Masada National Park

Published: 21st October 2010
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UNESCO World Heritage Site - the mountain that became a symbol of determination and heroism

New – Museum at Masada National Park

Masada, the ancient fortress built by King Herod the Great atop a lofty natural plateau overlooking the Dead Sea, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001. In adding Masada to its prestigious World Heritage List, UNESCO cited several aspects of Masada’s universal value: the site preserves a grand first-century Roman villa, the remains of the most complete Roman siege system in the world, and tells the story of the tragic events leading to the last chapter of the Great Revolt of the Jews against the Romans – the last stand of the rebels who became a symbol of the struggle fight for freedom from oppression.

Herod’s Masada

Herod the Great is renowned as the builder of Masada. The plateau’s natural defensive attributes –vertical cliffs some 400 meters above the Dead Sea – were not enough for the builder-king, and he fortified the 400 x 600-meter plateau further, with a casemate wall and towers. But he also saw to the site’s creature comforts, building large and small palaces, a bathhouse, storerooms for food and drink and many other amenities.

The Northern Palace is Masada’s most impressive structure, constructed against the northern cliff-face as if hanging over the abyss. It is built on three rock terraces, each containing grand rooms and supported by gigantic retaining walls to expand their size. The four bedrooms on the top level had a semicircular balcony that revealed magnificent views of the surroundings, especially En Gedi to the north and the Dead Sea and the Mountains of Moab to the east. A staircase led to the middle level – a large, round hall surrounded by a colonnade that extended almost to the cliff-edge. On the lowest terrace was another large, colonnaded hall adorned with spectacular wall paintings, and a private bathhouse for the palace's residents. Herod also built a large bathhouse atop the plateau for the other inhabitants of Masada.

On the top of the mountain Herod built 29 storerooms, each one 27 meters long. Excavations there turned up hundreds of clay pots that could hold huge amounts of food.

Herod also hewed 12 gigantic cisterns into the mountainside to collect flood water; they had a capacity of some 40,000 cubic meters, enough to supply water for all the needs of the inhabitants, from drinking water to a swimming pool, bathhouses and agriculture. Thus in a rare combination of natural conditions and human initiative, Masada became an impregnable fortress – almost.

Masada of the rebels

Despite the extensive evidence of Masada's grandeur, it seems that the most moving finds are the lowly objects left by the Jewish rebels, which make it possible to reconstruct the end of the Great Revolt.

After the rebels took over Masada, they turned the palaces into their command posts and used them as public buildings. A building near the northern wall, which in Herod's day had been a stable, was turned into a synagogue. Used while the Temple still stood, it is one of the earliest synagogues in the world. The rebels also built two ritual immersion baths, whose forms were in keeping with the requirements of Jewish law.

The rebels lived mainly in rooms in the casemate walls, as attested by stoves, niches for food storage and other finds from daily life unearthed in them. Articles of clothing, baskets, household implements and other items were found in piles of ash, apparently burned intentionally by their owners so as not to fall into the hands of the enemy.

More than 5,000 coins were found at Masada, mostly minted by the rebels. Especially moving are the silver coins bearing the words "Shekel of Israel" and "Jerusalem the Holy," with letters indicating each of the five years of the rebellion. Portions of scrolls were uncovered, along with more than 700 ostraca (sherds bearing inscriptions).

Hundreds of ballista balls fired at the fortress by the Romans and found atop the plateau attest to the heated battle between the rebels and the forces of their imperial enemy. Large rolling stones that the rebels may have used as ammunition, and skeletons, apparently of warriors who committed suicide, were found in various locations.

Remains of the Roman siege on Masada are the most complete examples of such a siege in the world. The Roman camps, siege wall and siege ramp are clearly visible from the top of the plateau. The siege wall that surrounded the base of Masada is two kilometers long and two meters thick. The extent of the Roman siege-works could be considered surprising in light of the fact that they were meant to counter the resistance of 960 men, women and children. As such the remains demonstrate the determination of the rebels to resist the might of the conqueror.

Conservation at Masada

The Israel Nature and Parks Authority has invested great resources in conservation at Masada, assisted by world-renowned experts. The work includes reconstruction of collapsed walls and reconstruction and restoration of buildings – carried out with authentic materials. The use of such materials is particularly important when it comes to frescoes, mosaics and other artistic elements.

Access routes to the top of Masada

The top of the plateau can be reached by cable-car from the Dead Sea side, or by two trails:

1. The ramp trail ¬– a steep but relatively short trail ascending from the western parking lot (access from the city of Arad), which takes about 20 minutes to climb, and has a height differential of about 100 meters. This trail was created by Byzantine monks.

2. The Snake Path ¬– a longer trail, with a height differential of about 350 meters, ascending from the eastern parking lot of Masada. It takes about 45 minutes to climb.

The Snake Path opens about one hour before sunrise, and is closed in extreme weather.

Sound and Light Show

A thrilling sound and light show on the western side of the mountain tells the story of the rebels’ last days at Masada. It takes place from March to October ever Tuesday and Thursday. Individuals may attend the show without reservations; groups of more than 30 participants must reserve ahead of time.

Entrance fee to the sound and light show:

Adult NIS 45; child NIS 35

Groups (over 30 people): Adult NIS 41; child NIS 31

For group reservations and unscheduled showings of the sound and light show, fax the reservation center at 08-995-5052 or call 08-995-9333.

Spectators must arrive for the sound and light show at least 30 minutes before the show starts. Vehicle access is via the Arad-Masada road only (from the west); the drive from Arad takes approximately 25 minutes.

The show is simultaneously translated into English, Russian, French, Spanish and German through ear-phones rented at the site.

Overnight camping

Overnight camping is available for groups with prior reservation near the site of the sound and light show. Facilities include a large tent and areas where smaller tents may be pitched, as well as toilets, showers, cooking corners and barbecue equipment. The site is ideal for group activities and events.

To reserve space in the overnight campground, call 08-628-0404, ext. 3 (Shavit). Fax: 08-627-6853.

Audio-Guide at Masada

The Israel Nature and Parks Authority, Antenna Audio and Genesis Visions are proud to present an audio-guide to Masada. Using it, you can wander the site and listen to the thrilling story, including all the latest archaeological and other information. The audio-guide allows you to select information to listen to (including ‘the king’s bedroom, and gossip and politics from 2,000 years ago) according to your interests and your own pace. The explanation also features the sound-track from the musical "Masada" with sound effects and stories by the archaeologists who dug the site.

Guiding for the hearing-impaired

A headset with a T-link hook-up is available from park staff.

Tickets for the audio-guide may be purchased at the cashier booths. The tour is available in Hebrew, English, French and German and includes ear-phones for the visit to the Yigal Yadin Masada Museum. The service is provided by Antenna Audio in cooperation with Genesis Vision.

How to get there:

Masada is located approximately 18 kilometers south of En Gedi and 12 kilometers north of En Bokek. The cable-car is on the east (Dead Sea) side of the site. Access to the sound and light show by vehicle is from the city of Arad only.

Useful information

Length of tour: 3hours

Best season: year-round

Don't miss: The Yigal Yadin Masada Museum

Other facilities and attractions: audio-guide, souvenir shop; museum; overnight camping for groups (west side), guesthouse (east side), restaurant (for groups by reservation: 08-652-0999; 050-680-0003 – Udi).

Hours: April–September 8 A.M.–5 P.M.

October–March 8 A.M– 4 P.M.

Fridays and holiday eves, site closes one hour earlier than above.

Cable-car hours: Sat.–Thurs.: 8 A.M.–4 P.M.; Friday and holiday eves 8 A.M.–2 P.M.; Yom Kippur eve 8 A.M.–noon.

Last entry one hour before above closing hour

Phone: 08-658-4207/8

Reservation center for sound and light show: 08-995-9333

Fax / Email: 08-658-4464

Entrance fee: Eastern side (cable-car)

Adult: NIS 67; child: NIS 38

Group (over 30 people): Adult: NIS 63: child NIS 37

Israeli senior citizen: NIS 38

Eastern side (Snake Path):

Adult: NIS 25; child: NIS 13

Group (over 30 people): Adult: NIS 21: child NIS 12

Israeli senior citizen: NIS 13

Masada National Park combination ticket (entrance and cable-car)

Adult: NIS 49; child: NIS 26

Group (over 30 people): Adult: NIS 45: child NIS 25

Israeli senior citizen: NIS 26

Cable-car one-way: Adult NIS 24; child NIS 13

Cable-car round trip: Adult NIS 42; child NIS 25

Entrance to dogs:

Accessibility: parking, entrance pavilion, cable-car and visit to the plateau. Three-dimensional models on site assist the visually impaired.

About the Author:

The Dead sea has been chosen as one of the 28 finalists in the new7wonders campaign, and the vote will be held on Nov. 11 2011.In order to support the nomination and expose the Dead sea to more people in the world - we have built a website: and started a facebook group: Please support the Dead sea by voting on the web.

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