Masada (460 m) is a mountain-fortress in Israel, on the south-west shore of Dead Sea. In view of its height, in strictly geographical terms perhaps it should not be called a mountain. But if you visit it, you will realize that this is a mountain, and what a mountain indeed! It is unique from many points of view, and it has played a great role in the long history of Jewish people. I had a rare privilege to visit this extraordinary place, and here I want to share with you my impressions about it.
[Handel: Suite No 4 in D Minor, HWV 437, Sarabande]
The base of Masada is at a negative altitude because it raises above the Dead Sea, the lowest depression on the planet. The mountain starts at 420 meters below the world’s sea level and it raises above the Dead Sea up to 460 meters. This means that it is only around 40 meters above the world’s sea level, a truly unique feature.
The summit of the mountain is rather flat, an area of about 550 m by 270 m, and it contains ruins of an old fortress and the palace of the king Herod.
As far as I could see there was only one route to the top, called ‘snake path’, which zigzags from the Dead Sea side, up the eastern slope of the mountain. You will start your walk in the area which is above the car parking and below the cable car station. The start of the route is marked by a green flag.
Of course, this is a popular place and when you set off for your pilgrimage toward the summit, you will have gondolas all the time going up and down above your head. The path is well maintained, with stone stairs at many places. Near the top, at the altitude of +33 m (note, this is with respect to the world’s sea level), the route joins the passage from the upper cable car station. After just a few meters you are at the top. If you have walked your way up, you will be thirsty but do not worry; first thing in front of you will be a place with excellent tap water.
All the route can be climbed within 40 minutes if you are fast, more realistically up to one hour, and you will be rewarded with breathtaking views of the Dead Sea and Jordan on the other side of the Sea. The area can be reached by car or by bus. It is on the attractive road from Jerusalem to Eilat, passing Kumran (Qumran) on the way. You will reach Masada in about one hour and a half from Jerusalem.
The text I found on Wikipedia says that the Chief of Staff of the Israel Defense Forces initiated the practice of holding the swearing-in ceremony of soldiers who had completed their training, on top of Masada. The ceremony ends with the declaration: “Masada shall not fall again.”
When you read about the history of Masada you realize why this is so and why it is necessary for Jewish people to keep the memory of Masada alive. According to history books, there was a long siege of Masada by Romans in years 73 and 74 of the Christian era, and they built a wall around the mountain so that nobody from the fortress on the top could escape. Their camps are still clearly visible everywhere around almost 2000 years later, including the wall they built, see the photos which I give here.
Romans could not do anything until they built a huge assault ramp which is still there. As you can imagine, the story ended tragically, but not in the way Romans expected. When they finally entered the fortress, they realized that all 960 inhabitants committed a collective suicide of the kind never seen before or after that. It appears that each man killed his wife and children first. Then they drew lots and killed each other, and finally the only remaining one killed himself.
In the museum at the foot of Masada, they keep actual lots, eleven of them with names, found in one of the rooms on the top of the mountain. Apparently these are the names of the last 11 who were taking part in the final deadly lottery.
After 20 centuries Jewish people are still under siege, and with an uncertain future, but indeed the same holds for many others around as well. The Masada tragedy should never repeat again.
Please leave your comments below, I shall be happy to read them.