Friday, February 15, 2008

MASADA VISIT (13 Feb, 2008)

Masada is a natural fortress of majestic beauty, situated at the top of an isolated mountain, overlooking the Dead Sea. Located 105 km east of Beer Sheva. A symbol that represents the heroic stand of 960 Jewish patriots, who preferred to suicide than surrender in the face of the Roman army (73 AD). This fort was built by Herod the Great, in whose reign Jesus was born. Masada today is one of the Jewish people's greatest symbols. Today, Israeli soldiers after their training take an oath there: "Masada shall not fall again." Next to Jerusalem, it is the most popular destination of Jewish tourists visiting Israel. Masada was proclaimed a world heritage site by UNESCO in 2001. The summit of Masada is about 1500 feet (470 m) above the level of the Dead Sea. The mountain itself is 1950 feet (610 m) long, 650 feet (200 m) wide, 4250 feet (1330 m) in circumference, and encompasses 23 acres.

Upon it one of the greatest epics in the history of mankind was played out. The details has come down to us through the Jewish historian Josephus Flavius, who was probably the contemporary of Jesus. Interestingly, the complete works of Josephus is available online! ( With the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD by Romans, around 960 Jewish men, women and children took shelter in this strong fort once built by Herod. During the next two years they remained the only pocket of resistance in Palestine denying final victory to Romans. In 72 AD, the Roman Governor, Flavius Silva, arrived at the foot of Massada, with the Tenth Legion, auxiliaries and 10,000 Jewish slaves. He built a dyke around the base of the mountain and eight siege camps to prevent their escape. By AD 73, the Romans were about to break the invincible fort.

Josephus records, the last words of their leader Eleazar Ben Ya'ir as “Let us die before we become slaves under our enemies, and let us go out of the world, together with our children and our wives, in a state of freedom. Let us therefore make haste and instead of affording them so much pleasure, as they hope for in getting us under their power, let us leave them an example which shall at once cause their astonishment at our death and their admiration of our hardiness therein''. Before Ben Ya'ir had finished they “all cut him off short and made haste to do the work...'' They “gave the longest parting kisses'' to their wives and children and then slew them. Then they cast lots to choose 10 men to despatch the remainder. Again they cast lots to select one to kill the survivors. With this done, the lone Jew “ran his sword entirely through himself.'' Details of the mass suicide and the oration were provided later by two women and five children who hid in the underground caves.

Almost 1900 years later Massada was rediscovered elaborately when Israeli Professor Yigael Yadin excavated the site for 12 months from 1963 to 1965. The Israeli army and thousands of volunteers from 28 countries came to help sift the rubble and restore what was found. They discovered much evidence of those fateful hours, confirming many of the minute details as described by Josephus, like the skeletal remains of rebels, lots cast at that fateful day, the snake path to reach the mountain top and much more (Adapted from Massada is not mere a fortress but a strong royal stronghold with spacious palaces (the Northern Palace (30m tall) is an architectural gem built on 3 rock terraces; from the lower terrace, skeletal remains of 3 rebels, numerous pieces of armour and a woman’s braided hair was excavated dating to first cent AD; the Western palace of 3700 m3 is the biggest structure of Masada), A large bathhouse (with a double floored "hot room" supported by 200 columns), 29 large storerooms (each 27m long) to store large amount of food, cisterns to store 40,000 m3 of water, A synagogue, believed to be the oldest discovered till date in world, A Byzantine church (indicating the later Christian influence also), and many more making Masada, the most spectacular archaeological finding in Israel.

Last wednesday (13 Feb) I took the Egged Bus 384, from Beer Sheva central bus station at 12.15 pm to Masada. A journey that took 90 minutes, but experiencing the fresh air of Arad, landscapes of wild Judean desert cliffs and the beautiful background of Newe Zohar and Ein Bokek along the Dead Sea shores were a great experience. It’s a visit worth minimum 3 hours, but as I reached by 2 pm and the park closes by 4 pm, had to rush through the sites. The ancient snake path to reach the 1000 ft summit takes almost 45-60 minutes climb and has more than 700 steps. For those who are uncomfortable for such a hike there is a cable car service which will whisk you there in 3 minutes. Since I had just 2 hours in hand, I took the cable car to reach the mount and used the snake path to descend (30 min). Overall it was a fabulous experience to cherish but I suggest one needs minimum 3-4 hours for Masada. I had to wait 2 hours more to catch the last bus (Egged 385) from here to Beer Sheva which was at 6.30 pm. And finallllllllllly by the time I reached home it was 10 pm.

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