The grand plateau that is Masada stands amidst the sprawling desert and overlooks the dead sea (Yam Hamelakh) at it’s western shore. Masada (Hebrew: “The Fortress”), also known as es-Sebbeh, Mesada, Horvot Mezada, Sebbeh, and The Stronghold, is a mountain whose summit stands 190 feet (59m) above sea level and roughly 1500 feet (470m) above the Dead Sea. At 1950 (610m) feet in length, and 650 feet (200m) wide, the great mountain takes up about 23 acres of land.
Herod the Great built a large three level palace atop of the plateau after securing his kingdom. The palace was known to have fifteen long storerooms in the mountain. Food was kept in much of the storehouses in case of attack or famine, while other rooms contained weapons. Herod kept each storeroom for different commodities, and there remain jars with ancient inscriptions to attest to this. Other artifacts from his time include wine bottles that had been sent to him from Italy. These rooms held enough food and water to keep them for up to five years of siege.
This incredible palace was later inhabited by Jewish Zealots, during the early years of the Great Revolt, who took it as refuge from the Romans around 66 CE.
The Great Bathhouses
Herod also had numerous private bathhouses built into the mountain. Outside of these bathhouses, great furnaces were built that would force hot air under the platforms that the rooms sat on. When water was poured into the room floors, the hot air would cause steam, and built into the walls were pipes that would keep the room heated for guests.
1st Century Synagogue
Also at the mountain of Masada, is a synagogue believed to have been built around the 1st century A.D. Yigael Yadin (born Yigal Sukenik), an Israeli archeologist, discovered the remains of the synagogue during the first year of his excavations, and this is the only known temple of its kind from this period. Also discovered in the synagogue were coins from the time of the Jewish Revolt, with one ostracon (a piece of pottery) found with the inscription “priestly tithe”.
Masada Today – Restored and Museum
The ancient palace and it’s surrounding landscape are as beautiful today as they were two thousand years ago, thanks to The Israel Nature and Parks Protection Authority. Having restored Masada’s ruins, the Authority has been able to retain the vibrant paintings (frescoes) on Herod’s Northern Palace. Christians can also get a far deeper understanding of what Christ may have referred to when commenting on the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 22:2).
The Masada museum, opened in 2007, also offers visitors a unique experience. Blending ancient archeological artifacts with modern technology and design, the museum displays theatrical landscapes and life-size sculptures, allowing the guest to assume a place in ancient history while observing how life may have been in early history. Audio presentations fill in the historical importance of the palace as well as information on how the residents of the great plateau lived.