Thursday, February 07, 2008


Following a packed day of touring the Negev, including Mitzpe Ramon, we west east on Saturday to the Judean Desert. The drive from Kibbutz Urim took about two hours, which was about the longest to date I had experienced in Israel. I still have a hard time comprehending how so much fits into a place that small. As we drove Julia explained the Bedouin towns constructed by the Israeli government and the unrecognized villages throughout the Negev. We drove past several of these along the way. As we approached the Judean Desert the landscape became steeper and the popping of my ears indicated we were dropping in elevation. Soon we had descended nearly 1,000 feet below sea level. At this point David pulled over at a scenic overlook - even at this distance below sea level there was quite a view.We drove down along the southern part of the Dead Sea, a shimmering light blue lake cut into sections by man-made salt evaporation pans. The mountains of Jordan were barely visible through the haze. We came up to the visitor center at Masada and decided to tour the newly constructed museum. I had a passing knowledge of the site from before. I knew it was a fortress that the Romans had sieged, but beyond that I was relatively clueless. I think I'd heard of it in conjunction with the band O.A.R. The museum quickly remedied my ignorance. Masada was first constructed as a palace and redoubt for King Herod, the Roman ruler of Judea back in Biblical times. During the Jewish-Roman War a group of Jewish zealots took over the palace from the Romans in 66 CE and were the last bastion of the rebellion by 72 CE. The Roman Army laid siege to the fortess, building a wall around the mountain and a rampart up to the fortress wall. The legend of Masada is that once the Romans breached the walls, the Jewish defenders chose suicide over surrender. The ruins were excavated in the early 1960's and the site is now a significant tourist attractions. For me it was my second UNESCO World Heritage site in as many days. We took a cable car up to the top, which was an easy decision. Here's the view up toward Masada as we waited for the cable car.The ruins of the fortress and palace sprawled across the plateau. The palaces of Herod were located on the northern face, followed by extensive storerooms and houses. In contrast to Avdat, there were significant numbers of tourists present. We followed the guideposts around the site, and I occasionally eavesdropped in on a passing tour guide, most of which conducted their tours in English. Here is a view looking across the storerooms from the uppermost palace.The overlook at the upper palace looked out upon a unbroken expanse of mountainous terrain and salt flats. A gentle breeze came off the cliff face, the reason why Herod chose this location for his quarters. We walked along a narrow walkway along the western cliffside to the lower palace. Several frescoes had been excavated throughout the site, and at the lower palace several had been restored. Here is a picture of the three palaces on the north face of Masada.The Romans built a rampart along the western side of the plateau, and after a siege of several months the outer walls were breached. The story as it's told at Masada (which is disputed, like any historical legend) is that the Jewish rebels had placed a wooden wall behind the stone wall breached by the Roman battering ram. The Romans set this wall on fire as the sun set, and over the next night the Jewish rebels had killed themselves rather than surrender. According to the legend, the men killed their wives and children then drew lots. The ones that were selected killed the others since suicide was discouraged, then came another lottery until there was one man left, who committed suicide. I guess the don't call 'em Zealots for nothing. Later, I saw a good number of souvenirs emblazoned with "Masada shall never fall again." which is apparently an IDF slogan. I was a bit discomforted with the reverence shown for the suicidal Jewish rebels. It brought to my mind the Japanese civilians at Saipan in World War II. Granted, the Roman Army wasn't likely as humane as the American Army, but it's still something I found pretty despicable. Here's a picture of the Roman rampart as viewed from above.Natan and I had decided that we would walk down from Masada rather than take the cable car. We followed one of the original routes, known as the Snake Path. It took us about half an hour to traverse our way down. I don't know how long going up would have taken. There were railings interspersed almost randomly along the route, and Natan and I had a running commentary on just how steep of a slope necessitated a railing. Once we reached the bottom there were several previously unknown muscles in the shin region that made their presence known. Walking downhill is most certainly not as easy as I'd anticipated, especially when there just wasn't a lot of room for error. Once we reached the bottom I turned around and took this picture:
I think of the unfortunate Roman soldier - "You want me to do WHAT now?"


Blogger over my head said...

Hey I know who King Herod is! (being from the bible belt South) I can't wait to hear about more of your adventures and see if I am familiar with the stories.

8:38 AM  
Blogger over my head said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

8:38 AM  
Blogger PrincessGreen17 said...

Wow, there is so much history over there.

11:50 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home