Masada, Tragic Fortress In The Sky
For three brave years, the freedom fighters on this rocky plateau — known as the Zealots — managed to hold back 10,000 Roman troops armed with every contemporary siege weapon. Finally, a battering ram breached the wall.
When you glance at it from the highway, Masada looks much like any other mountain in the Judean desert. Yet it was on these heights, and in the middle of this dreary landscape, that King Herod the Great erected a luxurious desert fortress. And it was here, as well, that a group of besieged and desperate Jews fought the Romans with inhuman valor, then placed their belongings in a corner, set each pile afire, and committed a well-publicized mass suicide.
Declared a United Nations World Heritage Site in 2001, Masada National Park features a sand-colored Visitors’ Center which hugs the slopes, a fascinating, interactive museum, and a thrilling audio-visual production. But the most exciting portion of a visit to Masada is a tour of the mountaintop — which is accessible by foot, for stalwart hikers, or by way of special, wheelchair-accessible cable cars.
According to Roman-era historian Josephus Flavius, Jews first fortified Masada during those often exhilarating decades after the Maccabees vanquished the Greeks and tossed them out of Israel. Indeed, coins discovered on the mountain date back to the days of Alexander Janneus (103-76 B.C.E.), one of the Hasmonean (Maccabee) kings.