Masada  (Hebrew: מצדה) is a magnificently located fortress site in Israel's stark Judean Desert, close to the Dead Sea. The last Jewish holdout to fall to Rome in 73 CE, Masada symbolizes the exile of the Jewish nation from the Holy Land. Its violent end has become a symbol of bravery and self-sacrifice since the founding of the State of Israel in 1948.
Masada, whose Hebrew name (מצדה) means fortress, is located on a breathtaking rock plateau with steep cliffs rising on all sides. Roman client King Herod the Great constructed a fortified palace complex atop of the plateau between 37 and 31 BCE. During the Jewish rebellion against Rome in first century CE, Jewish zealots took refuge in isolated Masada. After remaining there for seven years, the zealots finally fell at the hands of the Roman army in 73 CE. However, rather than be killed or enslaved, the hold up rebels chose to commit a mass suicide, a deed which forever enshrined them in the annals of Jewish history. After extensive excavations in the 1960s, the disturbing actions on Masada became thought of as courageous and valorous.
The fastest way to reach ascend Masada is by the cable car, however more adventurous visitors may opt for the so-called "Snake Path" or Roman ramp. Once there, the Herod's palace complex, replete with Roman-style mosaics and bath houses, can be toured. Also viewable are the zealot's synagogues, storehouses, and homes. From Masada, the remanants of the Roman encampments are clearly visible. Also, the stark natural beauty of the Judean Desert and nearby Dead Sea can be fully taken in from high atop Masada.
Most people access Masada from the eastern side near Road 90, which runs down the Israeli coast of the Dead Sea. The less used option is Road 3199 from Arad to the western side. The road ends at a parking lot, from which there is a comparatively easy 15-20 minute ascent to the top.
Masada, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has been granted a special place in the heart of the Jewish nation. Though the actions of the zealots are still debated, Masada has become synonymous with the tragic and much-mourned downfall of Jewish life in the Holy Land. More recently, this symbol of death has been contrasted with Jewish rebirth, the founding of the State of Israel. Indeed, many Israeli soldiers, sworn in atop Masada, emotionally chant, "Masada shall never fall again."
Through Masada, both Jews and non-Jews can better understand both the history of the Jewish nation and Israel's deep importance to all Jews.