Glimpses of Israel - Massada

Rising more than 500 metres above the Dead Sea, with its steep slopes and rugged terrain, Massada is a natural desert fortress.

In 36 BCE Herod further enhanced Massada's defences by building a casement wall round its entire summit. Within the stronghold he also built luxurious palaces, giant water cisterns, huge storage rooms, as well as barracks, defence towers and arsenals.

With the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE, Massada became a base for Jewish zealots who fled to the desert fortress. From this stronghold they attacked and harassed the Roman occupiers.

Two years later the Roman Tenth Legion arrived with thousands of Jewish slaves who were forced to build a ramp up the western side. Eventually, a siege tower was brought alongside, and the fortress wall was breached. In 73 CE Massada again fell into Roman hands. But victory was soured as most of the Jewish men, women and children (some 960) took their own lives rather than seeing loved ones tortured, or be enslaved by the Romans. Two elderly Jewish women and five children who were found hiding were the only survivors.

Excavations have revealed that Massada was inhabited by Byzantine monks during the 5th century.

In recent years Massada has been listed as a World Heritage site. For the tourist, Massada is open all year round, except Yom Kippur. A spectacular sound and light show is presented from April through October. Nearby attractions and facilities include hotel and hostel accommodation, a restaurant and the Massada Museum. For the early riser a walk up the Snake Path on the eastern face provides some breath-taking views. Be sure to start an hour before dawn to catch the sunrise over the Mountains of Moab. However, a cable-car provides an alternative and much quicker mode to reach the summit.