On the western shore of the Dead Sea towering above the lowest sea in the world is the majestic Masada, a steep flat-topped mountain, both impregnable and beautiful. Therefore it comes as no surprise that Masada was used as the site for a royal palace and a well-defended fortress. Its location, in the desert, explains why the ruins of Masada were left in relative peace for nearly 2000 years.
Masada – or in Hebrew Metzada, the name is derived from Metzad meaning fort.
Masada the Royal Palace – although it is likely that a fort was built on this site in the Hasmonean era (100+ B.C.E.) the real rise to prominence was in 30 B.C.E. when King Herod built first one, and then two, extravagant palaces on the top of the mount and fortified these palaces with a wall. The palaces and adjoining area had everything that one could expect of a Roman era fortress, Throne rooms, Mosaic floors, Roman baths complete with underground
heating, warehouses for storage, water cisterns and accommodation for army platoons. The view from the palaces is stunning, the climate is superb for a winter retreat. King Herod Stayed in Masada in the winter months maintaining a lavish lifestyle.
Masada, the last bastion of the great rebellion – In complete contrast to the Herodian era, the Sicarii zealots, an extremist group of rebels inhabited Masada from 66 AD in the last throes of the great rebellion against the Romans. These rebels, led by the charismatic Elazar ben Yair, had no interest in the luxuries that could still be found on Masada. Not for them the bathhouses, throne rooms and apartments. On the contrary, these luxuries epitomized the Roman way of life that the zealots despised. A mikva (ritual bath) was built using already standing structures, one of the buildings became a synagogue, and the extremist rebels cut themselves off not only from civilization but also from their Jewish brethren.
In 72 AD 15,000 Romans led by Lucius Flavius Silva laid siege to the 960 zealots (men, women, and children) on Masada. The western side of Masada was deemed as the weakest and therefore chosen as the point of penetration. A huge ramp was built using thousands of tons of stone and earth. In the spring of 73 AD, a huge tower with a battering ram was pushed up the ramp. The Romans succeeded in penetrating the hilltop fort but were surprised to find that all of the inhabitants, except for two women and five children, had committed suicide rather than fall into the hands of the Romans.
Since the fall of the zealots Masada has been almost deserted.
A visit to Masada is a must, with the remains of the glorious palaces, and the remains of the synagogue where Eliezer Ben Yair exhorted his followers to kill themselves rather than become prisoners of the Romans.