When visiting Masada National Park, you will step back to ancient times. As you visit the park, you will be walking in the same places countless thousands have walked before. Before visiting, learn about the UNESCO World Heritage Site so you can fully absorb and appreciate all of the history that encompasses the park.
The Rich History of Masada National Park
The site atop the rugged and rocky desert plateau was chosen by Herod the Great, King of Judaea, as a place for his winter palaces. Construction of the fortress atop the massive plateau began and took place between 37 and 31 BCE. The fortress contained numerous buildings, including the lavish Northern Palace and the much larger Western Palace. Other buildings were also constructed, including a synagogue, a church, a commander’s residence, barracks, an armory, large cisterns, a bathhouse, and a storehouse complex.
Herod was appointed King of Judea by the Romans, and the fortress was a refuge for the king. After King Herod died, about 75 years passed, and in 66 CE, the Revolt of the Jews against the Romans began. The Masada fortress was taken over by the Jewish freedom fighters. In 70 CE, after the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Second Temple, zealots, along with their families, fled to Masada, where they remained for three years. During that time, they continued to raid and harass the Romans.
Roman governor Flavius Silva laid siege to the fortress in 73 CE. Silva brought a legion of Roman soldiers, who camped at the base of the plateau. In 74 CE, along with catapults and a battering ram built by the Romans, the fortress wall was breached. Once it was clear to Elazar ben Yair, leader of the Zealots, the decision was made for each of the Jewish defenders to take their own lives instead of being captured and in the control of the Romans.
In the end, ten men drew lots to choose one man who would be responsible for taking the lives of the remaining nine before ending his own life. Before doing so, the tenth man set the palace on fire. Only two women and several children were spared from the suicide pact. Close to 1,000 Jewish men, women, and children took their own lives instead of facing enslavement.
As with many ancient historical archeological sites, there is debate among scholars and archeologists whether the writings of Josephus about the invasion, destruction, and mass suicides have been debated, with some believing the story was fabricated.
Regardless of individual beliefs, in 1948, when the State of Israel was created, Masada became a significant part of the symbolism attached to the new nation.
The Stunning Natural Beauty of Masada National Park
Masada National Park is one of the most visited sites in the world. Its natural beauty stems from its platform on a rock plateau that holds the ruins of the 2,000-year-old fortress. It is, by far, one of the world’s most picturesque ancient ruins.
Masada National Park’s location is one of the most breathtaking, as the fortress is massive. At the time of its construction, there were two beautifully detailed palaces, the Northern Palace, and the Western Palace. One of the palaces took up three floors. Assorted architecture remains, such as defensive towers standing guard over the invading army of Romans.
Visitors will see the aqueducts that were built to provide water for the palaces and other buildings and were available to heat the bathhouse.
The views from atop the plateau of the Judaean Desert are panoramic and stunning. In the distance along the horizon, a dot of blue/green denotes the Dead Sea.
Unique Experiences in Masada National Park
When visiting Masada National Park, the reasons for choosing the historical site as part of a travel itinerary become clear. The site is imposing and impressive and visually reflects the life and culture of an important time in ancient history. Visitors have many reasons to add Masada National Park as a place to experience.
- Those who want to make the trip to the fortress have the option of walking the estimated 700 steps or taking the cable car.
- Visitors have a choice of four trails to the top of Masada – The Snake Path, Runner Path, the Roman Ramp, and the Elazer Path. Read our Ultimate Hiking Guide on Masada here.
- The Masada Visitors Centre provides a museum with information about the site and the siege by the Roman army.
- A short movie about the fortress is provided.
- The Snake Path Gate on the east side is impressive.
- Visitors will see the remnants of mosaic flooring, Roman columns, terraces, and a courtyard at the Northern Palace and the Western Palace.
- Part of the Byzantine Church still remains with mosaics still in place.
- There is a Roman bathhouse with its courtyard, multiple rooms, and an underfloor heating system for the water.
- Remnants of a synagogue were uncovered and thought to be one of the oldest in the world. During Herod’s reign, the area was a stable. Years later, it was rebuilt as a synagogue.
- The larger Western Palace has plenty to see from its open courtyard and guardrooms to its bathing rooms and living quarters.
Tips for Planning Your Visit to Masada National Park
The time of year you choose to visit Masada is important so that you have the best opportunity to enjoy the solitude, serenity, and beauty without crowds and harsh weather.
During the spring and summer, between April and May, the temperature is milder. Spring also has fewer tourists and visitors than in the summer.
In the latter part of the summer, in July and August, temperatures are much hotter than in the spring and early summer. Also, the peak season for tourists and larger crowds is July and August.
Fall and winter, especially October and November, have fewer crowds, plus the weather is milder. If you plan to visit during the peak season when temperatures are soaring, prepare yourself for the heat by drinking plenty of water to stay hydrated. Also, wear appropriate clothing, a hat, and supportive shoes. Wear sunglasses to avoid the sun’s consistent glare and wear effective sunscreen.