Masada (Hebrew: מצדה) is a magnificently located fortress site in Israel's stark Judean Desert, close to the Dead Sea. The last Jewish holdout to fall to Rome in 73 CE, Masada symbolizes the exile of the Jewish nation from the Holy Land. Its violent end has become a symbol of bravery and self-sacrifice since the founding of the State of Israel in 1948.
Masada, whose Hebrew name means "fortress", is on a breathtaking rock plateau with steep cliffs rising on all sides. Roman client King Herod the Great constructed a fortified palace complex atop of the plateau between 37 and 31 BCE. During the Jewish rebellion against Rome in first century CE, a sect of Jews called the Kanai took refuge in isolated Masada. They were known in Greek as zelotes, or the Zealots. After remaining there for seven years, the Zealots finally fell at the hands of the Roman army in 73 CE. However, rather than be killed or enslaved, the holed up rebels chose to commit a mass suicide, a deed which forever enshrined them in the annals of Jewish history.
Masada, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has been granted a special place in the heart of the Jewish nation. Though the actions of the Zealots are still debated, Masada has become synonymous with the tragic and much-mourned downfall of Jewish life in the Holy Land. More recently, this symbol of death has been contrasted with Jewish rebirth, the founding of the State of Israel. Indeed, many Israeli soldiers, sworn in atop Masada, emotionally chant, "Masada shall never fall again."
Most people access Masada from the eastern side near Road 90, which runs down the Israeli coast of the Dead Sea. This is the official entrance which leads to the "Snake Path" the steep hiking trail. The less used option is Road 3199 from Arad to the western side. The road ends at a parking lot, from which there is a comparatively easy 15-20 minute ascent to the top.
By bus you can get to Masada with line 486 from Jerusalem (₪40, ₪36 with a student discount) or Ein Gedi or with line 421 from Tel Aviv - Terminal 2000 at Arlozorov Street (Su-F 9:00, Su-Th 12:00, 2h30, ₪84,20 ret.; return Su-F 13:13, Su-Th 16:13). Other buses running along the Dead Sea Highway call at Masada, too, and can take you to Ein Gedi (northbound buses) or Ein Bokek (southbound buses). All buses stop at the eastern main entrance. Check departure times from Masada either beforehand or online from the McDonald's restaurant on site as there is no timetable at the bus stop. Beware that buses may run ahead of schedule!
If you are really adventurous, you can hike through the valleys to the north or south of Masada, and thus reach it from the "other side". Be aware that due to the steep cliffs and desert terrain, this is dangerous if you don't know what you're doing.
The entrance to the site costs ₪29 for an entry by foot, ₪76 for entry with a cable car lift both ways. Discounts are available for students, youth and the elderly.
The fastest way to reach ascend Masada is via cable car. However, the cable car does not begin running until 8AM, meaning the option is not available to those wishing to experience sunrise at Masada.
The other two routes up are the so-called "Snake Path" or the Roman Ramp.
The Snake Path (actually a combination of tracks and steps) is accessible from the eastern side of Masada via the Dead Sea Highway. It consists of a series of switchbacks 'snaking' all the way up to the summit. The climb can take anything from 40 minutes to 2 hours or more depending on stamina/speed. Because of the difficulty of the climb, and the path's exposure to the sun, the Snake Path is usually closed from 10am, and many choose to ascend before sunrise.
The Roman Ramp is not accessible from the Dead Sea Highway and must be approached from Arad in the west -- a forty-minute detour for those coming from the Dead Sea Highway, but considerably less strenuous than the Snake Path.
Once there, the Herod's palace complex, replete with Roman-style mosaics and bath houses, can be toured. Also viewable are the zealot's synagogues, storehouses, and homes. From Masada, the remnants of the Roman encampments are clearly visible. Also, the stark natural beauty of the Judean Desert and nearby Dead Sea can be fully taken in from high atop Masada.
The visitor's center on the eastern side holds a small exposition on the discovery of Masada and shows some of the pieces found there. There is also a museum centred on the main excavator of the site.
From March to October a sound and light show is presented on the western side each Tu and Th at 21:00. Check currrent information at the National Park website.
Climb the "Snake Path" at 4 o'clock in the morning and enjoy the sun rising over the Jordan Mountains. The gates are usually open even at this early hour since this is part of the Israeli national pride.
The visitors' centre below the fortress contains a small food court including a McDonalds.
Bring lots of water, since the climb is hard and the sun is burning the whole day. Water is available on top of Masada and at the visitor's centre to refill your bottles.
- Massada Guest House, Massada, D.N. Yam Hamelah (Near route 90, directly at the entrance to the site of Massada), ☎ +972 08 9953222, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Closest to the Masada National Park, Youth Hostel.
The Ein Gedi Nature Reserve and the Dead Sea are not far away and worth a visit.
|Routes through Masada|
Egypt ← Eilat ←
|S N||→ Ein Gedi → Tiberias|