Tourist’s guide to Mount Masada – Fortress of the Desperate in Israel

Masada fortress can be called one of the main symbols of the Jewish people. Despite the fact that the events associated with this bastion occurred more than 2 thousand years ago, they continue to excite the hearts of not only history buffs, but also ordinary adventurers.

Masada Fortress

General information

If you look at the Masada fortress on a map of Israel, you will notice that it is located on the southern coast of the Dead Sea near Arad. It is distinguished from other similar structures by a rather unusual geographical location – the bastion was erected on top of a high mountain, which is protected from the outside world by sheer cliffs and thick stone walls surrounding a plateau around the entire perimeter.

View of Masada fortress

For the Israelis, this place has great historical value, because it was here that significant tragic events took place in the life of the Jewish people, but about them a little later. In the meantime, we note that for the first time the ruins of the citadel were found relatively recently – in 1862. True, the beginning of a full-fledged excavation of one of the main attractions of Israel had to wait as long as 100 years.

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Now Masada is a real ancient city, included in the UNESCO list. At the foot of the mountain festivals and concerts are often held, at which representatives of world show business speak.

Historical reference

The history of the Masada fortress in Israel is full of fiction, legends and unverified facts. It all began with Herod, who in 25 BC was forced to seek refuge for himself and his family in the midst of an impregnable mountainous area. However, fate decreed that a man who betrayed his comrades not only did not become an exile, but was also appointed king of Judea.

Model of the fortress-palace Masada

Herod returned to Jerusalem as a victor, followed by two Roman legions. True, despite this, he was afraid to be killed, so he ordered the construction of a fortress on the mountain, which in Hebrew means Masada. The order was executed, and the citadel itself was equipped and equipped with everything that a large army might need in case of a long siege. But Herod failed to test the fortress for strength – he died before the first opponents attacked the mountain.

Over the long period of its existence, the bastion managed to change several owners, among which were both the Roman conquerors and the Jewish people. All of them were attracted by the strategically advantageous location of Masada and the availability of amenities completely uncharacteristic of that time.

Siege of Masada

The last inhabitants of the fortress were rebels, who after the fall of Jerusalem made it a stronghold of their resistance against foreign invaders. The rebels managed to keep the defense for 3 whole years, but the Romans turned out to be trickier. They began to attack the ramparts with a catapult mounted on a nearby ridge. When this did not bring the expected result, the legionnaires set fire to one of the walls, and the wind obligingly spread the fire throughout the territory.

Roman garrison

Realizing that the capture could not be avoided, all 960 defenders of Masada or the Fortress of Desperation decided to die. To implement this mission, the rebels cast lots, according to which 10 performers of the last will were chosen. They had to stab with swords, not only their comrades, but also all the inhabitants of the citadel, including children and women. In the morning, when the Romans climbed the mountain through a hole punched in the wall, silence met them. Thus ended not only the 7-year-old struggle of the Jews against Roman tyranny, but also the history of the citadel itself.

Roman siege machine

Unfortunately, this version has not received historical confirmation, because no remains or graves have ever been found on the territory of the fortress. However, even this delicate fact did not make Masada less popular. Quite the contrary – this bastion is considered one of the most visited in the world.

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Masada today: what to see?

Mount Masada in Israel is famous not only for its rich history and gorgeous panorama, but also for its many attractions. Let’s get acquainted with some of them.

Fortress wall

The double escarpous or casemate wall surrounding Masada is a magnificent structure with a flat upper ceiling. The length of this ancient structure, erected by order of Herod himself, is 1400 m. Inside you can see special piers, which at one time played the role of armory, casemates and food bases. The latter kept strategic stocks of wine, flour, and oil. In addition, as many as 7 entrance gates are arranged in the wall – some of them are still operating.

Fortress wall
Western palace

Another important attraction of the Masada fortress in Israel is the Western Palace or haArmon haMaaravi, whose area is more than 4 thousand square meters. m. Today, the palace is in a dilapidated state, but among its remnants one can still recognize bedrooms, a reception room, royal toilets, workshops and baths lined with mosaics.

Western palace
North palace

The Hanging Palace or haArmon haTzfoni can be called one of the most impressive relics of the time. The magnificent building, which served as the residence of King Herod, is located on a rock, to which a fairly narrow and not very convenient path leads. Perhaps for this reason, haArmon haTzfoni was considered not only the private apartments of the ruler, but also an important strategic object. You ask, is there really no other place? In fact, Herod was guided by 3 important factors. Firstly, stone reservoirs were located in this part of the mountain. Secondly, the northern part of the fortress was practically not exposed to the sun and was surrounded by a breeze even on the hottest days. Thirdly, it was rather difficult to approach the castle, so its inhabitants could not be afraid of a sudden attack of enemies.

North palace

But tourists are attracted not so much by the history of the Northern Palace as by its appearance. Just imagine – this building consists of 3 tiers scattered across 3 rocky levels with a total height difference of about 30 m. In this case, the upper tier, located on the top of the cliff, was occupied by the royal residence itself. It consisted of a bedroom, a front hall, rooms for palace guards and an open terrace, from which one can see not only the lower levels of the palace, but also the surrounding territory. In addition, the Roman road that connected the legionary camps with the source of Tseelim was perfectly visible from here. It still has ramps and hundreds of rounded stones used for firing.

Castle mosaic

Internal steps lead to the middle tier of haArmon haTzfoni, going down through which you can see the so-called mikvah, a place for sacred bathing. This part of the castle is a round hall surrounded by two rows of marble columns. Unfortunately, only the grounds are left of them now.

North Palace View

As for the last tier, it resembles an ordinary rectangular hall, decorated with ancient frescoes and framed by majestic columns. It was here, in a semi-basement, that the scientists discovered a bath complex, consisting of a font for legs and two pools – for cool and hot water. The design of this bath is truly impressive. The air was heated by a stove behind a wall. Then it was passed under the marble floor of the bathhouse, which was held by 2 hundreds of clay pillars. Unfortunately, almost nothing is left of the floor, but the pedestals of the pillars can still be seen.

Thermal baths

Synagogue and chapel

On Mount Masada, there is another structure significant for Israel – the oldest synagogue, whose age can only be compared with Gamla, located on the Golan Heights. It was here that the records were found with which scientists were able to restore the history of this amazing place. Currently, the building of the synagogue is used to celebrate the Bar Mitzvah, the day when Jewish boys reach spiritual adulthood.

Synagogue Masada

As for the chapel, it was built by the Byzantine monks in the 5th century. It is said that these worshipers were the last inhabitants of the fortress.

Ancient ostracons

The remains of 11 clay shards, called ostracons, can be found just south of the Hanging Palace – in a small area that served as a meeting place for rebels. Their main feature is the names written in the same handwriting. One of these names belongs to Ben-Yair, the man who led the defensive detachment of Masada. By virtue of this, scientists are inclined to think that these ostracons were used during the draw by the last vowers.

Ancient ostracons
Stone reservoirs

Perhaps the most amazing attraction of Masada in Israel is the huge rocky pools that serve to collect and further save rainwater. Thanks to these reserves, the defenders of the fortress resin have been holding the defense for several years.

Masada Cistern

Tourist info

Masada fortress in Israel works every day. Visiting hours vary depending on the time of year:

  • April – September – from 8 am to 5 pm;
  • October – March – from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

On Fridays and holidays, the complex closes 60 minutes earlier.

Entrance to the fortress

Entrance to the fortress is paid:

  • Adults – 30 ILS;
  • Children – 12 ILS.

For pensioners and students discounts apply.

Touristic map of Israel

Those who plan to stay in Israel for some time can buy a tourist card designed for several visits at once:

  • Blue (3 visits) – 78 ILS;
  • Green (6 visits) – 110 ILS;
  • Orange (unlimited) – 150 ILS.

Cards are valid for 2 weeks from the date of first use. The price is the same for all ages.

As for the funicular, it works every day except Friday. In the summer – from 8.00 to 16.00, in the winter – from 8.00 to 15.00. Cable car ticket sold separately:

  • Adults – 80 ILS;
  • Children – 40 ILS.
Funicular to Masada

It should also be noted that on Tuesdays and Thursdays on the mountain light shows are held (in the summer – at 21.00, in the winter – at 20.00). Price – 41 ILS. In addition, at the entrance to the fortress you can book a tour, the cost of which is 45 ILS per person.

On a note! You can clarify the information on the official website of Masada –

How to climb a mountain?

If you want to get to the Masada National Park with your car, use one of the 2 methods.

Method 1. From Jerusalem

Arriving at the entrance to the city on highway number 1, move towards the Dead Sea in accordance with road signs. To do this, cross the Tzomet haGiva haTzorfatit intersection, follow the highway for a little more than 30 km and go down to the coast. Next, at the Tzomet Beyt haArava intersection, turn south and go straight to the East Gate to Masada.

Highway to Masadu

On a note! If you move in the right direction, along the way you will meet Almog, Ein Gedi, Kibbutzim, Mitspe Shalem and KALIYA.

Method 2. From Arad

Tourists arriving in Masada from the northern part of Israel take a direction to Be’er Sheva. In this case, you need to get to the intersection Tzomet Lehavim, turn onto highway number 31 and get to Tzomet Zohar, which goes directly to the Dead Sea. Next you need to move north and after about 20 km turn left (there will be a sign).

On a note! If you accurately followed the instructions, then along the way you will see the Bedouin and Tel Arad settlements, an archaeological embankment in which relics of the Talmudic period are stored.

Bus number 444

The following buses are suitable for those who plan to use public transport:

  • No. 421 – from the Arlozorov terminal in Tel Aviv to the Ein Bokek resort. The road takes almost 3 hours. Ticket price – 88 ILS;
  • No. 486, 444 – from the main bus station in Jerusalem to the Masada Center. Travel time is 1.2 hours. Ticket price – 37 ILS.

On a note! The bus schedule can be checked on the website of the Egged transport company –

You can climb the mountain either on a lift located at the Eastern entrance, or on foot – along the snake trail, originating in the western tip of Masada and running through the Siege Wall. Walking at a calm pace takes a little more than an hour, descent – 40-45 minutes.

Snake trail

If you drive up the mountain just to watch a light-sound performance, use the specially laid highway from Arad. There is no way to get lost here – along the entire road signs are placed.

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Useful Tips

Before heading to Mount Masada, take note of these practical tips:

Bottled water
  1. A walk in the historical park promises to be not only saturated, but also quite tiring, so to avoid inconvenience, take care of comfortable shoes, put on a hat and take water with you;
  2. If the street is too hot, postpone the visit to the fortress the next day – in the open, you can easily burn out or get a sunstroke. By the way, even in October in Israel it is very hot – around + 30 ° C;
  3. The ideal time for an excursion is in the early morning (immediately after opening) – during this period there are still very few tourists;
  4. Do not spare money for the funicular – it offers a wonderful view of the surroundings;
  5. At the entrance to the fortress, you can order a personal guide or buy a booklet in the language you need;
  6. To get acquainted with this attraction you need to spend at least 3-4 hours.

Masada Fortress is a truly amazing place, imbued with a historical atmosphere and immersing tourists in the events of the distant past.

For more detailed historical information about the fortress and what you can see in the area of ​​the attraction today, see the video.

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