Masada: Desert Fortress

You know when you are young and immortal – you do crazy things – like carry a gun when climbing the Roman ramp up the western side of the Masada mountain. It was a number of years ago now but I sometimes do shudder to think that that the younger me had never stopped to consider that the first person a terrorist would take out is the person with the gun!

Still on that long ago visit I still remember being awed both by the patience and strong will of the Romans to camp at the bottom of the mountain and build an earth ramp which is still in existence today; and the sheer will of the Zealots who resisted them and then committed suicide rather than surrender.

Standing in the hot air while the dust settled like a warmed tea towel around me, I could see the rough walls, the places of shadow and the ever-present stamp of Rome at its most powerful. Those Zealots were hardy and defiant. Their leader Ben-Yair convinced the men, women and children that death was better than dishonour. As night fell the small group of men drew lots to select the ten (significant quorum in Jewish culture) who would carry out the murder suicide pact. Softly the families would gather themselves together for that final hug, that last word as the darkness deepened. Then those ten carried out their sad mission, the black sea and stars the solemn witnesses. The Romans came with the dawn and silence awaited them – only one woman and her children were left alive. NO victory really. To this day the soldiers of Israel are sworn in with the words “Masada shall not fall again.”

We are going to take the easy way up – using the cable car. From the top we will be able to see the remains of the Roman camp which once stood at the base of the mountain, the foundations of Herod’s glorious palace and all those intriguing things that Romans had to have in any decent place of occupation: baths, bakery, toilets, store houses and views for miles.

Just so you don’t think I’m completely foolish I would like to add that on another trip to Masada when I wasn’t carrying a gun, I happened to be there after a rare rain fall. The sides of the mountain bloomed with red flowers just as if God had painted them scarlet to celebrate the clean blue sky. I have never seen anything so spectacular and unexpected in a beautiful but harsh environment.

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Tour Leader: Mandy Page

Mandy has been a tour leader with Tours Direct for over 15 years. She has a wealth of experience and never gets tired of travelling to old and new destinations.

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