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Masada: fortress of legend

Near the Dead Sea in a remote and arid land, there is a plateau that is ceaselessly barraged by the sun. On that plateau are the remains of two fortified palaces and an ancient church, forgotten for more than 13 centuries before the ruins were rediscovered in 1828. The place is Masada, and it holds an interesting place in history thanks to a legend that grew up around it after the Jewish revolt against the Romans in the early part of the first century. Built by King Herod the Great, the palaces served as a summer home and also were a refuge he could flee to in case of revolt. Many years after Herod’s death, the Sicarii, a group of Jewish rebels, overcame the Roman garrison at Masada and took up residence. From there, the group conducted raids on the surrounding countryside. Six years later the Romans had enough of the Sicarii and lay siege to the fortress. In order to reach the top of the 300-foot plateau, the Romans built an earthen ramp, which is still in place today. The ramp was finished in the spring of the next year and the Romans breached the wall to enter the fortress. However, the historian Josephus reports that upon entering Masada, the Romans encountered a terrible silence, a fire in the palace and solitude on every side. The conquerors found seven survivors, who told them of a mass suicide by the Sicarii, who had preferred death to living under Roman rule. Although modern historians doubt the veracity of the story, the legend of Masada is well-known and remembered today. The location is still a major tourist spot, the most visited in Israel.

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Photo by Alberto Peral/Israeli Ministry of Tourism - www.goisrael.com

Although it is possible to approach the fortress on foot, most take the funicular (a cable car) to the top. The site originally had narrow and winding pathways that led up to fortified gates.

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Photo by Itamar Grinberg/Israeli Ministry of Tourism - www.goisrael.com

Some limited restoration has been allowed at the site, giving visitors a view of what the palace may have looked like in its heyday.

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Photo by Itamar Grinberg/Israeli Ministry of Tourism - www.goisrael.com

A view of Masada from the air shows the ramp the Romans built to reach the fortress.

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Tourists walk through the corridors that once hosted parties by King Herod and later desperate refugees from Roman rule.

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Photo by Israeli Ministry of Tourism - www.goisrael.com

The Caldarium, a bath-house, was lavish in its day. The fortress was served by a sophisticated water system that collected rain water.

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