Masada (Hebrew: מצדה) is a magnificently located fortress site in Israel's stark Judaean Desert, close to the Dead Sea. The last Jewish holdout to fall to Rome in 73 CE, Masada symbolizes the exile of the Jewish nation from the Holy Land. Its violent end has become a symbol of bravery and self-sacrifice since the founding of the State of Israel in 1948.
Masada, whose Hebrew name means "fortress", is on a breathtaking rock plateau with steep cliffs rising on all sides. Roman client King Herod the Great constructed a fortified palace complex atop of the plateau between 37 and 31 BCE. During the Jewish rebellion against Rome in first century CE, a sect of Jews called the Kanai took refuge in isolated Masada. They were known in Greek as zelotes, or the Zealots. After remaining there for seven years, the Zealots finally fell at the hands of the Roman army in 73 CE. However, rather than be killed or enslaved, the holed up rebels chose to commit a mass suicide, a deed which forever enshrined them in the annals of Jewish history.
Masada, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has been granted a special place in the heart of the Jewish nation. Though the actions of the Zealots are still debated, Masada has become synonymous with the tragic and much-mourned downfall of Jewish life in the Holy Land. More recently, this symbol of death has been contrasted with Jewish rebirth, the founding of the State of Israel. Indeed, many Israeli soldiers, sworn in atop Masada, emotionally chant, "Masada shall never fall again."
Most people access Masada from the eastern side near Road 90, which runs down the Israeli coast of the Dead Sea. This is the official entrance which leads to the "Snake Path", the steep and at least 40 min hiking trail up.
The less used option is Road 3199 from Arad to the western side. The road ends at a parking lot, from which there is a comparatively easy 15-20 minute ascent to the top.
By bus you can get to Masada with line 486 from Jerusalem (₪40, ₪36 with a student discount) or Ein Gedi or with line 421 from Tel Aviv - Terminal 2000 at Arlozorov Street (Su-F 09:00, Su-Th 12:00, 2 hr 30 min, ₪84,20 return; return Su-F 13:13, Su-Th 16:13). Other buses running along the Dead Sea Highway call at Masada, too, and can take you to Ein Gedi (northbound buses) or Ein Bokek (southbound buses). All buses stop at the eastern main entrance. Check departure times from Masada either beforehand or online from the McDonald's restaurant on site as there is no timetable at the bus stop. Beware that buses may run ahead of schedule!
- 1 Bar Yehuda Airfield (MTZ IATA Masada Airfield). Charter and sightseeing flights. The lowest airport in the world at 378 m (1,240 ft) below mean sea level. If you're a private pilot in your own plane, this is a good place to check which readings your altimeter gives.
Hours and contact
The site is open seven days a week. The first cable car runs at 08:00. The site closes at 16:00 (October to March) or 17:00 (April to September).
- Phone: ☏ /8, fax: +972-8-6584464
Entrance fee to the park is ₪28, not including the cable car. Cable car is about ₪25 one way. Discounts are available for students, youth and the elderly.
Since the park does not open before sunrise, coming from the west (Arad), it is possible to get in and up for free that early. Otherwise, if you are hiking to Masada from the west, just take a big loop around the western entrance gate, maybe to the right over the hill next to it.
If you are really adventurous, you can hike through the valleys to the north or south of Masada, and thus reach it from the "other side". Be aware that due to the steep cliffs and desert terrain, this is dangerous if you don't know what you're doing.
The fastest way to reach ascend Masada is via cable car. However, the cable car does not begin running until 08:00, meaning the option is not available to those wishing to experience sunrise at Masada.
The other two routes up are the so-called "Snake Path" or the Roman Ramp.
The Snake Path (actually a combination of tracks and steps) is accessible from the eastern side of Masada via the Dead Sea Highway. It consists of a series of switchbacks 'snaking' all the way up to the summit. The climb can take anything from 40 minutes to 2 hours or more depending on stamina/speed. Because of the difficulty of the climb, and the path's exposure to the sun, the Snake Path is usually closed from 10:00, and many choose to ascend before sunrise.
The Roman Ramp is not accessible from the Dead Sea Highway and must be approached from Arad in the west—a 40-minute detour for those coming from the Dead Sea Highway, but considerably less strenuous than the Snake Path.
Once there, the Herod's palace complex, replete with Roman-style mosaics and bath houses, can be toured. Also viewable are the zealot's synagogues, storehouses, and homes. From Masada, the remnants of the Roman encampments are clearly visible. Also, the stark natural beauty of the Judaean Desert and nearby Dead Sea can be fully taken in from high atop Masada.
The visitor center on the eastern side holds a small exposition on the discovery of Masada and shows some of the pieces found there. There is also a museum centred on the main excavator of the site.
Sometimes you can see a few ibex while you are going up to Masada.
- Masada Sound and Light Show, ☏ . April to October - Tuesday and Thursday at 21:00 (excluding holiday eves). Running time: 40 minutes. Spectacular light show recounts the dramatic history of Masada with special pyrotechnic effects. Spectators sit in a natural amphitheater on the west side of the mountain, reachable only via Arad, 20km away.
- Sunrise – Climb the "Snake Path" at 04:00 in the morning and enjoy the sun rising over the Jordan Mountains. The gates are usually open even at this early hour since this is part of the Israeli national pride. If you come from the west, even 06:00 will do, since the climb is only about 15 min – you might even save the entrance fee that early from that side.
- At the Bar Yehuda Airfield (see #Get in listing) near the road to Masada you can book scenic flights above the area.
- Behind the Guest House to the east towards the highway, there is a good hike through the canyons there. Make sure it doesn't rain. You can walk back the road north of where you get out at the highway to get back to the car park. If you continue east for another 100 m from the highway, there is a channel connecting to the Dead Sea, which looks great and might even allow for a swim – take the usual precautions.
The 1 Visitor Centre below the fortress contains a small food court including a McDonalds.
Bring lots of water, since the climb is hard and the sun is burning the whole day. Water is available on top of Masada and at the visitor centre to refill your bottles.
- 1 Massada Guest House, Massada, D.N. Yam Hamelah (near route 90, directly at the entrance to the site of Massada), ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Closest to the Masada National Park, a youth hostel. Dorm bed from ₪145.
For more and cheaper options try Arad Tandem (₪95) in Arad, about 25 km to the west or:
- 2 Shkedi's Camplodge (In Ein Tamar, about 50 km south from Masada), ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. From ₪95 for a mattress in a tent.
Luxury and more expensive (but in off-season also bargains) accommodation can be found in Ein Bokek at the Dead Sea, 16 km south of Masada.
- The Ein Gedi Nature Reserve and the Dead Sea are not far away and worth a visit.
- Judaean Desert – Visit its various attractions, next to Masada and the Dead Sea.
- Arad – A good and central location for destinations into all directions, including the ones listed here.
- Mitzpe Ramon – Great site, hikes and views on the edge of a giant crater.
- Eilat – Holiday town in the far south with border crossings to Jordan and Egypt.
|Routes through Masada|
|Egypt ← Eilat ←||S N||→ Ein Gedi → Tiberias|