Masada National Park and Cable Car
Looming above the southern Dead Sea is Masada, a historical landmark that features prominently in the history of the Roman Empire's conquest of the region. The mountaintop was first inhabited as a fortress built by Alexander Jannaeus in the first century BCE, but Masada was made famous when Herod the Great built two winter palaces, a synagogue and ritual baths on the site, turning it into a Judean fortress that would later be the venue of an iconic and ultimately bloody siege.
After the destruction of the Second Temple, Masada was the last stronghold of the Judean army in their struggle against Rome. The Romans laid siege to the mountain and eventually, the rebels chose mass suicide over surrender. It is for this reason that almost every comprehensive tour of the Holy Land makes a stop at Masada.
A new museum at the foot of Masada tells the story of the site with a combination of archaeological artifacts and a theatrical setting. The role of Masada in the Roman-Hellenistic period is explored, and the fateful night of the suicide is relived.
From the museum, there are two methods of reaching the top of Masada. The more adventurous may choose to walk up the "Snake Path," a steep and windy trail which leads all the way up the mountain. The Snake Path is best hiked at night or early in the morning, before the desert heat hits. A hike timed for reaching the top just as the sun begins to rise is a spectacular and common way of experiencing Masada for the first time. For those who want to ascend Masada in greater comfort, a cable car is available.
Once you're on the mountaintop itself, be sure to visit the Western Palace, Northern Palace, the synagogue with its benches intact and the ritual baths. The palaces contain remnants of what had once been colorful and artistic wall paintings.
In the evenings, Masada's western side is lit up with an exciting audiovisual presentation about the history of the site. Another way to end a day at Masada is with a jeep tour of the area, followed by a feast in a Bedouin tent.