A Look at the Intriguing History of the Mountain Fortress of Masada at the Dead Sea

Masada is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Israel. It draws more than 700,000 visitors every year and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001. It is a natural fortress, an ancient fortification overlooking the Dead Sea. Masada is found on top of a rock plateau that is about 400 meters high on the east edge and 90 meters high on the west. Beyond the majestic natural beauty lies a rich history that makes Masada more enthralling.

 

The History of the Mountain Fortress of Masada

 

Hasmonean and Herodian Fortress

 

Information regarding Masada history was narrated by Josephus in his writings, a Jewish Roman historian. It began during the time the Jews, led by Alexander Jannaeus first fortified the site in the first century BCE. King Herod was next to conquer the mountain, towards the end of the century. Known as an aggressive ruler, he built grand cities, villas, and strongholds and improved the Jerusalem Temple. Herod the Great first used Masada when the Romans made him King of Judea. Years later, he began a huge construction project. He built two lavish palaces (the western and northern palace), bathhouses, swimming pool and a massive water system.

 

Siege of Masada

 

In 66 CE, a group of Jewish Zealots called Sicarii conquered Masada. In 70 CE, the second temple was destroyed and more members of the group came to settle on the mountain. The extremist troops attacked nearby villages and killed 700 children and women. In 73 CE, Lucius Flavius Silva, a Roman general, led a siege of Masada. They surrounded the area and constructed a line of fortifications and a high assault ramp made of bedrock. The ramp was finished after about three months of siege. This allowed the Romans to break the wall of the fortress with an ancient siege engine. The Romans enlisted the troop together with some Jewish prisoners. They built a siege tower and breached the fortress in 73 CE.

 

Stronghold of the Zealots

 

When the Roman troops finally entered the fortress, they didn’t know their opponents had prepared a “citadel of death” for them. The Jewish rebels set the place ablaze, except for the food storerooms and committed mass suicide. They didn’t set the stores on fire to let the Romans know that it was not hunger that led to their suicide. The Zealots were trapped in Masada, which they believed was the will of God. Two women and five children survived the tragedy because they hid in a cistern.

 

Masada’s heroic tale that ended dramatically caught the attention of many people who wanted to explore the desert and search for the fortress. It was finally identified in 1842, leading to in-depth excavations in the 1960s. Masada has since become a symbol of Jewish heroism, courage, and determination to free its land from oppressors.

 

Looking for more cool history? Check out what I’ve been writing lately.

 


About Christa Thompson

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Christa Thompson is the Founder and Senior Editor of The Fairytale Traveler. Christa has been traveling the world since 2003 when she attended a summer abroad study at the University of Cambridge in England. Since then, her wanderlust has been fierce. Her three passions in life are her son, traveling, and being creative. The Fairytale Traveler brand gives Christa the opportunity to do all of these things and to live intentionally every day.

“It’s never too late to believe in what you love and to pursue your dreams.” -Christa Thompson

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