Masada is not only important because it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site or an ancient fortress occupying a breathtaking strategic location high on a flat plateau above the Dead Sea, but because of its symbolic importance as a symbol of determination and heroism which continues to this day with many Israeli soldiers sworn in here. Masada is one of the greatest archaeological sites in Israel and, perhaps, across the world. Its dramatic ascent can now be made by cable-car, but the drama and imagery that this site portrays is no less powerful than it ever was.
The fortress of Masada was built in the year 30 BCE by King Herod, whose architectural feats have left their mark throughout the country. At the beginning of the great revolt against Rome in the year 68 CE, the site was conquered by a group of Jewish zealots, and Masada became their last stronghold. In the year 72 the Romans besieged Masada and succeeded in reaching the steep fortress after constructing a huge earthen ramp on its western side. In the year 73, the 960 Jewish zealots living at the top of Masada chose to commit suicide rather than to fall into the hands of the Romans alive. Their deeds left behind a saga of courage, heroism, and martyrdom.
Amazing panorama of Masada at twilight by avinoam michaeli, on Flickr
Columns among the ruins at Masada by laura padgett, on Flickr
The remains of the fortress of Masada are well-preserved and have been reconstructed in an effort to pay homage to the site and its heroic inhabitants. The most impressive structure on Masada is King Herod’s northern palace, built on three rock terraces overlooking the gorge below. Near the palace is a large Roman style bath house with a colorful mosaic floor and walls decorated with murals. Many other buildings at the site – such as the luxurious western palace, the mikveh (Jewish ritual bath), storerooms, watchtowers, and synagogue relate the history of Masada, especially when viewed with artifacts such as storage containers, decorated pottery, scrolls, and coins.
Sunrise at Masada by Tmuna Fish, on Flickr
The beautiful embossments and murals that were discovered on the walls of buildings on Masada were restored by Italian experts to preserve them for years to come. This is the largest and most complete Roman siege camp that remains today.
Masada is extremely high, and can be ascended on foot by the winding “snake path” or by a cable car that runs from the tourist center at the feet of Masada to the top. The tourist center also features a movie about the story of Masada, a model of the site, and an exhibit of the archeological findings. Many like to climb Masada at sunrise, which has become something of a tradition, with the spectacular view across the Moab Mountains and Dead Sea.
As well as the archaeology, the site’s amazing and iconic setting has made it a popular place for concerts and events throughout the year. As well as the thrilling sound and light show, presented against the dramatic backdrop of the western side of Masada, tells the story of the rebels’ last days at the cliff-top fortress, which takes place throughout the summer months, there are many events at Masada including concerts and a prestigious opera festival.
The most magical time to is to visit Masada is as the sun rises above the desert.
Tours of Masada
There are many tours of Masada which leave from Jerusalem or Tel Aviv. These provide many tourists with the opportunity to access the site because public transport, whilst accessible, isn’t as simple. Most tours also include visits to the Dead Sea.
Masada and Dead Sea Group Tour - fully guided group tour which ascends Masada via cable car, and goes on to the Dead Sea. Leaves Tel Aviv and Jerusalem
Masada Sunrise Group Tour – a unique tour which climbs Masada at sunrise, then continues to hike at Ein Gedi, and float in the Dead Sea. Self guided and you climb Masada by foot. Leaves Jerusalem.
NB - National park entrance fee, two way cable car, and entrance to private Dead Sea beach (altogether worth approximately 35 USD) are included in this guided one day Masada and Dead Sea Tour (a great value option)
Masada Sound & Light Show
The show takes place from March to October every Tuesday and Thursday.
From March to August, the show takes place on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 9 P.M. In September and October the show takes place on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 8 P.M.
Spectators must arrive at least 30 minutes before the show starts. Vehicle access is via the Arad-Masada road only (the other side to the Dead Sea).