Masada National Park

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On an isolated clifftop in the heart of the desert, a lofty plateau overlooking the Dead Sea and the untamed landscape of the Judean Desert, there once stood a magnificent palace.

In the days of the Great Revolt, the last of the rebels against Rome entrenched themselves at Masada, and turned their desperate fight into a symbol of the struggle for freedom. Because of the enthralling historic events that took place on the mountain, and the archaeological finds that have been revealed there, UNESCO has declared Masada National Park a World Heritage Site.

Main points of interest:

The western complex access to Masada National Park from the direction of Arad (Route 3199).

  • The sound and light show – an audiovisual show held in the amphitheater.
  • Roman siege engines – reconstruction of Roman siege engines.
  • Overnight camping – permanent tents and campsite (for a fee).
  • The ramp – ascent to the site up the ramp built by the Romans takes about 15 – 20 minutes.
  • The ancient northern cisterns – a visit to the vast water cisterns carved out of the mountain.

The mountain plateau:

  • The Northern Palace - the remains of Herod's magnificent private palace, built on three levels, with mosaic floors, and reconstructed wall paintings.
  • The synagogue - the remains of one of the only synagogues to have been preserved from Second Temple times.
  • The Lots room - the room in which potshards were found bearing the names of the Sicarii living at Masada during the Revolt.
  • The Byzantine church - the remains of the church of the hermit monks, with a mosaic floor and decorated walls.
  • The Western Palace - a spacious palace built during the time of Herod.
  • The bathhouse - the remains of a Roman-style bathhouse with many rooms.
  • The commandant's office - a set of rooms decorated with reconstructed wall paintings.
  • The southern cistern - a very large cistern for collecting water on the mountain plateau.

The eastern complex:

Access to the Masada National Park from the direction of the Dead Sea (Route 90). At the eastern entrance, there is also a cafeteria, restaurant, souvenir shop, and first aid station.

  • Masada Museum – the Yigal Yadin Masada Museum has been open since 2007, a gift of the Shuki Levy Foundation. A visit to the museum can also include a theatrical narrative experience, giving visitors the background and setting the scene before visiting the site itself.
  • The cable car - from the eastern entrance complex, a modern cable car goes up to the Snake Path Gate at the top of the mountain.
  • The Snake Path - visitors can also ascend to the top of Masada via the Snake Path - which takes about an hour going up, and 30 minutes coming back down.

Details (main points of interest)

The western entrance complex – access to Masada National park from the direction of Arad (Route 3199).

  • Sound and light show – as night falls, sound and light shows are presented in the amphitheater at the entrance, telling the story of settlement at Masada.
  • Roman siege engines – at the foot of the ramp are reconstructions of Roman siege engines, used by Universal Studios when filming "Masada" in 1979.
  • Overnight camping – with permanent tents and camping areas. The campsite is equipped with toilets, hot showers, and cooking areas, for a fee.
  • The ramp – to the west of Masada is a ridge that is just 60 m lower than the top of the mountain. In the year 73 CE, when the Romans besieged the Zealots who had made their stronghold on the mountain, they took advantage of a natural rock-fall at this site and built an earthen ramp over it, supported by wooden beams. After a few months the Romans were able to raise a siege tower on the ramp, and destroy the wall. In response, the besieged occupants of the mountain built an improvised wall, but this was torched by the Romans. Above the ramp, a section of the casemate wall is missing, the section that was breached during the siege and through which the Romans entered Masada.
  • The northern cisterns – Herod built an impressively large water collection system. Dams built along the Nachal Masada riverbed diverted the floodwaters into channels, which filled 12 vast water cisterns on two levels, quarried out of the northern slopes of Masada. These cisterns could hold 40,000 m³ of water, which was then carried up through the Water Gate by pack animals, to storage cisterns on the mountain plateau.

The mountain plateau:

  • The Northern Palace - the Northern Palace was daringly constructed on the hilltop, over the chasm. The palace is built on three rock terraces, with a total height difference of some 30 m, and required strong retaining walls. The palace shows Hellenistic and Roman architectural influence. On the upper terrace were Herod's private rooms, a residential wing with four rooms and a central hall. The rooms were paved with geometric mosaic designs, and frescoes were painted on the walls. The mosaic floor of the south-western room has been preserved, patterned with black and white hexagons. This is a common design in Rome and its environs, and its existence here may be evidence of the origins of the artists who created it. Outside is a semicircular patio, formerly surrounded by columns, which looks out over the He'etekim Cliff in the Judean Desert, the Dead Sea, and the Roman siege array. In the center of the middle terrace was a circular hall surrounded by columns, of which only the foundations remain. This was the reception and banqueting hall. The lower terrace also held a hall, surrounded by colonnades. The exterior walls of the hall were decorated with stucco designs, and the interior walls - with frescoes (wall paintings painted on damp plaster) depicting colored imitation marble panels and geometric designs. The palace also had a small bathhouse, in which were found the skeletal remains of what are presumed to have been three of the rebels, as well as a woman's braided hair, remarkably well preserved.
  • The synagogue - a building used in Herod's time as a stable was turned into a synagogue by the rebels. Two pits dug into the floor of the room in which fragments of biblical scrolls were found seem to have served as a geniza, a storage archive for religious texts. Benches were built along the walls. This is one of the few ancient synagogues that was in use at the end of Second Temple times. To the south of the synagogue, in the "casement of the scrolls", a collection of articles from the time of the Revolt was found, including sections of scrolls and papyrus.
  • The Lots room – many inscribed pottery shards (ostraca) were found in this room, mainly bearing people's names, including 'Ben Yair', the name of the leader of the Sicarii, the dominant group among the Masada rebels. These could perhaps have been the lots cast by the rebels on the night they decided to put an end to their lives, or they may have had to do with the administration of life in the rebel community.
  • The Byzantine church - the church was the meeting place of the hermit monks. The nave of the church is paved with colorful mosaics, and the walls are decorated with patterns made by setting pottery and stones in plaster. The apse at the end of the nave is completely preserved. Glass from the window in the wall of the apse was found in the courtyard, as well as dozens of clay tiles from the roof. In the western room of the church is a mosaic floor decorated with floral patterns and medallions, depicting fruit and a basket of communion bread.
  • The Western Palace - this palace is the largest building on Masada, 3700 m² in size, built by Herod. The entrance lobby has inbuilt benches, and the walls are decorated with stucco designs. On the first story is a hall. Because of four depressions in the floor in which the legs of the King's throne could have been set, it has been assumed that this was the "Throne Room". A flight of stairs leads to the second story, which looks out over the bathing complex below, with its magnificent mosaic floor.
  • The bathhouse - the bathhouse is built in Roman style, and all its rooms are well preserved. At the entrance is a courtyard surrounded by columns, intended for gymnastic exercise. The dressing room (apodyterium) is decorated with frescoes and special stone tiles. During the Revolt, an immersion pool was built here. In the tepid room (tepidarium) the frescoes have been wonderfully well preserved. An opening in the wall of this room leads to the stepped pool of the cold room (frigidarium), in which the floor rests on small columns. Hot air flowed through ceramic pipes incorporated in the walls, heating the room. From the roof of the bathhouse, the entire Masada plateau is spread out before the observer.
  • The commandant's office - the commandant's office, by the Snake Path Gate, is built as a series of rooms decorated with frescoes (wall paintings made on damp plaster). Most of the decorations are geometric patterns and imitation marble, while others have floral designs.
  • The southern cistern - 64 steps lead down to the bottom of the large cistern. Carved into the wall by the staircase is an inscription - left by a youth movement group on a visit to Masada in 1941.

The eastern entrance complex

Access to the Masada National Park from the direction of the Dead Sea (Route 90). At the eastern entrance, there is also a cafeteria, restaurant, souvenir shop, and first aid station.

  • Masada Museum – the Yigal Yadin Masada Museum has been open since 2007. A visit to the museum can also include a theatrical experience and radio narrative, giving visitors the background and setting the scene before visiting the site itself.
  • The cable car - from the eastern entrance there is a cable car up to the Snake Path Gate at the top of the mountain. The modern cable car replaces the old cable car of the 1970s, and fits in better and less intrusively with the surroundings. The old cable car was installed in 1971, carrying a limited number of visitors to the lowest point on the hilltop, from which they continued their ascent to the top by stairs. In 1998 the cable car system was replaced in order to meet the requirements of the increasing number of visitors to the site. The lower cable car station was built at the foot of the mountain, becoming part of the visitor center complex. The stairs at the upper station were removed, and entry to the fortress today is through a suspended bridge, making access possible also for people with disabilities.
  • The Snake Path - visitors can also ascend to the Masada plateau via the Snake Path - a climb of about an hour.

Observation points

  • The eastern observation point – a breathtaking view of the Dead Sea and the hills of Moab.
  • The observation point in the Northern Palace – a view from Herod's private palace. From here it is possible to see the He'etekim Cliff in the Judean Desert, the shores of the Dead Sea, the ancient path to the springs of Nachal Tze'elim, and the Roman siege dike.
  • The western observation point – with a lovely view of the Judean Desert, Nachal Masada, and the Roman ramp.
  • The southern observation point – looking out over the He'etekim Cliff and Mt Eleazar, where the Roman army set up its eighth camp.

 

Identity card

Status

Declared a national park in 1966.

The reasons for this declaration

  • The site of the last stand of the Jewish rebels against Rome, who did not give up their liberty even at the cost of their lives.
  • The state of preservation of the fortress - a palace built by Herod in the heart of an arid area, a rare architectural jewel by any standard.
  • The breathtaking views of the He'etekim Cliff in the Judean Desert.

Location in the country

Masada National Park rises over the shores of the Dead Sea, an isolated crag between Ein Gedi and Ein Bokek.

Activities of the Nature and Parks Authority​

Over the past two decades, considerable development work has been carried out at Masada National Park to conserve and restore the archaeological finds, and to make the site accessible to visitors, looking forward to the 21st century:

  • Promoting Masada National Park as a World Heritage Site - the Nature and Parks Authority encouraged the declaration of Masada National Park as a World Heritage Site by the international organization UNESCO, and it was designated as such in 2001.
  • A new cable car for the convenience of the visitors - the ultra-modern cable car replaces the old cable car from the 1970s. It fits in better with its surroundings, carries a larger number of people to meet the increasing demand of visitors, and its new location also allows access for people with disabilities.
  • Restoration of the Snake Path Gate - restoration and conservation of the stucco of the Snake Path Gate, as well as the original benches used by the guards and visitors waiting for entry to Masada.
  • Conservation and restoration of the frescoes in the Northern Palace - after many years of exposure to the air, the original frescoes in the Northern Palace were damaged, and the Nature and Parks Authority has carried out an accurate reconstruction of the antique paintings. The frescoes were removed from the walls and restored in a laboratory set up at the site itself. The plaster and paints were made using the ancient methods and the materials used at the time of Herod. The work was carried out by the conservation team of the Nature and Parks Authority Southern District. The original is on display in the Masada Museum next to the visitor center.
  • Sound and light show - the show takes place on the western side of Masada, and tells the story of Masada in the last days of the siege. The mountain serves as a backdrop for the dramatic lighting and impressive spectacle. The show lasts 50 minutes, and is held on Tuesdays and Thursdays between March and October, at 9 p.m. (Access only from the direction of Arad, via Route 3199.)
  • Yigal Yadin Masada Museum - the museum has been open since May 2007 at the eastern entrance, giving visitors a unique experience that incorporates archaeological finds from Masada in theatrical surroundings.
  • Modern methods of illustration – the Nature and Parks Authority has invested considerable resources in means of illustration, and glass signs giving brief and visible explanations of every point of interest. There are relief maps of Masada, models of the main sites, such as the Northern Palace, and an interactive water model allowing visitors to learn about rainwater collection on the mountain plateau in the past.
  • Access for people with disabilities - Masada National Park has been made accessible for people with mobility, sight and hearing disabilities, including the sites on the mountain plateau, the eastern entrance, and the western entrance.
  • Masada conservation team – the Nature and Parks Authority has established a designated conservation team for the conservation and restoration of Masada National Park. The team handles the restoration and conservation of the ancient buildings, takes care of the frescoes, and makes it possible for them to be shown to the visiting public. Because of the nature of the site and the large number of visitors, the team works permanently at Masada, throughout the year.

Wildlife

Tristram's Starling - a vocal bird whose call resembles a whistle, coal black with orange stripes on its wings, which are mainly noticeable in flight. The main difference between males and females is the color of their heads – the females have grey plumage, and the males, black. Tristram's starlings living around Masada are not afraid to come close to humans, and can be found among the visitors in male-female pairs and in groups. Another common bird is the blackstart, which is about the size of a sparrow. It can be identified by its grey body and black tail, which it frequently fans out. The fan-tailed raven can be seen hovering in the skies over Masada, carrying out aerial acrobatics for its pleasure, as can the brown-necked raven.

In the foothills of Masada you may well meet ibexes, which have also become accustomed to the presence of people, and wander around as if they own the place.

Sources

The most important historic source for the history of Masada is the writings of Yosef Ben Matityahu, Flavius Josephus, the Jewish historian, writer and military leader who lived at the time of the Great Revolt against Rome.

Hasmonean period:

According to Josephus, the first to fortify the place was Jonathan the High Priest, and it was he who called it Masada, meaning "fortress". This appears to refer to the Hasmonean king Alexander Janaeus, who ruled between 103 - 76 BCE. So far no remains have been found at Masada that can be attributed with certainty to this period.

Herodian period:

In the year 40 BCE Herod and his family fled to Masada to escape Antigonus Mattathias, the Hasmonean who was crowned king by the Parthians. When Antigonus besieged Masada, Herod left to get help, and those trapped inside almost died of thirst, only saved from death by a sudden rainfall. Herod returned to Masada and lifted the siege. At the end of the first century BCE, Herod built a fortress on Masada with the intention of protecting his kingdom from outside enemies, and also to protect him from the enemies within. Inside the fortress he built a sumptuous palace complex, bathhouses, store rooms, vast water cisterns, and casemate walls. After his death (in 4 BCE), the Romans set a guard force on Masada.

The Great Revolt:

During the period of the Great Revolt, which broke out in 66 CE, Masada was taken over by a group of rebels, called by Josephus Sicarii (because of the short dagger – sica - that they concealed in their clothing). The rebels on Masada were joined by the last of the rebels who left Jerusalem, including Eleazar Ben Yair, who became commander of the mountain.

The rebels lived in the rooms of the casemate wall, and in some of Herod's palaces. They built a synagogue and ritual baths, and maintained a community life. In 73 or 74 CE, after the conquest of Jerusalem, the Roman army went to Masada and imposed a siege in order to wipe out the pocket of resistance remaining there. Led by the military leader Flavius Silva, the Roman soldiers built eight camps and a dike (siege wall) encircling the mountain. Over a period of several months, the Romans also built a rampart to the west of the mountain, which reached the walls of Masada. When the defenders of Masada realized that there was no hope left, they chose death over enslavement. According to Josephus, who described the last hours of the defenders in great detail, only two women and five children found a hiding place and remained alive.

The Byzantine period

In the fifth century CE, Masada was settled by monks, who established a lavritic (hermetic) monastery. Some people have identified the monastery on Masada with the Marda monastery mentioned in the literature of the Church Fathers. This settlement appears to have ceased to exist with the rise of Islam in the seventh century CE.

Archaeological research at Masada

After the Byzantine period, Masada was abandoned and forgotten. The site was identified for the first time in 1838 by the American researchers Edward Robinson and Eli Smith, and over the years it was excavated by other American and European researchers.

Shmariya Gutman was the first Israeli archaeologist to excavate at Masada, in 1953, making many important discoveries. A delegation of Israel's top archaeologists excavated at Masada in 1956, followed by the excavation team of Yigal Yadin in 1963. In the following years, Prof. Ehud Netzer and Dr. Guy Stiebel also excavated at Masada.

Geology

Masada lies at the top of an isolated block in the He'etekim Cliff, which bounds the Dead Sea Valley. The Masada Cliff is a horst - a block that has risen up and sheared off from the He'etekim Cliff. The summit of Masada rises to a height of 400 m above the level of the Dead Sea, and the mountain is made up of a series of chalk, dolomite and marl strata. The seasonal rivers of the high desert break through the line of cliffs in a series of vast canyons, crevices and high waterfalls. Nachal Masada is one of these rivers.

The Dead Sea basin is part of the Syrian-African rift - a geological structure whose northern end lies in the foothills of the Taurus Mountains in Turkey, while its southern end is in East Africa. The rift was formed as a result of vertical subsidence and horizontal movement, during which the eastern bank of the rift (Jordan) moved northwards towards the western bank. The Dead Sea is the lowest continental area in the world. In 2013, the level of the Dead Sea was 426 m below sea level and it loses around 1 m of its water level every year.

 How to get here: Some 18 km south of Ein Gedi or 12 km from Ein Bokek to the cable car on the east (Dead Sea) side.
 
Access to the top of Masada: Today it is possible to get to the top of the mountain by cable car on the Dead Sea side, or by two paths:
The Rampart Path:
A steep path, but short and convenient, ascending from the western parking lot of Masada (access from Arad). This path, which dates back to ancient times and was made by monks in the Byzantine period, surmounts a difference in elevation of 100 m. It is a 20 minute climb.

The Snake Path:
A long  path that covers a height difference of 350 m. The path is broad and easy, and ascends from the eastern parking lot at Masada. It is a 45 minute climb.
The Snake Path opens an hour before sunrise every morning. The Snake Path is closed in exceptional weather conditions, usually as a result of IDF reports on severe weather conditions in the area.
 
Length of visit: Three hours

 

Best season: All year round (in summer, morning is preferable)

 

Don't miss:  A visit to the Yigal Yadin Masada Museum, and the sound and light show on the west side of Masada (access by car, from Arad only).
 

Wedding/Bar Mitzva ceremonies:

For particulars press here

Other attractions

• Visitor center with modern services for visitors. Film telling the story of Masada, model showing Masada and the surrounding area, display of archaeological finds.
• Yigal Yadin Masada Museum, donated by the Shuki Levy Foundation
• The impressive light and sound show illustrating the history of the Masada National Park, every Tuesday and Thursday
• Ceremonial events are held in Masada National Park (click here for further information)

Opening hours

Last entry to the park is one hour before closing time


Summer:
Sunday - Thursday and Saturday – 8 am – 5 pm
Fridays and the eve of holidays – 8 am – 4 pm


Winter:
Sunday - Thursday and Saturday – 8 am – 4 pm
Fridays and the eve of holidays – 8 am – 3 pm

 


On the eve of holidays, 8 am – 1 pm
On the eve of the Day of Atonement, 8 am – 12 noon

Contact us

Telephone: 08-6584207/8
Sound and light show reservation center - 08-9959333
Fax: 08-6584464
Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/masada2012

Entrance fee

Adult - NIS 28, child – NIS 14
Group (over 30): Adult - NIS 23, child – NIS 13
Students- NIS 24

 

Subscribers:
Entrance is free for annual (Matmon) subscribers, but there is a fee for the cable car:
Adult return – NIS 47
Adult one-way - NIS 28
Child return – NIS 28
Child one-way - NIS 14

 

Eastern entry plaza (entrance fee and cable car in both directions):
Adult – NIS 74, child – NIS 42
Group: Adult - NIS 69, child – NIS 39
Students- NIS 63

 

Entrance fee and cable car in one direction:
Adult - NIS 56, child – NIS 28
Group (over 30): Adult - NIS 51, child – NIS 28
Students- NIS 48
 

Snake Path / Roman Rampart (Ascent on foot - from first light):
Adult - NIS 28, child - NIS 14
Group (over 30): Adult - NIS 23, child - NIS 13
Students- NIS 24

 

Cable car one direction (for subscribers and cardholders):
Adult - NIS 29, child - NIS 15 

 

Cable car both directions (for subscribers and cardholders):
Adult - NIS 47, child – NIS 29
 

Museum
Entrance to Masada Museum - NIS 20 (child / adult)

Further information

Click here for site pamphlet


    Content under construction, the information apears soon.

     In the Masada National Park adaptations to make the site accessible to people with disabilities are being made. Adaptations currently in place include:

    Entrance Lobby

    • Covered parking
    • commercial and public area
    • theaters
    • elevators
    • Assistive technology for people with hearing impairments in the lobby
    • cable car and the sound and light show (by prior arrangement with site management).

     

    Cable Car and Bridge

    Suitable for wheelchairs.

     

    The Mountain Top

    • Paths
    • restroom
    • observation points
    • models
    • relief maps adapted for people with visual impairments
    •  There is an electric vehicle for people with disabilities (by prior arrangement with site management)
    • We recommend that visitors with significant mobility impairments visit with a companion.

    31.310935,35.362628
    Masada National Park