We woke up the following day with two missions: to visit Masada and to swim in the Dead Sea.
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to spend the money on a rental car or a private driver to go see Masada and the Dead Sea. It is super easy to access these sites via public bus, and it’s not expensive. Egged bus #486 takes you directly from Jerusalem Central Station (platform 5) to the Dead Sea, Ein Gedi, and Masada. (Thank you to iTravelJerusalem for the reminder on the bus number and platform!) We found the experience to be quite simple, and it cost less than $10 per person. Just let the bus driver know you would like to stop at Masada, and you will be let off by the visitors’ center.
Masada is a unique fortress built atop a hilltop between Ein Gedi and Ein Bokek, near the eastern border of Israel. Herod the Great built a fortified palace on top of the hill between 37-31 B.C.E. After Jerusalem was besieged by the Romans in 70 C.E., a group of Jewish rebels escaped to the then-abandoned Masada in order to avoid Roman conquest. In 73, when the Romans caught up to them and were able to move their legions up the side of the fortification, the rebels committed suicide rather than face subjugation at the hands of the Romans.
We had a hot, dry day to visit Masada. While it made for a beautiful day, it was certainly not conducive for a day of hiking around the rather large complex. We saw as much as we could, picking several highlights of the fortress (including the terraces on the north end, the Byzantine church, and the cisterns.)
We later asked an Israeli about how natives view Masada. We believed that it would be a point of great pride for the people; a symbol of rebellion in which the Jewish rebels refused to give in to Roman conquest. He said that yes, in fact, many saw Masada as a source of pride. However, he also mentioned that an equal number view it as a time of unnecessary stubbornness and inflexibility – after all, if they had simply accepted Roman occupation to begin with, the Romans would not have enslaved or killed them; rather, they would simply have to answer to the Romans and pay taxes to them. All in all, our visit to Masada was worth it for the view as well as the lesson in history and Jewish culture.
Since we were so close to the Dead Sea, we decided to take a quick trip to a beach resort for a float. More on that next time!