Thursday, August 5, 2010
Masada is a place that has serious significance to the Jewish people for one small event that happened there. Located on the top of a hill south of the Dead Sea, the location of Masada is prime to be able to see miles around.
Visiting Masada is a fantastic experience you can only feel if you visit it. There are two options to get up to Masada: hike to the top, or take a cable car. And my group hiked to the top, which for me made the experience the more special.
Masada was built by King Herod, and included two palaces, a bath house and giant storerooms. I’m sure the location was chosen because of its view of the surrounding area. But the building and location of Masada is not what makes the site so special, but rather what happened there in history.
In 70 C.E. the Jews revolted against the Romans; at the time Israel was part of the Roman Empire, which spanned around most of the Mediterranean. The Romans eventually put down the revolt, destroying Jerusalem and the Temple there. After the revolt, 960 revolt leaders fled south, and lived at Masada for three years under siege.
The Romans could have easily left the Jews alone, but it wasn’t their style. Instead, they spent months (possibly years, I didn’t find a definite time amount) building a siege ramp to reach the top of Masada and the Jews living there. When they finally made it to the top, the Jews had a choice to make: would they allow themselves to be taking prisoner, where their wives would probably be raped and their children would be sold into slavery, or would they take their lives to spare themselves and their families that fate? The leader of the zealots, Elazar ben Yair decided on a mass suicide.
It is from the Roman Flavius Josephys that we have the account of the mass suicide today. Josephys claims to have found two women and five children who escaped the suicide and it was them who told him the story of the suicide, and restated Yair’s final speech. Here is a taste of it:
"Since we long ago resolved, never to be servants to the Romans, nor to any other than to God Himself, Who alone is the true and just Lord of mankind, the time is now come that obliges us to make that resolution true in practice.... We were the very first that revolted [against Rome], and we are the last that fight against them; and I cannot but esteem it as a favor that God has granted us, that it is still in our power to die bravely, and in a state of freedom. Let our wives die before they are abused, and our children before they have tasted of slavery, and after we have slain them, let us bestow that glorious benefit upon one another mutually." It is then said Yair ordered all possessions to be destroyed except the food, because "[the food] will be a testimonial when we are dead that we were not subdued for want of necessities; but that, according to our original resolution, we have preferred death before slavery."
I think one of my favorite parts about visiting Masada was hiking up to the top. Granted, our hike lasted only 10 minutes (which was ok since it was insanely hot there, even at 8 a.m.). We hiked up the Roman siege ramp, which definitely appealed to my nerdy history interests. I was literally walking on history, which made it a very special experience. Being on top of Masada provided the most amazing view of the surrounding area, and visiting the ruins was fantastic.
This picture is looking down onto the palace built on the bottom two levels of Masada. I wish we could have visited that area, but I have somewhere to explore next time I go.
Around Masada you can see these squares on the ground in various shapes and sizes. These are the remnants left over from where the Romans camped while they were sieging Masada. You can still see these areas today, it is amazing.
This is the bath house. This was one of the places we explored in depth.
This room is the medium temperature room. I believe the painting on the side of the wall is original, but I am again uncertain if that is the case, or it was added to give the viewer persepective.
This is probably the best picture I have of the hot room. The floor was raised here, and the steam would travel out pipes on the walls.
This is the spot where Masada was finally breeched by the Romans. I was amazed because how steep it was at that spot (like almost everywhere else around Masada).
And finally, one of my favorite pictures from there.
Masada was a magical experience, although it was very, very hot while I was there. Enjoy pictures I took, and happy history!