20th May 2008
During our Pilgrimage to the Holy Land, my friend and I decided to venture into the Judaean Desert to visit Masada. Jerusalem stands on a hill and, less than five minutes after leaving the city, we were heading down a steep road through desert scenery towards the Dead Sea, thousands of feet below sea level.
About two hours out of Jerusalem we reached Masada. This is a flat-topped mountain in the Judean Desert, where King Herod built his fortress. We took a cable car and, on reaching the top, were rewarded with superb views of the Dead Sea and the surrounding desert.
We strolled around the various ruins spread along the plateau, while our guide for the day, Solomon gave us a running commentary on the history.
Solomon told us about the siege that had taken place at Masada, when the Romans had surrounded the mountain in 70AD. The Jews who lived there held out, but the evening came when capture was inevitable. The Rabbi called together the elders, and they jointly decided to commit suicide, rather than be captured by the Romans. The men would kill their wives and children by the sword. Ten men were chosen, who would be responsible for the killing of all the other men, one of these ten being the final man to die. When the Romans finally set foot on top of the mountain they found 963 massacred men, women and children. Later, one woman and two children were found still alive, hence the story lives on. This tragedy has since been immortalised on film, fittingly called “Masada”, with Peter O’Toole in the lead role.
Julie and I decided to seek shade from the debilitating heat, and sauntered away from the main group. The temperature was 39 degrees centigrade. Needless to say we got completely lost and Solomon eventually found us feeling very sorry for ourselves. After the descent by cablecar and a refreshing lunch, we began our return journey alongside the Dead Sea.
After an hour or so, we reached the mineral spa of Ein Gedi.
The Dead Sea is also known as the Salt Sea, because of its mineral salt composition, which is very good for the skin. People were floating effortlessly; a few women were covering themselves in black mud from the seabed. I passed on that one.
We spent a couple of hours chilling out here in this beautiful spot, before returning to Jerusalem.