Masada National Park is is an ancient fortification, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and a symbol of the struggle for freedom.
Masada is a poignant symbol of the continuing human struggle between oppression and liberty.
According to Josephus, Masada built by Hasmonean ruler Alexander Jannaeus in the first century BCE.
Josephus, also says that later, Herod built a large fortress with two palaces as a refuge for himself in the event of a revolt.
Since Herod was extremely unpopular due to heavy taxes he used to fund his lavish building projects and gifts to Rome, and he was paranoid by nature, this made sense even though he only stayed here two weeks a year.
In fact, he built a number of strongholds throughout the country including Herodium.
After Herods death, the relations between the Roman rulers and the Jewish people slowly deteriorated and in the year 67 CE some of the Jews decided to rebel.
A group called the Sicarii drove the small Roman troop out of Masada and took control of the fortification.
The Roman legions went from city to city fighting the rebellion and n the year 70 CE, the Romans conquered Jerusalem and razed both the city and the Temple.
Additional members of the Sicarii fled Jerusalem and took refuge in Masada.
In the winter of 73-74 CE, the Romans reached Masada where the rebellion made its last stand.
In the spring, they completed a high assault ramp which allowed the Romans to breach the walls of the fortress with a battering ram.
According to Josephus, when Roman troops entered the fortress, they buildings were ablaze and the 960 men, women, and children dead.
This was their last act of rebellion turning their desperate fight into a symbol of the struggle for freedom.
In modern times, Israelis took to Masada as inspiration for defending the Jewish nation, saying, “Masada will not fall again.”
Today, many Israeli soldiers sworn in at Masada as a reminder of the Jewish peoples determination for sovereignty.
The most impressive structure remaining is King Herod’s northern palace, built on three rock terraces overlooking the gorge below.
Near the palace is a large Roman style bath house with a colorful mosaic floor and walls decorated with murals.
There is also the western palace, the mikveh, storerooms, watchtowers, and synagogue.
These show the history of Masada, especially when viewed with artifacts such as storage containers, decorated pottery, scrolls, and coins.
The only synagogues to have been preserved from Second Temple times.
How to get to Masada
Like anywhere else in the Judean Dessert, including the near by Dead Sea, the best option is to drive.
There are two entrances and the roads don’t connect at Masada. If you are coming from Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, or the Dead Sea you won’t have any trouble.
Otherwise, if you take the wrong road, it will be challenging to reach the visitor center, the Masada Museum, the snake path, and the cable car.
The Egged Bus 486 travels from the Jerusalem Central Bus Station (platform 5) direct to the Dead Sea, Ein Gedi and Masada. However, there are no buses Friday afternoon till Saturday evening.
Many people try to time their trip with sunrise, which for me, was a wonderful experience.
The Snake Path
The Snake Path is the name of the path that climbs up to Masada from the east.
It takes about 45 minutes to climb it while going back down only takes about 25 minutes.
In summer, the path closes when the sun is at its hottest – which is usually when the military announces it’s too hot to do physical training outside.
The path opens an hour before sunrise because many tourists like to see the sunrise from the top of it.
Most travelers spend around 3 to 4 hours in Masada, so if you plan to hike the trail around Masada, then you’ll need to factor in another hour.
Otherwise, there are steps you can climb or you can take the cable car that runs from the tourist center at the foot of the mountain to the top.
I’ve climbed the Snack Path and gone back down via cable car to save time.
THE ROMAN RAMP PATH
This is the ramp that the Romans used which led from the western cliff to the Masada wall.
It was constructed using Jewish forced laborers by prisoners of war.
The base was constructed out of trees from the Judea mountains and covered with soil that had been collected in the area.
The result was a diagonal battery of about 100 meters that brought the attackers under the fortress walls.
It is by far the easiest way to climb to Masada by foot.
However, access by car to the west side is much longer, and it is not served with public transportation.
THE RUNNER PATH
During the siege on Masada, the Roman legion built several camps around the mountain.
The Runner Path was built to serve the runners that delivered messages from the eastern camps at the base of the mountain to the western camps on the cliff.
The ancient path is rough and rocky with steep and exposed sections. Metal handrails are installed where needed.
During the climb, you get terrific views on Northern palace with its three stages and the 12 water cisterns.
The trail also passes via the ruins of several Roman siege camps.
However, it is longer and harder than the Snake Path and the Roman Ramp Path.
THE ELAZAR PATH
Elazar mountain is situated south of Masada mountain with the deep Masada canyon separating between the two peaks.
It is the only mountain around Masada, which is higher than the palace and therefore offers what is arguably on Masada.
On its summit, you will also find the ruins of another Roman siege camps.
From the summit, there is a very steep descent into the Masada canyon and short climb to the base of the Roman ramp.
Like with the runner path, the terrain is rough and rocky, and the trail is steep and exposed in some sections.
It is also the the longest and hardest way to reach Masada.
Masada hosts both public and private events.
Many public music concerts take place at Masada, including philharmonic, opera, and popular singers.
There is also the night show which projects the story of the rebels’ last days onto the western slop every Tuesday and Thursday.
Masada Campsite West
At the western foot of Masada is the Masada Camping West.
This is a good option if you plan on doing a sunrise hike, however it can only be accessed from the city of Arad.
See the the parks department website for the most updated information regarding visiting hours and ticket prices.