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. Many people opt to join a tour to Masada, enjoying a guide who will bring the site to life.
History of Masada
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
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.
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.
Sunrise at Masada by Tmuna Fish, on Flickr
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. Tourists can easily do this from Tel Aviv or Jerusalem.
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 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 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 and Tel Aviv.
- Masada, Ein Gedi, Dead Sea, and Jerusalem Tour – available every Monday. Simialr to the option above, but continuing with a tour of Jerusalem.
- Masada, Ein Gedi, Dead Sea, and Jericho Tour – available twice a week, a self guided tour of four of Israel’s most interesting sites.
- Masada Private Day Tour – totally custom but usually these day tours go to Masada, Ein Gedi, and the Dead Sea. plus a couple of other sites as desired. Leaves from wherever you like
The article about how to get to Masada could be useful, because public transport isn’t always simple in this region.
The Snake Path opens about one hour before sunrise, and is closed in extreme weather. Masada is open on Saturdays (Shabbat).
The Museum and rest of the park open at the following times: April–September 8 A.M.–5 P.M, October–March 8 A.M– 4 P.M, Fridays and holiday eves, site closes one hour earlier than above.
Cable-car hours: Sat.–Thurs.: 8 A.M.–4 P.M.; Friday and holiday eves 8 A.M.–2 P.M.; Yom Kippur eve 8 A.M.–noon.
Masada Entrance Fees
Eastern (Dead Sea) side (entrance plus cable-car two ways): Adult: NIS 76; child: NIS 44; Israeli senior citizen: NIS 44
Eastern side (entrance and climb Snake Path): Adult: NIS 29; child: NIS 15; Israeli senior citizen: NIS 15
Masada National Park combination ticket (entrance and cable-car one way) Adult: NIS 58; child: NIS 30; Israeli senior citizen: NIS 30
Cable-car one-way: Adult NIS 29; child NIS 15; Cable-car round trip: Adult NIS 47; child NIS 29
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).
Entry fees: Adult NIS 41; child NIS 34; Groups (over 30 people): Adult NIS 37; child NIS 28