Mount Masada is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in southeast Israel on the eastern edge of the Judaean Desert.
The mountain was the site of many great battles. It was first fortified in the first century BCE; it survived the siege of the last Hasmonean king, Antigonus II Mattathias. Mount Masada is mentioned in the Romano-Jewish scholar Josephus Flavius’ historical account of King Herod’s vast, luxurious set of palaces. King Herod built a swimming pool, a garrison, barracks, storehouses and a water collection system on top of a 450m-high cliff topped by an isolated rock plateau overlooking the historic Dead Sea. The cliff was the site of the Siege of Masada, a dramatic standoff between Jewish rebels and the Roman legion at the end of the First Jewish–Roman War.
In 66 CE, a group of Jewish rebels known as the Sicarii overcame and destroyed the Roman garrison on Maada and turned it into a refuge and base. Following the Roman siege of Jerusalem, more and more rebels settled ther over the winter, relying in part on King Herod’s 100-year-old water cisterns, which provided fresh drinking water by draining nearby rivers through an elaborate system of channels. They flourished there until 73 CE, when the Roman governor brought 9,000-plus members of the Roman Legion to the base of the mountain. They spent months camped there, building a wall and then a siege ramp against the western face of the cliff. When the Romans finally scaled the mountain, they found the 960 rebels had set the food storerooms on fire and chosen death over capture. Due to its remoteness, and the harsh climate of the southern end of the Judean Desert, Masada remained untouched for more than thirteen centuries following the dissolution of the Byzantine monastic settlement there in the 6th century. It was rediscovered in 1828.
The Roman attack ramp still stands on the western side and can be climbed on foot. Many of the ancient buildings have been restored, including a Byzantine church, wall-paintings of Herod’s two main palaces, and the Roman-style bathhouses that he built. The synagogue, storehouses, and houses of the Jewish rebels have also been restored. The wall the Romans built around Masada is still there, together with their remaining soldiers’ barracks. Masada remains one of Israel’s most popular tourist attractions; people come from all over the world to hike up King Herod’s Snake Trail, or along the Roman Ramp trail on the western side. It is a local tradition for hikers to start from the base of the mountain an hour before sunrise, in order to watch the vast sky and desolate desert canyons fill with hue and colour, from the same place where King Herod the Great once did the same.