After too little time visiting southern Israel and Jordan, we drove back north through the desert, listening to Arabic music and marveling at the landscape. And the road signs.
We made our way to Metzada, which has an absolutely fascinating history and is a spot that every Israeli (and probably most tourists) visits at least once.
As the story goes, the Roman king Herod the Great used Metzada as one of his abodes during the Roman rule of Judea. Located on top of a cliff overlooking the Dead Sea, its an amazing complex that contained a palace for the king and separate dwelling for his guests, bathhouses, storage for sustenance, and fortifications. At the onset of the Jewish-Roman War, the Romans began to enslave and massacre the Jews. A group of Jewish rebels took Metzada from the garrison that was guarding it and lived up there while the Romans systematically razed Judea. Eventually, a Roman legion came to conquer the fortress and built a ramp to get to the cliff. When the dwellers realized that they would not be able to protect themselves much longer, they set fire to most of the buildings and committed mass suicide to prevent themselves from being enslaved or executed by the Romans. The storerooms, that still contained plenty of food and liquid, were left standing to show that the defenders retained the ability to live and chose death over slavery.
Despite the cheesy film shown in the visitors' center with the overly-dramatic announcer (are we sensing a theme here?) and the hordes of tourists (I was amazed at the number of large Korean tourist groups there) that crammed into the cable cars, Metzada was fantastic. I decided to hike up the Snake Path to get to the top. Even though the air is oxygen-rich at Dead Sea level, I was winded and it took me about an hour to reach the top - an elevation change of about 300 meters. All throughout the hike and atop the cliff, the views of the desert and the Dead Sea were beautiful. And the drama - the story of the Jews that protected their stronghold until the end and chose death over slavery - certainly added to the experience. Many soldiers in the IDF have hiked to the top of Metzada, carrying torches and swearing the oath that "Masada shall never fall again."
I didn't get through the entire complex, so I plan to return to Metzada once more. I'll post pictures of the complex after my next visit, but here is the view of the Negev and Dead Sea from my hike on the Snake Path to the top.