From the World Heritage inscription for Masada:
Masada is a dramatically located site of great natural beauty overlooking the Dead Sea, a rugged natural fortress on which the Judaean king Herod the Great constructed a sumptuous palace complex in classical Roman style. After Judaea became a province of the Roman Empire, it was the refuge of the last survivors of the Jewish revolt, who chose death rather than slavery when the Roman besiegers broke through their defenses. As such it has an emblematic value for the Jewish people.
It is also an archaeological site of great significance. The remains of Herod’s palaces are outstanding and very intact examples of this type of architecture, whilst the untouched siegeworks are the finest and most complete anywhere in the Roman world.
The Masada complex, built by Herod the Great, King of Judaea, who reigned between 37 BCE and 4 CE, and particularly the “hanging” palace with its three terraces, is an outstanding example of opulent architectural design, elaborately engineered and constructed in extreme conditions. The palace on the northern face of the dramatic mountain site consists of an exceptional group of classical Roman Imperial buildings. The water system was particularly sophisticated, collecting run-off water from a single day’s rain to sustain life for a thousand people over a period of two to three years. This achievement allowed the transformation of a barren, isolated, arid hilltop into a lavish royal retreat.
When this natural defensive site, further strengthened by massive walls, was occupied by survivors of the Jewish Revolt against Roman rule, it was successfully besieged by a massive Roman army. The military camps, siegeworks and an attack ramp that encircle the site, and a network of legionary fortresses of a quadrilateral plan, are the most complete anywhere in the Roman world. Masada is a poignant symbol of the continuing human struggle between oppression and liberty.
Masada is in the middle of nowhere, but it was really in the middle of nowhere thousands of years ago. The dry conditions and the remoteness of the location have preserved some elements of the area extremely well. From the top of the mountain, you can clearly see the wall (berm) the Romans created to encircle the mountain, the areas set up for their camp, as well as the ramp they built up the mountain.
It is a popular vacation spot for Israelis, especially for boys having their Bar Mitzvah. There is a hostel at the base of the mountain which mostly caters to large tour groups and an excellent museum with an interpretive center.
View the complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Israel.
View the list of all of the UNESCO World Heritage sites I have visited on my travels.