Herodian Heights: Perched Upon Masada

Today in Israel was a very full day.  I started the morning by heading out of the city of Jerusalem and into the Judean wilderness.  I must say, the scenery was wonderful!  However, I imagine that after wandering around in the wilderness for 40 or more years, the "awe" might wear-off just a bit.  I went by Jericho and then, instead of heading on in to Jordan, I made a first stop at Qumran.  Following the coast of the Dead Sea, I made a stop at Ein Gedi and then south a bit to Masada.  I will show photos of the other places later but in this post, I just want to show some of the shots I took at Masada and say a few words about them.  Of course, I took hundreds of pictures, but, only a tiny fraction are shown here.  Enjoy!

(These two photos above are shots of Masada at a distance.  In the first one, just in the middle of the photo, if you look closely, you can see a white zig-zag path up and down the mountain side.  This is called "Snake Path".  It is quite the hike!  This path has been in existence for thousands of years (albeit with some modifications) as even Josephus tells us about it in his book Wars of the Jews.  In fact, it is from Josephus that we learn the most about Masada from when it comes to ancient literature.  In the second image, you can see the side of the mountain and if you look at the top and just left of the center, you can see portions of the rebel soldiers' barracks.  Masada has a long history and gives us a great idea of both the opulence and paranoia present in King Herod's life.  Herod poured loads of money into not only fortifying this as a base and military encampment but as a place of rest and pleasure.  Atop the mountain there is a swimming pool, elaborate palaces, large store rooms and much, much more.  Click the images to make them larger.)

(This is a model of Herod's northern palace.  As you can see, it consists of three levels.  These are known today as the upper, middle and lower terraces.  Within each terrace there are a number of significant rooms (which are closed-off to the general public) such as verandas, porticoes and a bathhouse.  The frescoes and columns within this areas are impressive and in Herod's day, would have been elaborately decorated, that is, they would not have had their plain, stone-like look that one sees today.  Herod is believed to have invited important guests to stay in the northern palace, where, of course, they were treated like royalty.  The remains of several bodies have been found in these areas, which are believed by archaeologists to be the ancient remains of persons who died in the siege of Masada in 72 CE.)

(Here you can see some of the frescoes and columns within the lower terrace.  To the right of this picture, interestingly enough, there also exists a Corinthian style column.  Several of the frescoes have been repurposed to illustrate their fine detail and rich artistry.  Again, it serves to illustrate the amount of riches with which Herod (the Great) was operating.)

(This is another shot from the lower terrace looking up.  I just happened to catch the sun at the right time and really liked the photo, so, I thought I'd share it.)

(This is simply another photo that I liked a lot.  It is of a small group of Tristram's Starlings perched upon one of the guard towers near the western palace.  The Starlings are eerie black birds with orange under their feathers and make a crazy noisy whistling sound. They can be seen throughout quite a bit of the Dead Sea region.  All around the mountainside they build cubby-hole-like nests with the rock walls to live in.)

(And...here I am, also perched atop Masada.  I am standing on the upper terrace of the northern palace.  In the background you can see a portion of the Dead Sea.  The mountains just on the other side of the Dead Sea are Jordanian territory.  So, basically, within just a couple of miles is the border of the country Jordan.  About 20-30 meters north, the Dead Sea ends and meets up with the Jordan River.)

(This is a panoramic shot I took from the same spot as the photo above, that is, atop the northern palace of Masada on the upper terrace.  To the left, you see the desert mountains, in the middle you see the Dead Sea and behind them, again, Jordan.  What a sight to behold!)

(This is another panoramic shot.  This one is of the Masada mountain top.  To the right and just left of the center, one can find cisterns, a cave, rebel barracks and more.  Near the center of the picture but not really visible in this image is the western palace.  To the right of that one can find the tannery, scribal rooms and a synagogue.)

(This is a shot of the western palace.  Its remains certainly do not look as intricate as those of the northern palace, however, there is much to see here, including a bath house area and a two-tier room, one of which was believed to have been Herod's "throne room" (no, the "throne room" is not a restroom!).

(This may look like just any old pile of rocks and well, while it is a pile of rocks, they are actually a form of ancient ammunition.  The soldiers had stockpiled these types of boulders all around the mountaintop to hurl down at anyone who might attempt to take Masada by storm.  As we know, however, these boulders did not do the trick because Masada eventually met its end.)

(This is a shot of Masada from the top, looking east, down Snake Path.  In the center / left of the photo you will see a diamond or square-like shape.  This represents one of numerous ancient Roman garrisons, that is, places used to house soldiers.)

(Here is another shot from the top of Masada.  Here, we are looking east / south-east.  In the background you can see the Dead Sea as well as Jordan.  While the Dead Sea is the lowest point on earth, the Masada mount can reach upwards of 1,300 ft.)  More photos to come later!!!

(This is a brief video of a 2-minute ride down from Masada via cable car.  While these cable cars move very rapidly and descend almost 1,300 ft., as you can see, both the rapidity and the descent are hardly noticeable in this video.)

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