Itamar Grinberg/Israeli Ministry of Tourism
Israel is truly a land of exceptional sights – and sites – from top to bottom. But roughly two hours south of Jerusalem, one of its most evocative (and popular) high points, so to speak, looms in the Judea desert some 396 metres (1,300 feet) above the shores of the Dead Sea. Masada (Hebrew for fortress) is an imposing UNESCO World Heritage Site, and after Jerusalem the most visited spot in the country. At this rugged fortress complex, excavated in the mid 1960s and dating back as early as the 1st century BC, a hardcore Jewish splinter group besieged by Roman forces in 73 AD killed themselves rather than surrender. Today, in addition to being a tourism star, Masada is used as a ceremonial site by the Israeli military’s special forces, who induct new members with the vow that “Masada shall not fall again”. (Other inductees make their vows at Jerusalem’s Western Wall.)The only written source for the history is Joseph ben Matityahu, who after fighting against Rome defected to the Romans, eventually becoming Galilee provincial governor Titus Flavius Josephus and authoring The Jewish War and other chronicles of contemporary Judea.