68 Photos - Jan 31, 2009
Photo: Photo: A view back towards the Dead Sea from the Masada approachPhoto: The cable car to the Masada site.  The ride takes three minutes to ascend to the plateau, 1,300 feet above.Photo: The cable cars only ran every fifteen minutes on this winter day.Photo: A view through the cable car window as the ascent beginsPhoto: Masada means "stronghold" in Hebrew and, because it is a free-standing plateau, was thought to be extremely secure.Photo: Fortifications at the plateau began about 100 B.C. Herod the Great appropriated the site in 43 B.C. and thought the site could be a refuge should the Jews revolt or if the area was invaded by Cleopatra and Mark Anthony. Despite the extensive town and palace built on the summit, Herod had no need for the fortress and never visited.Photo: Excavated buildings on the plateau show the original details below the black lines.Photo: In 66 A.D., the Jews revolted against the Romans in what is known as the First Revolt. A group called the Zealots captured the lightly-guarded Masada intending to use it for Jews fleeing from the approaching Roman soldiers.Photo: After four years, the Romans suppressed the revolt and then turned their attention to a group still on top of Masada.Photo: About 10,000 Roman soldiers set up eight camps around Masada and used Jewish slave labor to construct a ramp up to the top.Photo: On top were 967 Jewish men, women and children with food and water to last several months.Photo: Once the ramp was completed, the Romans laid siege to the fortress.Photo: As the Romans got closer, the Jewish residents first set fire to their belongings so they would not fall into Roman hands.Photo: Then the Jews selected ten men by lot whose job was to execute all the others so that the Romans would take no prisoners.Photo: When all but the ten were executed, one of the ten was designated as the person to execute the other nine and then the final person was to commit suicide.Photo: When the Romans finally broke through, they discovered everyone dead except for two women and five children.Photo: Others eventually occupied the site including Byzantine monks in the 4th and 5th centuries.Photo: Eventually, no one occupied the site. It was rediscovered when the plateau was climbed in 1842.  Excavations did not begin until 1963.Photo: Because it is a symbol of Jewish resistance to oppression, there is a saying in the Israeli military that "Masada will never fall again."Photo: Cable car view from the summitPhoto: Each of the rectangles down below is a location of one of the Roman camps used in the siege.Photo: Looking towards the Dead Sea from the summitPhoto: A model of Herod's palace built in tiers on the back side of the plateauPhoto: The actual palacePhoto: Another Roman camp locationPhoto: It was a considerable logistics task to supply 10,000 Roman soldiers with food and water for months in this remote location during the siege.Photo: The area is subject to flash flooding during infrequent rains.Photo: Dwelling at MasadaPhoto: The model shows how water was transported from one level to another.  Guides pour water onto the model and it flows down the culverts shown.Photo: The number of buildings on top of this remote site is surprising.Photo: Instead of using the cable car, it is possible to walk to or from the top on a steep trail called the Snake Path.Photo: Another view of the Dead SeaPhoto: The summit contains virtually every kind of building present in a town of this size at the time.Photo: Intricate masonry in some of the wallsPhoto: Excavations at Masada are ongoing.Photo: Many of the buildings are associated with Herod's needs and the rest were built to house and administer to the support staff.Photo: Thirteen cisterns are on the summit.Photo: "Lockers" in a building next to the swimming pool built for Herod's needsPhoto: While it was pleasant on this winter day, the summit can get very warm in the summer.Photo: A view back towards the lower basin of the Dead SeaPhoto: After leaving Masada, we stopped at Ein Gedi Kibbutz, founded in 1956.Photo: The kibbutz has its own botanical garden.Photo: The gardens were lush.Photo: Sculpture in the botanical gardenPhoto: Frankincense and myrrh in this photo and the nextPhoto: Photo: The kibbutz has a 176 room hotel.Photo: The garden of one of the residentsPhoto: This 40 year resident of the kibbutz showed us around his art studio.  Originally from England, he said England is now too fast paced for him and he prefers life in the kibbutz.  He said the kibbutz now has about 200 residents, down from a one-time high of about 250.Photo: Another view of the gardensPhoto: Beautiful roses scattered around the groundsPhoto: Photo: After the kibbutz, we headed to the Qumran Caves. In 1947, a Bedouin shepherd boy, searching for a lost goat, discovered the first Dead Sea Scrolls in one of the caves in the hills.Photo: The settlement at Qumran was that of the Essenes, a Jewish sect that authored the scrolls.  They lived here from 150 B.C. and were more conservative than other Jews. The Romans disbanded them in 68 A.D.Photo: In the twenty years after 1947, fragments of over 800 scrolls were found in eleven caves.  They were preserved in pottery jars.Photo: This is one of the caves where scrolls were found. The scrolls include books of the Old Testament and descriptions of life among the Essenes.Photo: A view from the cave area towards agriculture plantings, shaded from the sun.Photo: Some of the scrolls found in these caves are the oldest versions of Biblical scriptures.Photo: Leaving the Qumran area, we encountered a flock of camels along the road.  Sometimes camels like this are seen with a shepherd and other times they are roaming in the wilds.Photo: Photo: Photo: This camel struck a pose for the camera.Photo: Our final stop before heading west towards Jerusalem was at a Dead Sea swimming area where the mud on the swimmers was more in evidence.Photo: In spite of how it appears, they really are wearing swimming suits.Photo: The lifeguard was enlisted to find some Dead Sea salt.Photo: Success!Photo: A closeup of the salt; it's hard to find at the beach since bathers like to pick it up as souvenirs.