, it was later used by the Romans before the Zealots took over in 70AD. They were running from the destruction of Jerusalem and the Second Temple and the Romans wanted to crush them.
The 73AD Roman siege was classic and effective. Around 8000 soldier constructed a giant dirt and wood ramp to the west and after many months began to batter Masada’s walls.
Isolated on top, the Zealots were not going to be taken alive. When all hope was believed lost they systematically took their own lives, made sure others did the same and set Masada on fire.
The birds of Masada allow people to get extremely close. Almost near enough to touch.
Anyway, the version of Masada – that suicide something to celebrate – has been challenged by some Israelis, particularly educators. The main elements of the Masada story are also being questioned.
Were they all Zealots? Did they all willingly die? How long did the siege truly go for? .. and what if everyone chose the path taken in 73AD?
We avoided the big tourist groups for a while by wandering south to what is known as the Roman area. There is less here associated with the Jewish rebels so work here is minimal.
There’s very little sign now of the mass suicide all those years ago. The drama was exhaustively recorded by the Jewish-Roman historian Josephus Flavius, but few bodies were later found by archaeologists.
The Roman siege wall can still be seen and climbed off Masada’s west flank and it is gradually falling away back into the desert.
Many of the ancient buildings have been restored. In this photo you may be able to see a faint line above the heads of the tourists.
That’s what it looked like when Masada was found again in 1842. Excavations and restoration have been underway since the 1960s and in 2001, UNESCO inscribed Masada as a World Heritage Site.
There were eight camps in total surrounding the plateau.
I’m not certain what this critter is, but it darn cute and has no tail. My Google skills have come up with the possibility that it is the Golden Spiny Mouse, but proper identification will be gratefully accepted.
The featured mouse, rat, gerbil or dwarf ferrety thing darted around the side of Masada with no fear of heights. It did, however, have an intense wariness of humans and Tristam’s Grackles.
This design in the bathing area of the Western Palace has been used a symbol for Masada.
Historians talk about the contrast between the luxury of the king who ordered the construction of Masada and the poverty of the Zealots who ended up destroying it.
.. and here is the big secret to surviving on top of an isolated desert plateau besieged by Romans intend on making you a slave: giant, cavernous pools of fresh water.
This is deep inside the southern water cistern: the largest water collection place on the plateau.
The planning that went into Masada was so good that the fortress became an oasis in the desert. Roman style bathhouses were found among the ruins.
Floating around on the salty, warm, dirty water between Israel and Jordan is a rite of passage for tourists and I just had to do it.
The high salt content makes swimmers especially buoyant and it is a strange sensation bobbing around like you are hollow inside.
The Dead Sea water was warm and remarkably slimy. You don’t want to get any of the iconic, but dirty water in your mouth or on any open cuts as that would be suicidal behaviour.
Who deliberately rubs salt into wounds?