A symbol of Israeli pride

After visiting the important sights of Jerusalem, I started on a road journey to Dead Sea along with my Israeli host. As we were approaching our destination, my host insisted that we visit Mount Masada, which for the Jewish people is a symbol of their struggle against Roman aggression. After a short detour, we were at the foothill of a mountain 400 metres high.

The climb, which usually takes an hour by foot, took only five minutes in a crowded cable car. The moment I came out of the cable car station, I was taken aback by the sight of a huge flat surface on the mountain top.

On top of this flat surface stood the vast fort built by Herod the Great, between 37-31 BC. In 66 AD, some Jewish rebels took over this fort, and used it as a battle station against the Romans during their wars. In 72 AD, the Romans laid siege to this strategically important fortress towards the end of the first Jewish-Roman war. A 114-metre-high assault ramp was built and the fortress was finally breached. But the Roman efforts went in vain because the 1,000-odd inhabitants set fire to all their buildings and committed mass suicide.

The 1,25,000 sq ft plateau on Masada hilltop is divided into three parts — Herod’s palace, Western palace and Northern palace. The synagogue is the most important find in the western palace area. This was built by the Sicarii jews after 66 AD. In this part, a piece of pottery containing an inscription, fragments of scrolls and books were found, apart from the remnants of a Byzantine church.

The Roman-style bathhouses in Masada are significant. The residents of Masada had developed an excellent system of rainwater harvesting by building cisterns on top of the hill. The archaeological findings at Masada are preserved in a museum at the foot of the hill. The important ones are straw bags, pieces of hair, pottery, stone vessels and utensils, scroll fragments, pieces of bones etc.

The duration of the Romans’ stay in Masada fort is unknown, but the fort got back its prominence only in 1963, when Israeli archaeologist Yigael Yadin made extensive excavations.

Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001, Masada is now a symbol of Israeli glory and courage. National pride requires every Israeli to climb Masada at least once. Moshe Dayan started the practice of holding the oath ceremony of Israeli soldiers, who have completed their basic training, on top of Masada. The ceremony ends with the declaration: “Masada shall not fall again.”

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