Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Masada and the Dead Sea

A dear friend who I have not seen for a long, long time was in Israel recently and I jumped at the chance of spending a day with her and her wonderful family at Masada and the Dead Sea. I mean, who would say no? Masada is an incredible natural fortress located in the Judean Desert, overlooking the Dead Sea. A Friday morning spent there is a pretty good way to start the weekend!
The palace complex of Masada, whose Hebrew name means "fortress", was built by King Herod the Great between 37 and 31 BCE on top of an isolated rock plateau. Herod wanted a place where he was protected from revolts and external threats. Later, during the Jewish rebellion against Rome in the first century CE, a group of Jews took refuge in Masada and remained there for seven years until they finally fell at the hands of the Roman army. However, rather than be killed or enslaved, they chose mass suicide and consequently Masada became a symbol of the determination of the Jewish people to be free in their own land. 
Nowadays Masada, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has a special place in the hearts of the Jewish nation. Israeli soldiers who had just completed their basic training used to be sworn in there with the declaration "Masada shall never fall again". That ceremony now takes place at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.
I had visited Masada before, the most recent time being in 2008 when I climbed to the top via the Snake Path, a long winding route up the plateau which totally exhausted me! The incredible desert views, however, make it all worth it. On this occasion we took the cable car and had more time, and energy, to wander and soak up some ancient history. The guide my friends had hired, Joe, was superb and he showed us all kinds of buildings and ruins that I had never seen, or at least understood, before.
We visited the massive Northern Palace overlooking the Dead Sea, some wonderfully preserved thermal baths, a Byzantine church dating from the 5th century, and saw the Roman attack ramp on the western side of Masada. A synagogue, storehouses and the homes of the Jewish rebels have also been identified and restored, and the Mikve (ritual bath) and columbarium for doves, give a clear indication of Jewish life on Masada.
For me it was the first time I had taken the steps down into the huge water cistern built by Herod so that he could live out the rest of his natural life on Masada, no matter what happened outside. This cistern was later used by the Jewish rebels and allowed them to conserve enough water for the long time they spent there. At this southern water cistern we saw graffiti from 1943 which related events of the 40's to the story of Masada. The graffiti says, "Labour Youth seminar, 1943. 70 people. Our faces turn to Hebron".
I recently celebrated a birthday - yes, I just turned a whole year older - and my friend sent me Alice Hoffman's 'The Dovekeepers' as a reminder of our day together. I look forward to learning even more about Masada and think that it will bring it all to life for me just that little bit more.
I really could have stayed all day but the girls in our little group were keen to experience the Dead Sea. We drove to the Ein Bokek beach and quickly changed into our swimsuits before entering the water. The Dead Sea is 423 metres below sea level and is one of the world's saltiest bodies of water. It is the lowest point on earth and a natural health spa, and soon we were lathering ourselves in the black mud deposits from the sea bed, said to be so good for the skin.
Funnily enough I am not going to show you any photos here but let's just say that we had a lot of fun! Floating effortlessly on my back in the mineral-rich waters, perusing the dramatic and beautiful landscape around me, with good friends by my side, I can honestly say that it had been a pretty perfect day!


Denise Kiggan said...

You keep bringing back happy memories. Can't believe it's over a year ago that we were in the same spot. It was an amazing day.

Francoise said...

Great pics! What memories they bought back. My mum was very keen to visit Masada... but you had to walk up the dirt path in those days[ I think it was1969 or 1970]... no hand rail... or other means of getting up. It's also been worked on and bought to life by what I can see. Been out of touch but still look at all your pics!

order portrait painting said...

awesome place!! no plantings!!

Miss Val's Creations said...

Wow! This is amazing! It is so wild that things like this still have ruins. The landscape is beautiful.