Masada UNESCO Site

Masada is a rock plateau in the Judean desert overlooking the Dead Sea, the flat top of Masada played an important part in Jewish history. Masada is the location of several invaluable historic structures which attest to the authenticity of the events which occurred 2000 years ago and are recorded in historic texts (the works of 1st century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus).

Herod the Great, King of Judaea had his hill top fortress constructed during his reign in Israel (37BC-4BC), the fortified complex of buildings have been uncovered by archaeological excavations and offer insight into the way of life at the time. The Palace of Herod at Masada is an example of a luxurious Early Roman villa. The remaining structures include the North Palace constructed on three terraced levels, original mosaics, columns, frescos and walls remain. 1st century bathhouses, storerooms, kitchen and cisterns which were part of a complex water system remain. In the western part of the summit is the larger Western Palace with bedrooms, mosaic floors, marble panels and ceremonial rooms. The summit was protected by fortified walls 1,290 meters long including 27 watch towers.

At the end of Herod’s reign a Roman garrison was appointed to Masada. When the Jewish Revolution against Roman rule began a group of Jewish zealots overtook the garrison and took possession of Masada.  The Jews made Masada their home and it became the final outpost of Jewish resistance after the Second Temple was destroyed in 70AD. The Jews lived on Masada under siege as the 10th Roman Legion made constant efforts to scale Masada. During this period the Jews added a synagogue and ritual baths. In 73AD the Romans managed to breach the fortress walls only to find that the 960 zealots had chosen to take their own lives instead of being captured by the Romans. At the foot of Masada are the remains of a number of Roman military camps, and the ramp used in the assault which finally brought the Roman siege to an end.

Masada’s UNESCO designation as having “outstanding universal value” is not only because of the valuable remains of Herod’s palace but also because of the role Masada played in  the history of the Jews and Masada’s significance as a symbol of the ancient Jewish Kingdom in Israel, Jewish cultural identity and as a symbol man’s continual struggle against oppression.

Masada’s remote location in the Judean Desert, and harsh dry climate served as a natural barrier against human or natural destruction. Masada remained untouched for centuries. 13 centuries after Masada was abandoned the valuable site was rediscovered in 1828. Only in the 1960s did a dedicated archaeological exploration of the site begin led by Yigael Yadin.

The site has remained authentic and untouched with no additions or reconstructions and only minimum restoration. Visitors can see what remains of the site as it would have been 2,000 years ago. The only addition to the site is the unobtrusive cable car which brings visitors to the top of Masada. The Roman camps and siege works are virtually untouched. UNESCO recognized the high level of authenticity and integrity of the site as well as its symbolic significance to the Jewish nation.