Masada (Hebrew for fortress) is a flat plateau measuring roughly 1,000 by 2,000 feet, situated atop an isolated rock cliff at the western end of the Judean Desert. At the eastern end, the rock falls in a sheer dropof nearly 1,500 feet to the Dead Sea and, on the western side, it stands about 300 feet above the surrounding terrain. Herod the Great
built the fortress as a refuge. At the beginning of the Great Revolt
of the Jews against the Romans
in 66 CE, a group of Jewish rebels overcame the Roman garrison of Masada. After the fall of Jerusalem
, and the destruction of the Second Temple
(70 CE), they were joined by Zealots and their families who had fled from Jerusalem
This small band of 960 Jews held out against the mightiest army inthe world for three years. In 74 CE, the Roman army completed a rampart of thousands of tons of stones and beaten earth against the western approaches of the fortress and moved a battering ram up the ramp and breached the wall of the fortress.
Once the fall of Masada became imminent, Elazar ben Yair, the Zealots' leader, decided that all the Jewish defenders - men, women andchildren - should burn the fortress and commit suicide. According to Josephus, two women and five children managed to hide themselves during the mass suicide, and it was from one of these women that he heard an account of Elazar ben Yair's
final speech in which he said the Zealots "preferred death before slavery."
It is traditional to climb Masada before dawn to watch the sunrise over the Dead Sea. You can either hike up the snake path (about a45-minute walk) or take a short cable car ride to the summit.
Learn more about Masada
Virtual Tour content provided by the American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise(AICE). To find more information about the sites on our trip and general facts about Israel visit the Virtual Israel Experience
at AICE's Web site.