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Masada- simbol of heroism

2008-09-21

Masada is an isolated mesa in Israel´s Judean desert. King Herod´s royal fortress and the Sicarii (Zealot extremists) last stand during the great revolt against the Romans between 70-66 AD.

   Masada is an isolated mesa in Israel's Judean desert. King Herod's royal fortress and the Sicarii (Zealot extremists) last stand during the great revolt against the Romans between 70-66 AD. The compound includes palaces, bathing houses, warehouses, an enormous cistern to collect rainwater; remains of buildings used by Masada's defenders in the first Jewish-Roman war, a uniquely preserved Roman siege engine; and structures from the Byzantine era, including a church.

   The fortress was built on a lone rhomboid shaped plateau near the Dead Sea and about 500 meters above it, located some 25 kilometers south of Ein Gedi. Masada could be accessed by three main routs – 'the snake path' to the east (mentioned in Josephus' writings), the roman ramp to the west, and the cable car build a couple of years ago (together with the museum and airstrip).

   In the year 40 BC, Herod the great and his family fled from Jerusalem to Masada, driven by Antigonus who was made king by the Perths. Antigonus laid siege to the Masada, but the 800 men inside survived and the siege was lifted. Later on, Herod returned to fortify the place and made it a refuge for himself and his family in case of a future Jewish uprising or harassment from Cleopatra (Josephus Flavius, The Jewish War, chapters 4, 7, 8). The great fortress and palace were built between 37 and 31 BC. After Herod's death, roman troops were stationed on Masada, which was overtaken at the start of the great Jewish revolt in 66 AD by Menahem Ben Yehuda from Galilee. He was soon murdered and after the fall of Jerusalem and Solomon's Temple, his nephew Eliezer Ben Yair fled with his followers to Masada where the their final standing took place, ending in mass suicide in the year 73, when the Roman 10th legion (under Flavius Silva's command) breached the fortified walls. Josephus describes the final hours of Masada, Eliezer's last speech, the burning of the buildings and food stockpiles (a fact still in dispute) and the 960 dead, preferring suicide to surrender.

   Masada was rediscovered in 1839 by the American explorers Robinson and Smith, who saw it from Ein Gedi. Between 1842 and 1875 the site was mapped and documented, but only in 1953 and 1956 archeological digs were organized by Israeli researchers. The greatest excavation, lead by Igal Yadin, consisted of a large team of archeologists and thousands of volunteers from around the world, started in 1963 and lasted for two seasons until 1965. In the process, almost all the built cliff area and the Roman encampment was unearthed, and the building were reconstructed. One of the gain seeds, recovered in those digs, germinated in June 2008, thus becoming the oldest seed in the world to do so.

   As of December 11, 2001, Masada is part of UNESCO's World Heritage List thanks to its "outstanding universal value".

   Today, the swearing-in ceremony of many IDF (Israeli Defense Force) recruits is held on top of Masada. After a long night's march and climb of the Snake Path, they declare:" Masada shall not fall again".


   
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