A reminder of human resilience.
Masada is one of Israel’s most iconic natural landmarks. Experiencing the sunrise hike to the top of the ancient plateau evokes a feeling of spirituality and renewed life that touches all who make the pilgrimage. Here is your breakdown of the Masada mountain and the fortress.
Masada’s fortress is located in the Southern District of Israel and was built between 37 and 31 BCE for militaristic usage. The fort rests upon the plateau of a mountain at the edge of the Judean desert and stands roughly at 1,424 feet (434 meters) above the Dead Sea. In 2001, Masada became a UNESCO World Heritage site and became one of Israel’s most popular tourist attractions and pilgrimage sites.
After it was considered borderline impregnable due to its location and treacherous pathways, Masada was fortified by Roman Emperor Herod the Great. It was, however, the site of the infamous final battle of the First Jewish-Roman War titled the “Siege of Masada,” which occurred around 73 to 74 CE. After the siege, Masada became symbolic of Jewish heroism and helped cement nationalist pride within Israeli Jews.
Legend has it, before the year-long siege, Masada was home to civilians and military warriors alike. Once the siege began in 73 CE, an estimated 960 Jewish zealots – who called Masada home – committed mass suicide rather than dying at the hands of their Roman enemies.
After the siege and due its dangerous location, Masada was relatively forgotten until its rediscovery in 1828. The fortress has become one of the most significant archaeological sites to date. Preserved by the dry weather, many original architectures, paintings, scrolls, and furniture remained intact. It was only rediscovered in the early 1960s.
The fastest and easiest way to reach the plateau of the fortress is by cable car. The cableway system was set up in 1971 but then remodeled in 1998. Today, the cable system is the lowest aerial tramway in the world, with the summit station being only 33 meters above sea level. There are four paths you can follow to reach the top of the summit:
The Snake Path
The most popular of them all is the “Snake Path.” The path is 350 meters long, starting at the Dead Sea and ending at the fortress. The action takes approximately one hour to 90 minutes, while deception only takes about 30-45 minutes. Tourists typically enter at the eastern base of the Masada mountain, the trail leads to the peak and the cableway. The Snake Path was the primary route of the original Masada settlers. The path is considered a popular hike up to the top due to its excellent maintenance and moderate incline.
The Roman Ramp
Beginning in the western entrance, the Roman path is a ramp built and used by the Romans in 73 CE for the sole purpose of laying siege to Masada. Considered the easiest hike up to the top, the path only amasses a mere 50 meters of travel. Tourists, however, have to park at the east entrance and hike to the west with no direct vehicle access to follow this path.
The Runner Path
The Runner Path was constructed during the Masada siege by the Romans to allow runners to travel to and from outposts delivering important messages. The path is 350 meters of rocky, steep terrain, considered the second most dangerous path to follow. Metal railings are scattered closer to the top of the hike due to the steepness of the Runner Path. Hikers enter the path through the eastern entrance and follow the winding trail through numerous ruins of Roman siege settlements before reaching the top.
The Elazer Path
The longest and most challenging hiking trail to follow on Masada is the Elazer Path. Named after the mountain sharing Masada’s southern area, the two mountains are separated by a steep and rocky canyon. Being 40 meters taller than Masada mountain, Elazer offers a spectacular view of the entirety of Masada’s fortress. The 500-meter long journey takes you up Elazer mountain, down the canyon, and back up Masada, all while passing many Roman siege camps.