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A Visit to Masada – Israel’s Alamo*?

by Suzanne Fluhr on April 5, 2015 · 77 comments

Looking down at the desert and the Dead Sea from the top of the mesa at Masada, Israel

Aerial view of masada, Israel

An aerial view of the fortress of Masada in the Judean Desert southeast of Jerusalem. At the front of the photo is King Herod’s “hanging” palace, c. 50 A.D.  (Photo by Andrew Shiva, Creative Commons Lic. 3.0)

My visit to Israel caused me some uncomfortable despair about the human race’s capacity to endure. This is perhaps the opposite response many visitors have. They see Israel (and Masada) as a shining symbol of the triumph of the Jewish people’s will to survive despite thousands of years of persecution and banishment. My trip to Israel had me obsessively studying the history of the region. What I see are successive layers of construction and destruction as various groups, one after the other, have claimed the right to live in and rule the “Holy Land”.

Mr. Excitement let it be known that he is sick and tired of my pessimism and would much rather discuss sunnier topics. At some juncture, I will indulge myself in a full on “we’re doomed” pity party blog post, but today, I will share our visit to one of Israel’s most revered sites, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2001, the ancient fortress of:

                      MASADA

Looking down at the desert and the Dead Sea from the top of the mesa at Masada, Israel

Looking down at the desert and the Dead Sea from the top of the mesa at Masada, Israel. Probably not a good spot for acrophobics. The square to the right was a Roman siege camp.

Despite some of his major failings as a human being (i.e. being paranoid and murderous), King Herod of Judea (73 – 4 B.C.) had great vision as a builder. Of course, back in the tumultuous times of King Herod’s reign in what is now the nation of Israel, being paranoid did not mean they were not out to get you. Aware of his not insignificant list of enemies, King Herod ordered the construction of a refuge of palaces, storerooms and water cisterns within siege worthy battlements on a high mesa in the desert southeast of Jerusalem, near the Dead Sea. Construction was completed in about 30 B.C.

King Herod was a vassal king of the Romans, and after his death, Rome’s rule became increasingly onerous and persecutory for the Jews in and around Jerusalem, their holy city. In 66 A.D., the Jews began a violent rebellion against the Romans and in 72 A.D., a group of about 960, including wives and children, sought refuge at Masada, Herod’s desert stronghold.

The rebellion was brutal and violent on both sides and the Romans were intent on wiping out the rebels. Hence, they besieged the Jews on Masada with an estimated force of 10,000 troops. With access to King Herod’s long ago abandoned food stores and water system, it became clear that the Jewish rebels would not be starved into submission, so the Romans constructed a ramp up the mesa and managed to breach the walls of the citadel. To this day, one can stand atop the Masada mesa and see the outlines of the Roman camps, their ramp and the breach in the defensive wall.

The Dovecote at Masada, Israel

The Masada defenders did not have to depend solely on King Herod’s 100 year old food stores. They had access to fresh meat from this dovecote.

The view from Masada, Israel

Part of the stark view from atop the Masada mesa with another one of the eight Roman siege camps that ringed the fortress on the left.

Based on a roughly contemporaneous account by Flavius Josephus (a Jewish rebel who eventually sided with the Romans), when it became obvious that defeat was certain, the leader of the rebels on Masada, Elazar Ben-Yair, and his followers decided to take their own lives and those of their families rather than submit to the Romans. It is said the men drew lots to choose ten to kill the others and then again to choose the one who would kill the other nine before committing suicide.

There has been recent conjecture by even Israeli historians as to the veracity of this heroic version of the events at Masada; however, there is no doubt that people lived and died there during a tumultuous and disastrous time for the Jewish people. Masada is an imposing natural and historic monument that deserves to be a part of any visit to Israel.

Visiting Masada

Cable car at Masada, Israel

The wimps’ way up to the top of the Masada mesa–by cable car. The Snake Trail is visible to the right.

Consistent with the history of the Jewish diaspora, we were taken to visit Masada by Mr. Excitement’s first cousins who we met for the first time during our trip to Israel. Mr. E’s father escaped Europe to the United States in 1939, while his father’s sisters and parents sought refuge in Israel after the Second World War.

Depending on traffic, it is about an hour and a half to two hour drive from inside Jerusalem southeast to Masada. If you don’t have nice relatives who volunteer to pick you up at your Jerusalem hotel and drive you to Masada, it is well worth arranging to be taken there by one of the many day tours that leave from Jerusalem.  A rented car and a public bus from Jerusalem are other options. There is a hostel at the site and many Dead Sea resort hotels a short distance away.

What to wear at Masada, Israel

Are we there yet? Notice me clinging to my water bottle. I had to borrow a hat.

Everything I read about visiting Masada admonishes visitors to wear breathable clothing, sun block and good walking shoes, and to bring a sun hat and plenty of water. This is especially true if you plan to hike up the switchbacks and stairs of the Snake Trail to the ruins atop the mesa during the heat of the day. (Many choose to hike up before dawn to avoid the heat and to be able to watch the sunrise). We arrived at the site at around 11:15 a.m., We wimped out wisely opted to take the cable car  to the top of the mesa. Our relatives recommended the audio guide and we were glad to have that narrative even though there are explanatory signs in English throughout the ruins. We spent only an hour and a half traipsing around the site, but I am a lightweight when it comes to dealing with heat and that was pretty much my limit. Although some paths through the ruins are ostensibly paved, be prepared for rocky, uneven terrain and some climbing up and down steps. The site is only partially accessible for those in wheelchairs.

The Visitors’ Center complex next to the start of the Snake Trail and the cable car on the east side of the mountain contains a food court, gift shop and a museum. I was sorry not to have had time to visit the museum. Most people recommend it, but there is a split of opinion as to whether to do so before or after your visit to the ruins. (Note: The cable car is only accessible from the east side of Masada.) As always, it is important to check for the latest opening schedule and costs.)

The Dead Sea

Floating in the Dead Sea, Israel

Watching other people float effortlessly in the Dead Sea.

Like Venice, the Dead Sea is one of those places you should move up on your bucket list so you can see it before it’s gone. While Venice is being drowned by a rising sea level, the Dead Sea is evaporating at an alarming rate. Even if you are just doing a day trip from Jerusalem, you can combine a visit to Masada with the chance to float effortlessly in the nearby Dead Sea — doing everything in your earthly power to not get water in your eyes. Our relatives purchased vouchers that let us use the facilities at the Crowne Plaza Hotel which has direct access to the Dead Sea.

People slathering themselves with Dead Sea mud, Isreal

Um, some people look better in Dead Sea mud than others.

 

 

Or, you can follow the lead of Mr. and Mrs. Excitement and merely touch and taste the Dead Sea, agree that it’s yucky extremely salty and feels oily, and then sit on a beach chair and watch other people cover themselves with Dead Sea mud because someone brilliantly told them it is good for their skin.

[* If you need a refresher about (or introduction to) Texas history and the symbolism of the Alamo, read about it here.}

Do you have an experience to share about your visit to Masada? What was the most moving historic or natural site you have experienced near home or in your travels?

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{ 75 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Patti Morrow April 5, 2015 at 1:28 pm

I did the trip to Masada and the Dead Sea around 15 years ago, and it was one of those days that stayed with me forever. I loved reading your account and remembering, as well as just seeing the 2-part “The Dove Keepers” last week. We took the cable car up but it was out of order when we were ready to leave and had to hike down the Snake Path. It was hot, but at least we did not have to hike up. I did float in the Dead Sea — I giggled the whole time. What a surreal feeling! Definitely one of my top travel experiences. I have a photo of it — I’m wearing a huge floppy sun hat and reading a Jerusalem newspaper with my feet sticking out of the water. 🙂

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr April 5, 2015 at 2:59 pm

Thanks for sharing your experience, Patti. I’ve been carrying around the book, The Dove Keepers. I started it, but was pretty much instantly upset by the story. I don’t want to see the TV version until I read it. Maybe on the plane ride to Spain 😉

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avatar Jackie Humphries Smith April 5, 2015 at 4:40 pm

Loved this, Suzanne. I am even more excited about our visit to Israel – even the brief, two-day taster – we get on the cruise. I also skipped the tv version of The Dove Keepers as I told you, you prompted me to buy the book and it is packed away in the suitcases to be pulled out on those long, carefree (?) days at sea when we cruise the Gulf of Aden, and the Red Sea. . .

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr April 5, 2015 at 7:18 pm

Hmm. I don’t think I’ve heard the Gulf of Aden and “carefree” used in the same sentence. 😉

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avatar Tim April 5, 2015 at 6:43 pm

I traveled to the Dead Sea and to Masada a while ago before the wimps way up did not exist. Upon reaching the top I was hot, sweaty, and fascinated. It is a remarkable place with an equally remarkable history. I remember it fondly.

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr April 5, 2015 at 7:19 pm

I think the key to hiking up to Masada is to do it before sunrise. That at least takes care of the hot sun issue.

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avatar Jacqueline Gum April 5, 2015 at 8:16 pm

I have not made this trip yet, but it is on my list ( a rather long one) and I am fascinated by the history! What a wonderful re-telling! But you made me laugh with the Dead Sea mud description!

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avatar Betsy Wuebker | PassingThru April 5, 2015 at 10:24 pm

Suzanne! You are dressed head to toe in black in the heat!? I would’ve passed out. Thank you for the detailed history. I love (and recognized) the analogy with the Alamo. But, I was unaware of all the details which you provided, including the fact that it was Herod’s stronghold – which immediately made me realize he must have been a much more complex human being than many Christians are aware. What a fascinating story your father-in-law must have lived, as well.

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr April 6, 2015 at 1:42 am

Betsy, I understand that the vision in black thing might have seemed a tad incongruous for climbing around Masada under the desert sun. However for this 3 week trip, I decided that everything had to go with black pants (trousers for the Brits). I had three pairs along. Most of our travel was in much cooler climes—-we were freezing in Turkey, so that black shirt was the lightest material I had and the pants too were very light and loose fitting—but hot is hot.

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avatar Maddy Resendes April 5, 2015 at 10:31 pm

Did they tell you to counter-intuitively wear black to keep cool??!! In these very dry looking vistas you have posted I feel like I’m looking at CA if we don’t figure out what to do about our ongoing drought! I think I’ll go get a nice glass of water. Reading your brief bloody history lesson – which I always appreciate, by the way (the history, not that it happens to be bloody!), I am reminded of the simple lesson in Kenneth Branagh’s “Cinderella” I recently saw with Emma – “have courage, be kind”. Perhaps it’s time for people the world over to follow this simple, salubrious dictum…..really.

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr April 6, 2015 at 1:45 am

Mads—nothing counter-intuitive going on. Those duds were simply the lightest (in weight) and blousiness that I had to choose from. They just happened to all be black. As I mentioned, I found the history in this region from 6,000 years ago to the present to be very sobering and un-hopeful. There are plenty of people of good will there, but their voices get drowned out by the zealots on all sides.

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avatar Elaine J. Masters April 6, 2015 at 12:00 am

I admire your fortitude in visiting so many places in the area. Masada looks like an incredible opportunity to step back in time. Hopefully we’ll learn from such brutal past experiences. In the meantime I’d love to visit and take that tram to the top but especially before it gets too hot. Good tips and no wimps!

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr April 6, 2015 at 1:46 am

Elaine, I’m sorry to report that I didn’t feel that a lot of learning from past experiences was going on in the places we visited.

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avatar Paula McInerney April 6, 2015 at 12:56 am

I used to teach about Masada so this was a great read and good to see your photos

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avatar jenny@atasteoftravel April 6, 2015 at 2:07 am

Masada was on our Israel itinerary, a trip that unfortunately we had to cancel but we’ll definitely be going at another time. I’m glad we had included it…your historical background and description of it is fascinating. I’ll remember to leave early in the morning!

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avatar Linda ~ Journey Jottings April 6, 2015 at 2:18 am

Heat, can literally be a killer – Here in Oz we’re constantly told how you should really carry a litre for every hour you’re out on hot open trails – And as I get older, I’m getting to think carrying an umbrella too to diffuse the sun’s rays is not so silly – particularly if you end up getting caught out in the mid day sun!
What a tough looking landscape – That sadly matches its history.

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr April 6, 2015 at 10:34 am

Linda, you’re right about the importance of staying hydrated. I never drink enough—even when I’m not walking around ancient desert fortresses. Your observation about the terrain matching the history is also quite on point.

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avatar Lenie April 6, 2015 at 7:01 am

Suzanne, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this post. I find the early history of that area fascinating and there were things here that I had not heard of. the photos were amazing – seeing the outline of the Roman camps still today is unbelievable. This is in sand country, don’t they have sand storms that wipe everything out. Anyway, thank you for a wonderful read.

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr April 6, 2015 at 10:35 am

Thank you Lenie. They probably do have sand storms, but I think the archaeologists found and excavated the Roman camps.

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avatar Catarina April 6, 2015 at 7:17 am

Visited Israel when I was 19 and it was a fantastic trip. Loved visiting the places we had heard about in the bible. Also went to the Dead Sea and it was truly a remarkable experience floating there. Not sure if Masada was open to visitors then but I didn’t visit. Have heard from a lot of people who have visited though that it was really interesting.

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr April 6, 2015 at 10:36 am

Catarina, there is certainly something eerily magical about actually seeing places written about thousands of years ago.

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avatar Patricia Weber April 6, 2015 at 1:05 pm

What an interesting post, Suzanne – love hearing about travel adventures. Israel’s Alamo does sound like the right title from your description. Do you think we, the human race, will ever learn from such horrific times? I suppose I don’t see it in the world right now. Love the floating in the Dea Sea pic.

In our travels, I’d have to say the most historic place was Egypt. Wow! Talk about the ingenuity of the human race. How did they get those pyramids built? It’s mostly speculation.

Thanks for this post!

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr April 6, 2015 at 1:27 pm

Patricia, I wish I could honestly say that I think we (the human race) can learn from the horrors of our past, but given that most of the historic places in Israel contain the remains of 9 civilizations, each destroyed by the successive one, I admit to no small amount of existential angst.

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avatar noel April 6, 2015 at 1:58 pm

I’ve always been fascinated with Masada, thanks for taking us on a trip to this site and giving us the story of its amazing past.

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avatar Bob R April 6, 2015 at 2:59 pm

That’s quite the perspective from atop the Mesa. And yes, some do look better in Dead Sea mud than others. 🙂

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr April 6, 2015 at 4:50 pm

Noel, I hope you and your camera pay a visit to Masada some day. With your talents as a photographer, I’m sure the photos would do the site justice.

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avatar nan @ lbddiaries April 6, 2015 at 6:02 pm

Amazing pictures! I hate heat so it is unlikely I’ll ever visit any place I can’t keep cool. Wimp sure, but a happy one! I let others go out and suffer – or better, watch them! We saw and toured a lot of amazing places when I was a kid (dad was in Army) – castles, amazing floral gardens, Hitler’s salt mind/hide out, etc. My parents believed in immersing us in local places rather than living on base. I am so grateful.

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr April 9, 2015 at 3:03 am

I’m glad your parents actually embraced the “Join the armed forces and see the world” slogan. When I traveled with my family as a 16 year old in France, Italy and Spain after my father was an exchange teacher in England for a year, we ran into quite a few American military families also touring.

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avatar Susan Moore April 6, 2015 at 6:40 pm

Suzanne, I sure enjoyed reading your post, so much more interesting than the average history book! The closest that I have been to Masada Israel is the Dead Sea on the Jordan side. I did not float in the water because is was December and a little too chilly. I did bring back some chunks of salt, it was amazing to see the thick layers of salt encased on the rocks along the beach.

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr April 9, 2015 at 3:05 am

I’m glad your parents actually embraced the “Join the armed forces and see the world” slogan. When I traveled with my family as a 16 year old in France, Italy and Spain after my father was an exchange teacher in England for a year, we ran into quite a few American military families also touring.

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avatar Leslie in Oregon April 6, 2015 at 7:48 pm

I have not yet been to Israel, but I want to go there. Our next-door neighbors are Israeli, and I am very much taken with all they have shown us of the mèlange that is Israeli culture. As to what was the most moving historic site I have experienced near home or in my travels, that would be Dachau, which I visited when I was 17-years-old, shortly after the site opened. I will never forget the horrifying lessons I learned that day, which moved and continue to haunt my very being.

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avatar Carole T. Meyers April 6, 2015 at 8:16 pm

Great description of Masada! It is such a sad story. However, I did love bobbing in the Dead Sea and rubbing mud all over me. As I recall, the tour I was on allowed only about 10 minutes in the water, not nearly enough time, but better than no time at all!

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avatar Juergen | dare2go April 6, 2015 at 8:22 pm

Well, my compliment: a well researched and written article which actually softened my stance towards travel in Israel. I was so strongly entrenched in my objections to the country’s treatment of the Palestinians that I was adamant I would never go there (until these politics ended). You showed me a very interesting side which somehow softened my position.

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr April 9, 2015 at 3:18 am

Juergen, Israel (and indeed the entire Middle East) is a very complicated place. We visited the home of the Israeli physician who invited my husband to speak at his hospital. He let us do a load of laundry, so I saw their house beyond the dining room and he explained that the room behind their laundry room is a “hardened” room where they have to retreat during rocket attacks. Last year, a rocket landed 3 kms from their house outside Jerusalem. He is not a Netanyahu supporter, thinks his settlement policy is wrong and was very disappointed in his re-election. I believe that many Israelis and “Israeli Arabs” and Palestinians are people of good will, but there are zealots on both sides and they are “calling the shots”—so to speak.

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avatar Juergen | dare2go April 10, 2015 at 8:47 am

I know it’s a very complex issue with a long history. You can’t necessarily blame individuals for the current situation. How the state of Israel came into existence after WWII was a big historic mistake for which all sides are still paying a high price. What bugs me the most is the deeply entrenched right-wing Jewish lobbying in the USA, on all governmental and media levels, which influences the world’s political reactions (or lack thereof) to the obvious transgressions of any Israeli government.

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avatar Erica April 6, 2015 at 8:26 pm

I’ve done very little travelling in my life. Having said that, I think it would be interesting to swim in the dead sea. I love the dead sea mud. I used to go through marshes as a kid and I loved coming out all dirty.

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avatar Roz Warren April 6, 2015 at 11:19 pm

Fascinating. Glad you went and reported back. With photos. I’ve never wanted to go to either place and I STILL don’t want to go to either place but now I have a somewhat better idea of why. Heat. Mud. Climbing. No thanks!

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avatar Ken Dowell April 6, 2015 at 11:40 pm

Well it certainly looks more imposing than the Alamo, even if the legend bears some similarity. I think the most stunning historic site I’ve been to is the Colisseum in Rome. it is a ruin but it is so easy to visualize what it was, so you can almost see the history.

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avatar Carol Colborn April 7, 2015 at 2:53 am

Suzanne, you write such professional posts! I must have as much attention to detail as you, revealing as much history (Herod’s complexity) as well as insight (Alamo). Thanks for always giving me an example of a read-worthy travel article!

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avatar Lyn aka The Travelling Lindfields April 7, 2015 at 6:00 am

I love your writing style, self-deprecating and amusing. My mother used to talk about swimming in the Dead Sea – it is clearly one of those amazing experiences.

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avatar Marquita Herald April 7, 2015 at 8:19 am

Very interesting Suzanne and I love the photos you’ve shared. I’ve never been to Israel, but I worked for Benjamin Kahan and Coral World for several years and through them learned quite a lot about the Dead Sea and the work they are doing. I was “encouraged” a number of times to come for a visit, but never got around to it. Maybe one day. Thanks for the fascinating story!

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avatar Anita @ No Particular Place To Go April 7, 2015 at 8:28 am

I remember reading a novel years ago based on Masada as well as being a huge Leon Uris fan and devouring his epic novels about Israel. I’ve always been intrigued by Masada and your post was fascinating with it’s details and history. I also loved the photos which gave me a sense of the stark and unforgiving conditions that the beseiged Jews endured. Thanks for this terrific post!

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr April 8, 2015 at 3:18 am

My husband read Exodus by Leon Uris during the trip and I think the place and the book provided a certain “you are there” synergy. When he finished Exodus, he started another Uris novel told more from the Arab point of view called “Haj”. He says I should read it. (I read Exodus years ago). It’s on my list for after the Dovekeepers.

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avatar Helene Cohen Bludman April 7, 2015 at 10:24 am

Climbing Massada will remain as one the most vivid and meaningful experiences I have ever had. BTW have you read The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman? It is a novel based on the story of Massada. Well worth reading.

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr April 8, 2015 at 3:16 am

Thanks for your comment, Helene. I carried that book, The Dovekeepers, around during our 3 week trip, but it started out so depressingly that I never wanted to pick it up. Many people have recommended it, so it must have some saving grace. I included the photo of the Dovecote at Masada in this post because I know quite a few people who have read and recommend the book and others who have seen the TV drama version. I’m going to give it another chance.

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avatar Doreen McGettigan April 7, 2015 at 10:56 am

This is a trip that is definitely on my bucket list. I have wanted to visit ever since my niece to the hike at sunrise and got the most amazing photos I have ever seen.
I have never heard the Dead Sea described like that before. Yuk!

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr April 8, 2015 at 3:13 am

I spoke to my 92 year old aunt yesterday. She remembers swimming in the Dead Sea and getting water in her eyes. Apparently, that’s quite excruciating. Everyone who has had the misfortune to get Dead Sea water in their eyes most definitely remembers the experience.

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avatar Shelley April 7, 2015 at 4:07 pm

Very interesting post about Masada and its history. It’s definitely on my list for our eventual trip to Israel. Almost every historical site we visit is linked to brutality of some sort, even though many of the stories have been softened by time. On the flip side, in the midst of tragedy there are also stories of humans at their best, exhibiting courage and self-sacrifice for the sake of others.

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr April 8, 2015 at 3:10 am

Shelley, the history of the places we visited in the Middle East did not make me very hopeful for a lasting peace in that area of the world—-or any area of the world, for that matter. As long as human beings are involved, there will be conflict. Then, fortunately, there are the better angels of our nature. The dichotomy feels overwhelming at times.

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avatar Doreen Pendgracs April 7, 2015 at 10:02 pm

I would enjoy a visit to the Dead Sea. The Masada .. Not so much. But it certainly looks like you had an amazing trip. Thx for sharing with us, and Happy Passover!

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr April 8, 2015 at 3:11 am

Doreen, I’m sorry to say I didn’t see a lot of chocolate in Turkey and Israel, but if it’s there, you would definitely be the person to find it!

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avatar Donna Janke April 8, 2015 at 10:18 am

It’s interesting that you should compare Masada to the Alamo in the same week I visited the Alamo. I’d not heard about Masada before and appreciated the history you provided. It sounds worth a visit, but I think 1 1/2 hours of stairs and heat would have been all I could have handled too.

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr April 9, 2015 at 3:22 am

Donna, that is an interesting coincidence—that you learned about Masada the same week you happened to visit the Alamo. I’ve been to Masada, but never to the Alamo in my own country. I’ve also been to Iguazu Falls in Argentina, but I’ve never been to Niagara Falls. Remember that old Chevy ad—-“See the USA in your Chevrolet”. That’s what I need to do—but it will be in a Toyota. 😉

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avatar Lisa Chavis April 8, 2015 at 11:39 am

We recently watched “The Dovekeepers” about the story of Masada and I’m totally intrigued by all things Masada. 🙂 Looking at those stairs from the ground, I definitely think you made the right decision with the cable car!

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avatar Patti April 9, 2015 at 3:53 am

I’m with you, I do not like being hot. It’s why we’re walking the Camino in the spring. i decided I’d rather sneeze my way across Spain than be overly hot. I think we’ve both just had tremendous experiences of balancing emotions with history and the impact on human lives. It’s what makes travel so important, in my opinion, to see the perspective of others and to also know that people are just trying to live their lives the best way they know how. Safe travels my friend.

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr April 11, 2015 at 12:46 am

Thank you, Patti, and best of luck during your “walk” on the Camino of Santiago. I am very impressed and I’m jealous. At least I’ll be able to follow along vicariously —-if you’re not too tired to write. 😉 It seems to me that the Middle East of today is in many ways similar to the religious upheavals Europe endured even up through “the Troubles” in Ireland. It is stunning to me that it still matters which particular orthodoxy one practices even if people are ostensibly practicing the same religion—mostly Islam in the MidEast.

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avatar Cathy Sweeney April 9, 2015 at 10:36 pm

I hear you about that feeling of “uncomfortable despair about the human race’s capacity to endure”. Hard to avoid it sometimes. But on to sunnier subjects — love all the history you’ve provided here and detail about visiting. I actually would like to try the dead sea mud — just in case it really works.

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr April 9, 2015 at 11:55 pm

Cathy, trust me, they sell Dead Sea Mud products. I’m sure you can order some on line, but then everyone won’t get to gawk at you and Mr. TWS slathering each other. 😉

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avatar Michele Peterson ( A Taste for Travel) April 10, 2015 at 9:58 am

I love that aerial photo of fortress of Masada…it’s hard to imagine anyone being able to live in such a barren environment. I’d totally do the Dead Sea Mud treatment — on the off chance it works!

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr April 11, 2015 at 12:48 am

I shouldn’t be so judgmental about the mud thing (just because it looks ridiculous when you slather it on in public). People who have tried it who I’ve spoken to swear it works and they weren’t trying to sell me anything so I’m inclined to believe them—but still not inclined to try it.

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avatar Irene S. Levine, PhD April 10, 2015 at 9:59 am

Thanks for sharing both your history and impressions. Sounds like a great trip!
xo

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avatar William Rusho April 10, 2015 at 1:41 pm

Actually in recent times, there are huge discrepancies between archeological digs, and the writings of Josephus, whose account tells of the mass suicide. The site itself was not confirmed until 1830’s. Many historians now believe that the mass suicide never occurred.
A very interesting aspect of the archeological excavation, is a 2,000 seed was found there, and was germinated and grew into a date tree.

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr April 10, 2015 at 3:11 pm

Thanks, William. The concerns about the accuracy of Josephus’ account are discussed in the article I linked to in the blog post above which is from an Israeli source.

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avatar Sue Reddel April 10, 2015 at 2:11 pm

I’ve never been to Masada but I find it very interesting and would love to travel there. Thanks for the virtual tour.

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avatar Pamela Chollet April 10, 2015 at 8:10 pm

It seems odd that a historical site known for such devastation and destruction is now a natural sea “spa”. Seeing people in bathing suits covered in mud and drifting basking in the sun somehow seems incongruous. I’m amazed how the ancient cities and temples got built from pure man power. How did Herod get the materials up on top of the mountain? Masada must have taken years to build.

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr April 11, 2015 at 1:09 am

Pamela, Masada itself is in no way a spa and the Dead Sea spas are 20 -30 minutes away by car. They’re quite separate entities, but people often combine them in the same trip because they are close enough for that to be reasonable.

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avatar Josie April 11, 2015 at 8:57 am

Hi Suzanne,
I’m completely with you on your alluded-to “we’re doomed” rant. I believe what you say is true — that there are many, (most), even-handed folks in the middle with the zealots surrounding them. But alas, it is the zealots’ voices that get heard, and their actions that affect history, you know? Every history learning experience I soak in while traveling brings home this point. History repeats itself because we’re not listening!
Thanks for your always honest and informative posts. You’ve started a super conversation here.
Josie

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avatar Beth Niebuhr April 11, 2015 at 9:45 am

Thanks for sharing your experience in visiting Israel. I haven’t visited it but lived in San Antonio for a year and so have visited the Alamo. It is such a good idea to do a lot of research before visiting a place so rich with history.

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avatar A Cook Not Mad (Nat) April 11, 2015 at 8:51 pm

Thank you so much for the history lesson. I love the pictures!

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avatar alison abbott April 12, 2015 at 10:50 pm

I have quite a few friends who have travelled to Masada, but I had no idea the area was so desolate and arid. I can’t imagine how they survived atop the mesa for any period of time. I like the way you gave the history before the actual visit, it made the story really come alive.Quite a contrast to the Dead Sea experience.

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avatar Barbara Feldman April 17, 2015 at 1:52 pm

Thanks for the memories! I’ve long been fascinated by Herod, and was fortunate enough to get to the Israel Museum’s exhibit on him last year. Always had mixed feelings about Masada. Not a fan of the heat, for one thing, and the whole suicide story never sat well with me. Love the Dead Sea spas, though.

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avatar Alana August 8, 2015 at 8:53 am

I’ve never been to Israel – without conquering a fear of flying I developed about 20 years ago, I expect I will never visit. That may indeed be my big adventure – just getting on a plane. The heat and the uneven ground I would not be able to handle at all, though. Domestically, I visited the Alamo back in the 1970’s. I was so surprised it was right in the midst of downtown San Antonio – in a way, that disappointed me. I enjoy visiting Civil War battlefields and have been to some of the major ones.

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr August 8, 2015 at 9:54 am

Thanks for reminding me that I want to do a blog post about the fear of flying and what people have done to deal with it.

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avatar Janice Wald August 9, 2015 at 1:01 pm

I was intrigued by your headline. #midlifeluv I agree Masada was/is Israel’s Alamo.

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avatar Anita Irlen August 9, 2015 at 3:05 pm

I have always been drawn to Masada, and I’m surprised by how many of your readers have been there. I think I’m just drawn to the dramatic and austere. But I think my take away impression would be similar to yours. Will we ever learn? Thanks

Anita

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