For years, Masada has been at the top of every list of Israel’s most popular sites, both for Israelis and tourists. In fact, almost all the tourists put Masada on their tour map in Israel. And really, visiting Masada immediately clarifies the secret of its magic. Masada has a combination that makes it an extraordinary experience – a spectacular landscape, fascinating archaeological remains and a dramatic story. Now, add to that a cable car, a beautiful sunrise, a night camping site, an audiovisual presentation and a museum – and you’ll understand that it’s a site that’s just not to be missed!
To Reach the Peak
There are 3 main ways to reach the top of the mountain:
The Snake Path – חa favorite for determined climbers, with a good fitness level and a fondness for beautiful sunrises. The ascent is from the east (Route 90), it takes about an hour and has a high endurance level. The path opens every day an hour before sunrise and closes an hour before the site closes.
The Roman Path – easy and friendly. This is a moderate ascent of about 20 minutes, with a medium endurance level. Arrival is from the west (Route 3199 from Arad). The trail opens daily, half an hour before sunrise, and closes an hour before sunset.
It is important to know that, on days of intense heat-load, there are restrictions regarding the times of ascent and descent, and it’s a good idea to check this out in advance, on the Nature and Parks Authority website.
Cable Car – Beyond the fact that, within a few minutes you’ll reach the top of the mountain, it’s also an amazing experience hovering in a spectacular view of the Genesis-like Desert and the Blue Sea. For the cable car, there is an additional charge.
What You’ll Find on the Mountain
The trip between the archaeological remains is a trip between historical periods and stories. King Herod chose to build a retreat from his enemies on Masada, and a holiday home for the winter. As befits Herod, he completed the job – big-time! On the northern mountainside he built a magnificent three-level palace, in an intricate and daring architectural operation, whose remains can still be seen today – carved pillars, mosaic floors that suggest the splendor that was once here in the heart of the desert. Before you descend to the lower palace levels you can see, at the top level, a reconstruction-model of the original palace.
One of Herod’s largest and most complex enterprises in Masada, is an elaborate water system. He built a series of dams in the streams, built plastered channels through which the water was transported, dug 12 water cisterns carved into two levels on the mountainside, and another 2 large pits up on the summit. This system allowed him to store rainwater, floodwaters and water from the streams, and enable a steady and stable supply of water to the mountain’s residents. The supplies were so great that Herod was able to allow himself to build, on the summit, in the heart of the desert, a luxurious bathhouse with hot water, as well as a sprawling swimming pool in the southern part of the mountain. Later, on the historical timeline, Jewish rebels living on Masada also used Herod’s water system and even built two mikvehs (ritual baths) on the mountain. Today, much of the water system on the mountain can still be seen, as well as a model representation where you can pump water and illustrate the process.
Some 70 years after Herod’s death, in 66 AD, a group of rebels reached the mountain -which Joseph Matthias (Josephus Flavius), called the Sicarii – and captured Masada from the Roman garrison that was staying there. The Roman Commissioner, Flavius Silva, then decided to lay siege to Masada. The dramatic ending is familiar to everyone – when the people of Masada realized that their fate was doomed, they decided to commit suicide, preferring death over life in captivity. The next day, when the Roman army broke through the wall on the western side, they found the bodies of some 1,000 people – men, women and children.
From that tragic night, remains can still be seen today – in the Masada Museum you can see stones with the names of the warriors inscribed on them. These stones, called Ostracons, probably depict the names of the fated, prior to the mass suicide. The room where the Ostracons were found is called the ‘Room of Fate’, and you can enter and imagine the great drama that took place there. Another interesting find from that night is a long braid of a woman’s hair, which has been almost fully preserved, and it can also be seen today in the museum at the foot of the mountain.
Masada remained isolated until the fifth century, when reclusive monks arrived and made it their home. They used the remains from the rebellion period and even added new structures. From this period, remains of a beautiful Byzantine church can still be seen today, with an impressive apse and spectacular mosaic floors.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the next chapter in Masada’s history was recorded. As the Zionist Movement awakened, Masada became a symbol and teenagers began to arrive via long and dangerous routes; the living spirit behind them being a man called Shmaria Guttman. After the establishment of the State of Israel and the IDF, Masada became a place where soldiers are sworn in, in a military ceremony, and Masada’s myth becomes all the more significant and profound.
In 1965, Yigal Yadin began his famous excavations on the mountain. Excavations that are continued by his successors, to this day. The mountain continues to slowly reveal its secrets, and the remarkable stories that have taken place there.
Masada is Invested in the Sunrise
For about 30 years, an audiovisual presentation was projected onto the western mountainside of Masada. Generations of students and travelers watched the mythological images. In 2019, it was decided to create a new form of presentation and the new nightly show was launched – “Masada Invests in the Sunrise”. The show was produced using technology in VIDEO MAPPING among the largest carried out in Israel, and using advanced lighting. The songs were composed by Shlomo Gronich specifically for the presentation, which is performed, in part, by Harel Skaat, Liraz Cherchi, a large orchestra and choir, as well as some 60 actors and extras.
The production is spectacular, with rays of light and dizzying effects that manage to touch the soul and tell the story of the mountain in an all-encompassing and magic-filled way.
The show is screened in Hebrew, and headphones with English and Russian translations are available at the entrance. The screening takes place on the western part of the mountain and tickets must be purchased in advance, on the Nature and Parks Authority website.