On Wednesday we went to Masada, the famous mountaintop fortress on the shores of the Dead Sea. This has been a “must-see” for us from the earliest days of planning our trip–I knew that I needed to see Masada, even more than the Mediterranean or the Red Sea or even some of the Jerusalem sites.
Masada is a high plateau or mesa that is isolated by cliffs on all sides–1300 ft high on the eastern face, 300 ft on the western side–that is geologically a “horst”, a fault-block ridge bounded by basins caused by extension. Of course, the Dead Sea is sitting in a rift valley, where the earth is pulling apart. It’s fun to see, because Utah and Nevada are also in an extension zone, and have horst (mountain ranges, like the Wasatch Mountains) and grabens (valleys, like Utah and Salt Lake valleys).
Herod, the great builder, built two palaces and a large fortress there between 37 – 31 BC. Apparently, he planned to retreat there in case of revolt. He liked his luxuries, and among the remains of the buildings are a swimming pool, expansive bathhouse, and many lovely reception rooms.
Josephus, the Jewish Roman historian, writes of the last battle of the First Jewish Revolt from 73-74 AD, where less than a thousand rebels spent a year fighting off a siege by an estimated 15000 Romans. According to Josephus, the Sicarii rebels chose to commit mass suicide instead of becoming Roman slaves at the end of the siege.
As a fortress, Masada is well-situated. The high cliffs could be climbed only by the treacherous Serpentine Track, with many switchbacks and absolutely no cover. A few men, armed with boulders, could easily defend the entire mountaintop.
We took the cable car to the top of Masada from the Visitor Center. The top is amazing, confusing, and pretty much an archeologist’s dream come true. And hot.
By the time we left Masada, it was around 1:30. We thought we’d eat in Ein Gedi, and then go to Ein Gedi Beach (reputed, at least by our guidebook published in 2019) to be the best free beach on the Dead Sea. This…did not work the way we were hoping.
Turns out the only restaurant in Ein Gedi was closed until 6pm. The snack shop at the Ein Gedi National Park was sparse (there were some sandwiches, though!). The beach was unfindable–the place where Google Maps told us to turn literally did not exist. We were confused, hot, and hungry.
We drove back to the small town of Ein Gedi and Bradley asked at the reception desk of the hotel–how do we get to the beach? At the same time, I had enough cell coverage (I linked to Em’s hotspot) to search the Ein Gedi Public Beach. So, at the same time, both Bradley and I discovered that in January of 2020, the entire Ein Gedi beach area fell into a sinkhole.
Well. That will close a beach pretty quick there.
The very nice woman at the hotel recommended we drive back south to Ein Bokek, as that was the closest nice beach not in the West Bank. There are several large hotels, stores, malls, and restaurants there, as well. We had to drive back that way to get to back to Jerusalem, so we were game.
It was an exhausting day, both physically and emotionally (see previous post), but we did it! We were so tired and happy that we succeeded in marking two major things off our lists–Masada and Dead Sea.