Day 16: Masada and the Dead Sea
Within just a few minutes after leaving Jerusalem, you are really in the desert.
Our destination today is 1411 feet below sea level, the absolutely lowest place on earth. But our first stop was to the great symbol of heroism to the Jewish people: Masada
Masada is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It was captured by King Herod in 43BCE, and he soon built an elaborate fortress. Situated on a high mountain plateau, it was a perfect vantage point. The view from the top was an ideal lookout upon the entire region, overlooking the Dead Sea, the Judean desert valley, and Jordan (the Dead Sea is the natural boundary between Jordan and Israel).
He built a huge palace here, actually two, one on the north side, filled with frescoes, Roman baths, enormous storerooms, and, of course, a sophisticated water system. He also built a smaller palace on the other western side on top of another earlier palace there.
We took a cable car to get to the top, unlike the first time, many years ago, when we climbed the winding "snake path". This was much shorter!
In AD 70-74 about 1000 Jewish rebels, fleeing Jerusalem after the destruction of the second temple, managed to capture this fortress and establish themselves in the palace. The Romans laid siege to it over many months with a force as larger as 15,000, but the Jews fought valiantly. Finally, when the Romans breached the walls, as the story goes, the Jews committed mass suicide rather than being enslaved.
There are several variations to the story. Two witnesses who survived by hiding, claimed that suicide is against Jewish belief so they drew lots to kill each other so only the last man had to take his own life (here represented by stones). This is also the reason that the story is not mentioned religious Jewish writings.
After exploring for several hours, we then moved onto the only place nearby that serves lunch to the thousands visiting Masada every day, (the only one, it seems, because a sinkhole 5 years ago swallowed up the competition 😝😝) and a chance to buy Dead Sea products.
The Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth, is not usually visited by Israelis as they prefer the beaches of the beautiful Mediterranean ( see tomorrow’s pictures).
It is very oily, 30% salt, and mud and other products from it are supposed to be very beneficial to skin.
You cover yourself with mud, step in (water or other shoes are a must), scrape yourself on the boulders underneath that you can’t see, and…float! Arm strength is needed to move any other direction but backward.
Lots of fun, but the showers afterwards cleaned us up enough to enjoy the view from our East Jerusalem restaurant a bit later.
Our bus had a flat tire so Ibrahim scrambled to find alternate transportation. He has a few friends that he called upon in the area since he lives here! A different bus brought us home again to pack after our 6 day Jerusalem stay.