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Massada: Symbol of Jewish Heroism
Set on an isolated cliff in the Judean Desert, Massada's steep slopes and precipices rise more than 400 meters above the Dead Sea, the lowest place in the world. During the Jewish rebellion against the Romans, erupted in 66 CE, a group of Zealots headed for Massada. They knew that King Herod had built, about 100 years earlier, an impregnable fortress on its summit which he intended to use as a sanctuary in the event of an uprising. Although the mountain had natural fortifications, Herod built a wall around the entire summit. This was a tremendous undertaking, since the summit was 600 meters long and 300 meters across at its center. When Jerusalem fell four years later (70 CE) the survivors fleeing the capital and some Essenes from Qumran joined the Zealots fortified there. Their numbers swelled to 960 men, women and children. During the next two years they remained the last point of resistance in Palestine, continuing to harass the Romans from the fortified mountain-top.
In 72 CE the Roman Governor, Flavius Silva, arrived at the foot of Massada, with the Tenth Legion and 10,000 Jewish slaves. He built a dyke around the base of the mountain and eight siege camps to prevent escape. On the western side, he built a ramp to allow his troops to get to the top. The Jews held under the siege for almost two years, until the Romans positioned a siege tower on the ramp and then a battering ram (73 CE). When the Romans had set fire to the walls and all seemed lost, the leader of the Jewish resistance in Massada, Eleazar Ben Ya'ir, declared: “Let our wives die before they are abused, and our children before they have tasted off slavery and after we have slain them, let us bestow that glorious benefit upon one another mutually, and preserve ourselves in freedom, as an excellent funeral monument for us.'' The popular belief is that the zealots committed mass suicide rather than be taken by the Romans. This inspiring piece of history from the old land of israel has come down to us through the Jewish historian Josephus Flavius, who recorded the events after he became a Roman historian.
Massada has become a legend of Jewish bravery and commitment in spite of overwhelming odds. This is captured by the oath taken by IDF soldiers “Massada will never fall again.”
Massada is located in the southern Judean desert, south of the Dead Sea; about 2 hours drive from Jerusalem, Israel capital. Most people ascend the mountain by walking up the Snake Path, named after the winding ascent on the eastern face. It is best to start an hour before dawn to get to the summit in time for the sunrise over the Mountains of Moab. Later in the day the blistering sun makes climbing a sweaty and tiring ordeal. You can also get up by means of the cable-car which whisks you up in no time at all. The last cable car leaves the summit at 4 p.m. during the week but at 2 p.m. on Friday.
Massada is open all the year round (except Yom Kippur) from 7.30 a.m. - 3.30 p.m.
A sound and light show is presented in April - October. It is narrated in Hebrew on Tuesday and Thursday and in English on Wednesday. In July, the show starts at 9 p.m., in August at 8 p.m., in September and October at 7 p.m.