Masada, the fortress of Herod the Great


Nisan 15 of 5773. Pesach (Passover). The feast of Pesach originates in the great event of the Exodus since Egypt and today has been one of our particular celebrations, going through one of the most spectacular deserts on the planet, that of the Negev. Before we expected a sunrise in a privileged location, the strength of Masada and one of those stories that we will never forget. Now we are in Jerusalem, and our route changes third but that is another story.

"But what time is it? If it's still night. A little more, just a little ..." Grandma said a lot (that she will be watching us today because whenever we travel she comes with us) that "who gets up early God helps"and we do not know what part of certainty the saying has but it was not even 4.30 in the morning when we were ready and prepared to begin a" night ascent "that would take us to one of those places where time stops, Masada.

A sunrise at Masada, the fortress of Herod the Great

Of all the places in this world it is possible that if we had to choose one, we would be left with the inhospitable deserts. It is incredible that of mysterious places, ruins full of history and secrets that can house places for uninhabitable moments. In addition, entering any corner of them makes us feel a little adventurous for a day.


With this thought, when yesterday we were told that the "Snake Path" It opened at 4.40 at this time of year we did not doubt it (52 ILS using Paula Student Card). Headlights and with the first clarity on the horizon, we marched up in a trail of approximately 1 kilometer through the complex orography. The cable car does not open until 8, so if we wanted to see one of the most beautiful sunrises on the planet we would have to do it with a drop of sweat on the forehead.

Each step we took was as if it served as a battery to ignite this beautiful spectacle that clung to us below. At 30 minutes of ascension the lanterns were not necessary, and the few intrepid ones who had dared to this feat (about 10 people) accompanied our climb to different rhythms.


The form from that Nyiragongo adventure it seems that he has not abandoned us and an ascent of about 50 min - 1 hour, we complete it in about 45 minutes. The last part of the journey is already within the area of ​​influence of the cable car through which most tourists arrive at this place. Moreover, this path we have climbed usually closes from 10 in the morning because it has caused dehydration and fainting to many tourists (and it is something we can imagine, because if at this time it is already 26ºC and it becomes hard, we don't want to imagine with 30-35ºC of heat)


We came in Masada, the refuge of the paranoid Herod the Great, which with his son we have already visited vestiges days ago in Caesarean section or on one's own Safed, a really spectacular fortress and that we will visit later, since the first thing we do is find the best position to witness a beautiful sunrise in its east area.

It is also true that when we read that from this privileged position we saw one of the most beautiful sunrises in the world we said to ourselves "it will be less"Our skepticism saw us surrounded by tourists in a prepared show that would give it an artificial touch. Nothing is further from reality. The few people we were took little to disperse and disappear, while the star star let his first flashes behind the Jordanian mountains.


The show we have at our feet is incomparable. The nearby Jordanian lands that we saw for the first time in the 2006 trip to Jordan and from which Moses spotted the Promised Land, they give way to the spectacle of a giant illuminating an area taken from another world, with the Dead Sea in the distance and a lunatic surface at another hour bathed by it and that currently leaves forms really curious

We are in a real "balcony" 400 meters above sea level with one of the best views of Judea and we are fortunate that the weather is not failing us throughout the trip, which is a luxury in a place where it is as important as this.


But Masada is not only this show. By its great historical value and its phenomenal state of conservation was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2001, and it is not for less, because it combines the ruins with a special place of the arid plateau now illuminated by the sun already raised on the Dead Sea, as does the flag of Israel in its summit.


We turn around. After this beautiful sunrise we observe a completely restored and prepared for the visit and we take advantage of the fact that mass tourism does not arrive until 8.00 that the cable car opens. A good plan that serves as an orientation can be the following ...

We begin the visit of this enormous fortress that it gave shelter in its day to a Roman villa and its palace and was prepared for eventual subsistence (!! up to 30 years !! for 1000 people) before the harassment of any invader, following the clockwise as is the plane, that is, to the south.

The main concourse, about 600 meters long and 300 meters wide, some time ago it was not as inhospitable as it can be seen now, but was covered by orchards fertilized by the dove's own feces, which in turn served as meat as food.


The southernmost area It is very close to other steep mountains, which opens a kind of really vertical canyon, in what is one of the most impossible access.


The remains of the citadel walls They are also kept in a great state of conservation. All of it was fortified between 103 and 76 B.C., before Herod became with her in 43 B.C. However, it was his son who in 4 BC. and after the death of his father due to natural causes, he used his concept of refuge for the first time.

We arrive at great southern cisterns (the only ones that can be visited since those in the North are closed), which is vital for water not to be a problem, and that reminds us very much of those we saw for the first time in the ghost town of Rasafa in the middle of the Syrian desert.


He West Palace and the Byzantine Church, following our "inspection", they conserve the best Byzantine mosaics of all the fort because as in all history of this area of ​​the planet, here came their monks in the SV, at which time it was completely abandoned, and they were established until expulsion S.VII Arabic


In this west zone there is also another way up and it is where a light show takes place some nights, but you have to access along Arad about 30 minutes from our base camp at the Masada Guest House. It is currently seen that they are building a new cable car that they will surely put into operation in the future. Won't it be excessive and lose the authenticity that this place has days like today?


We finish this perimeter in a little synagogue. Synagogue? Yes. Masada keeps among its stones one of the cruelest endings that can be told in the history of mankind.

It was the year 66 AD, with Herod son in charge, when the great rebellion of the Jews against the Romans (which ended in 70 AD with the destruction of Jerusalem and the Second Temple) came here and, caught by surprise, slaughtered The Roman garrison. The Jews were made with a shelter that had metal reserves, stores of wheat, oil, dates and wine, fertile orchards and enough water. What else could they need? Now it was his "private residence."

Herod had left them a walled city, great towers and a North Palace of the city distributed on three really impressive floors, which we are currently accessing, thanks to a staircase nestled in the very cliffs.


We are in the best preserved and most complete sector of the entire site, and where in the distance you can see the quarry from which the stone was extracted for such an imposing construction.

The North Palace can be traversed in its several levels, and what is really exciting is to imagine all the stores, houses, hot springs and homes in full swing of life. This idea is easier to do with the complete brass model that is located on the lower floor, which served as a banquet and meeting room.


But what happened to the Jews to make the story so extremely cruel? Although initially this group known as the Zealots went unnoticed, 4 years passed and the Romans returned to their sights Masada. 8000 men in 8 camps, slaves and an earth ramp to the walls broke, in a siege of 3 years, the Jewish defenses inevitably. It was a matter of time, but when the Romans entered they only found… !! corpses !!

"Let us free, and start from this life with our children and women". Thus the men killed their children and women, and then they dodged that ten men would kill the rest until one last one would finish the task finally committing suicide. The last bastion fell, but that is why in the history of Israel this place is so important.

One thing that caught our attention was to see how a black line separated certain walls of this area. It turns out that it serves to delimit the original ruins of those that remained throughout the years. Also see a multitude of ancient symbols that stand the test of time very well.

Meanwhile, almost returning to the starting point from where we accessed already ago 2 and a half hours to this enigmatic place, we see how the cable car goes up to the first workers. In a few minutes it will work for travelers, so we buy our ticket down (58 ILS both) and let the mass tourism take the place.


Behind we leave another "must have", a fortress of walls and rocks really imposing, with the best views of Judea full of the most extreme and mysterious landscapes, located in a privileged place, almost impossible on top of the cliff, and whose stores, churches, palaces, swimming pools, cisterns, synagogues, walls and residences are in a great state of conservation.


And best of all, after getting off on the first cable car available, it was that no later than 8.15 we were hitting a breakfast of hobbyists (Checkout is at 10 am) at the Masada Guest House, the only hotel available at its base (if you don't have to go to Ein Gedi or Arad, about 20 or 30 minutes away), after which we put our things in the car, we take two waters (16 ILS) and we depart to our "unique exodus" through the desert from today.


The route we are going to do is something similar to the following, being (E) Avdat, (B), (C) and (D) Mitzpe Ramón and (F) The Ben Gurion Memorial, later heading north to Jerusalem.

As a curiosity, at the height of Yeruham we find a strange panorama. Signs forbidden to stop the vehicle, forbidden to take photographs and an immense fence that makes perimeter of an extensive desert area on our left. Weapons testing area? Nuclear? As a general rule, deserts have always been prone to such experiments. Better not to think ...

The Nabatean city of Avdat

It is shocking to think how that exodus of Moís from Egypt through Sinai and the Negev Desert could be until it reached Mt. Nebo that we reviewed the day of our arrival and see the Promised Land. Especially since as we drive south, our place becomes an increasingly inhospitable place, with temperatures close to 50 ° C on many occasions, with the presence of slate moors and rock formations destroyed by erosion. And how could it be otherwise, and with the freedom of having a rental car, we find the curious signal (probably in disuse because we don't see one) from which we already make our own "collection" ...!! DANGER CAMELLOS !! (which reminds us of vicunas seen in Peru or of elephants seen in Kenya, among many others)

In this personal exodus that we have today, it still seems incredible to us how, despite the inhospitality of the area, there is still evidence of occupation in ancient times. Especially it has caught our attention the presence of the Nabatean people (3rd century BC-1st century), in Avdat, Shivta or Kurnub, on a route that leads to the Nabatean capital, Petra (Jordan), which we already visited both on the trip to Syria, Lebanon and Jordan 2009 as in that of Jordan 2006.

Declared UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005, the city of Avdat (E) (or Avedat or Ovdat) reminds us of the great petra and some Bosra locations, he Wadi Rum desert or singular corners that we have stepped on in our adventures in this area of ​​the planet, although among our thoughts is another one in the middle of Saudi Arabia that has enchanted us for a long time. Here we arrive 120 km after (and 1h30 ') to leave Masada and it is to the left of the road at the top of an unmistakable top, although you have to take the tickets at the entrance (58 ILS both) to later enter with the car to the upper enclosures.

He entrance enclosure (1) It also has a store, bathrooms and gas station, although we do not waste much time in it. Again we are almost alone and continue on the sixth day of travel without understanding the reason for this loneliness.


The road leading to the archaeological complex has two detours. One that leads to the bottom Nabatean (7) that we will see later and another that goes to the main ruins and that has prepared a lookout point (2) to observe the panoramic view of the area.


The city of Avdat, also a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2005, is one of the Negev desert cities located in one of the strategic points of caravans of the Nabateans among the S. II a.C. and II A.D., giving shelter to the Gaza - Petra route. The views from here clearly clarify the need for these types of places in the past because, wherever we look, we only see desert, much more unbeatable than that of Judea that we abandoned today.

The Nabateans accumulated great wealth from the trade of expensive perfumes and spices from East Africa and Arabia, and from their port in Gaza they moved to their capital. Although that great Empire that we all know, the Roman, also passed over here, and in 106 A.D. I annex this place and move away the caravan trade. That is why all the houses we see at the entrance of the main archaeological complex (3), including the tower, are of later Roman or Byzantine origin and it is believed that up to 3000 people lived here.


We advance through the fort reaching the sacred enclosure (4) which is where you can see the clearest Byzantine evidence with a couple of churches, a convent, multiple columns and a chapel, all quite well restored.


Unfortunately, the great work of archaeologists collapsed when in 2009 this place suffered terrible acts of vandalism until finally in 2012 it reopened to the public. Today, of course, there is no one even taking care of more than their lower access, so we hope that there are no people with bad intentions today who will commit punishable acts again.

In what is called the Church of San Teodoro We observe numerous Christian symbols of antiquity, among which there is some slab from 542 to 518 ... Also the arches have been restored getting a good idea of ​​what this place became before the earthquake that would end its history. This was in the 17th century and the place was abandoned to its fate.


Attached to the main balcony from where you can see the parking is a small batistery, isolated from the main basilica, where possible baptisms would be managed. !! Paulaaa !! What is to baptize! Not to colonize me ... hehehe

Returning to Fortress Courtyard (5) we can observe a large cistern into which a sophisticated irrigation system enters that the Nabateans used for the cultivation of vineyards in this desert region or even for the occasional bath, and that the Romans later inherited.


Perhaps the worst preserved area is in the outdoor military camp (6)of riders of the camel body units, where it is noted that archaeologists still have a lot of work (they have a booth installed here) so that visitors can intuit how it was. There is no doubt that in the fortress and even its walls have done an excellent job.

But was it not a Nabatean city? Where are his remains? Except for some small detail like the irrigation system, if we want to examine our Nabatean knowledge of previous stays we will have to go down to the parking lot below where they are located The Holy Tombs (7) after what seems like a great Byzantine stay.

Here we effectively see the Nabatean Avdat founded in the S.I.D.C. which is named after the Nabatean king Obodas and where his grave resides. We are in the acropolis where the ancients built their atrium, hall and adyton divided into two 14x11 meter enclosures where Dushara and Allat, their two main gods, were worshiped.


We left this place satisfied, although the heat begins to make an obvious dent. 30 km (20 minutes) later we will find the southernmost point we will arrive on this journey through the Holy Land.

The Negev Desert and Mitzpe Ramón, on foot of crater

If before we talked about all kinds of rock formations of this abrupt landscape, we could not fail to mention three craters, but especially one of them of an imposing magnitude ... the Ramon crater.

Today Mitzpe Ramón, the city located on its edge, is especially animated taking advantage of the Jewish holiday. We are in a 40 km long cleft in the Negev mountains with magnificent landscapes and observatories from another world (and a place to depart from the routine where we will return to spend some night in the future, without a doubt).

At one of its ends, the closest to the main road, there are two parking lots next to an oval-shaped structure that turns out to be a museum (which talks about the flora and fauna of the area and about the history of the settlement) and where there are several restaurants and shops where locals come to spend their "long" weekend and we take the opportunity to buy ice cream and soft drinks (34 ILS)


We walk along the top of the cliff and understand why many people evade the metropolis in this place. The air breathes pure, the landscapes are simply indescribable and the geological structure on which we are is really spectacular in the middle of the Negev desert.


A few meters ahead is the observation platform (B), not suitable for those who suffer from vertigo, from where you can best see the details of the cliff on which the city rests as well as the crater extension many meters below.

Although we read there are those who came to believe that the surface we observed was caused by the impact of a meteor, it is really the world's largest eroded basin, with 40 km long and 2 to 10 km wide.


A little further in the distance we can observe a large conical hill and where on the top there is a kind of viewpoint, which from the distance is shaped like a camel and perhaps this makes it known as Camel Lookout although it is really called Har Gamal (C) from where there is also a magnificent view.


Although our presence here is not going to be limited to this privileged place, but we are going to take advantage of the flexibility that the car gives us and we will descend the winding hill along the same route 40 that has brought us here to a place called HaMinsara or Sawmill (D)

To the right of the road we find a sign