There are few things that are worth waking up at 3 am for. Hiking up the 2 kilometre snake trail to watch the sun rise over the Judean Desert and the dead sea while sitting among the ancient ruins of Masada is definitely one of them. I can’t think of a better way to start your day then my climbing a mountain. It gives you a sense of accomplishment when you reach the peak that makes you feel invincible for the rest of the day. Like you can conquer any task thrown your way. Although the lighting at 5am is perfect and the strenuous climb is gratifying, it’s the tragic tale of Masada that will compel you to stay on the mountain top for hours discovering every crevice of the ancient ruins there. Abraham Tours offers a great Masada Sunrise Tour, that also includes Ein Gedi and the dead sea.
Masada is an ancient fortress on the eastern edge of the Judean Desert. It is situated atop an isolated rock plateau that overlooks the dead sea. From the bottom of the plateau it appears as nothing special but once you reach the top you are thrown back in time to a world that existed between 66 – 74 CE at the end of the first Jewish-Roman war. Masada was the base of the Sicarii rebels and their families. Home to 960 people in total. The Sicarii heavily opposed the Roman Occupation of Judea and worked tirelessly to expel the Romans and their sympathizers from the region. They were an organized assassination group. Blending into crowds they concealed small daggers and attacked Romans and Hebrew-Roman sympathizers at public gatherings. Their aim was to force the entire Jewish population to rebel against their oppressors. At the beginning of the first Jewish-Roman war they gained entry to Jerusalem and committed a series of murders to force the population out of blind compliance with the Roman occupiers. To say they were extreme would be an understatement. On at least one account they destroyed a city’s food supply so that they would be forced to stand up and fight against the Romans rather than negotiating peace. They also raided nearby villages in Ein Gedi where they massacred 700 Roman women and children to stop generation occupation and rule. All of this was recorded by Josephus a first-century Roman-Jewish scholar, historian and hagiographer, who was born in Jerusalem. When the Romans had finally had enough of the Sicarii they decided to take Masada. When it appeared that they would not win the fight, rather than surrender, the Sicarii leaders killed their families and drew lots. Whoever’s name was drawn would kill 9 other men and then kill themselves. When the Romans finally broke through the fortress they found that the Sicarii had committed mass suicide. Of the 960 people living there only two women and five children were found alive.
This is a tale of tragedy self-sacrifice and bravery. Reading all of the information and truly spending the time to take it all in was a wonderful experience. I loved this tour so much that I did it three times. In addition to the history of the Sicarii there are also remains from Palaces built by Herod the Great (yes the guy from the bible that ordered the slaughter of the innocents), said to be the Roman puppet king and temples from Byzantine monks. You can spend hours upon hours exploring the ruins some of which are still incredibly intact. It’s as close as you can get to stepping back in time and losing yourself in a world that once existed. I try to imagine what life was like back then. What these ancient ruins looked like in their full glory, what it would have been like to live on this mountain.
If you are visiting Israel, this is one site you cannot miss. If you cannot physically hike for whatever reason, there is a cable car available for 28 NIS each way but I strongly encourage you to hike the trail if you are able to.