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Masada – An Engineering Marvel

And En Gedi – a Hiding Place

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Today we started as usual with our 6-7-8 routine (6am wakeup call, 7am breakfast, 8am departure) and headed out to the mountain fortress of Masada. There is a long winding trail that leads to the top, but in the interest of time (and the expected 110 degree heat) we took a cable car to the top. This is a view from the cable car. The dark rectangles far below are the remains of Roman siege camps that were built around the entire perimeter of the mountain to prevent anyone from escaping.
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Masada was built by Herod the Great (builder) around 31 BC as an unassailable fortress that could hold out against the Parthians for up to 3 years. Herod built a beautiful palace that hung off the north edge of the cliff, complete with bath house and sauna, balconies, and adjacent warehouses to store several years worth of food. He then built a second “public” palace at the other end of the mesa, including a throne room. Although it was high up on a mountain in a remote part of the country, Herod insisted that everything be beautiful. Because the limestone was quarried at the top of the mountain it was not possible to get the perfectly square blocks used in his other projects so the rock walls were all covered with thick plaster to form a veneer that looked like large blocks of beveled stone, both inside and out. The inside walls of the palace and garrison commander's house had frescoes that made them look rich and luxuriant. Large warehouses stored several years of food, gardens provided fresh produce, and the dovecote provided fresh meat. Water was a problem so Herod had huge cisterns (40,000 cubic meters or 10,500,000 gallons) dug at the bottom of the cliffs with channels leading from nearby mountain ravines to catch the occasional flash floods from the winter rains. A well was dug down to the cisterns so that once they were filled, they had sufficient water for several years. Here is a picture showing a model of Masada with the water channels and cistern tunnels and one showing the interior arrangement of the palace.
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For those with a topographical interest, I looked at the contour interval lines of the map they had of Masada. Although the mesa on which Masada sits is 450 meters above the valley floor, the top of the fortress is only 58 meters above sea level, and as you look below the top, the numbers almost immediately go negative.

Herod never needed to use his mountain fortress, but in 73 AD, a small band of Jewish rebels (rebelling against Rome) captured it in a surprise attack when it was manned by only a small Roman garrison. The Roman army laid siege to Masada and its last rebel holdouts (960 people). Until very recently, archaeologists and historians believed that the siege lasted almost a year, but they have now determined that the Roman army, using Jewish slaves, built a 375’ high siege ramp up the side of the mountain and breached the walls in just 2 months. There were no survivors.

After riding the cable car back down the hill, we went to the wilderness of En Gedi. This is an area in the desert mountains just to the west of the Dead Sea. Several streams run through deep ravines so that there is vegetation and wildlife in a place that at a glance looks like desolate desert. It was in this area that David hid when King Saul was seeking to kill him. We only walked to the lower waterfall. They say there is an “upper” waterfall if you walk further into the ravine, but it’s quite a hike. The heat was intense and I was disappointed and glad at the same time that we weren’t going there, too .
Today was a short day, with free time scheduled for the afternoon. We got off the bus near the hotel at a little souvenir “shopping mall” that also boasted a McDonalds and an Aroma cafe. The others who’ve been here before can’t stop singing the praises of the Aroma coffee; we can’t comment on that, since we don’t drink coffee. But I can say they make excellent sandwiches with wonderfully fresh bread made there in the store. We walked the rest of the way back to the hotel, took showers, and then took a nap.

Tomorrow we leave the Dead Sea area and go up to Jerusalem!

Posted by dasafish 11:22 Archived in Israel

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