Easily the most iconic historic site in Israel, the ruined stronghold known simply as Masada is located atop an isolated pinnacle of rock overlooking the Dead Sea at the western end of the Judean Desert. It’s easy to grasp the Israeli attachment to the legend and historicity of this incredible destination. There can be no better metaphor for, or signifier of the hopes and intentions of generations of Jews to exist and persist with a degree of security and sovereignty in the holy land than the very place where their ancestors made a last stand against Roman oppression so long ago.
The word Masada translates as “fortress”, and that’s essentially what this standalone, flattop feature once was. Famously constructed and favored by Herod the Great, the site was taken over and occupied for several years by Zealots and fighters during the Jewish revolt against the Romans beginning in 66 C.E. The plight of the aforementioned revolutionaries was not a happy one. The majority of them set fire to the fortress complex and committed suicide rather than suffer the indignity of surrender after the Romans besieged the site and constructed an approach ramp that allowed them to breach the fortress walls. It was added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 2001.
Today, a cable car makes the ascent from the floor of the valley to the summit of the fortress twice an hour, allowing a steady stream of visitors to explore the excavated remains of an assemblage of baths, storehouses, and palaces, as well as a chapel and synagogue.