Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Israel: The Dead Sea and Masada

When people ask me what my most memorable experience is Israel was, it is hard to answer. It's like picking your favorite ingredient in a really great sauce. However, the Dead Sea and Masada do stand out among the favorites.

The Dead Sea

The Dead Sea is beautiful.

What you see on the shore is not sand. It is salt. Across the Sea where you see those hills lies Jordan.

The Dead Sea is some 35% salt! There has been a drought for the past five years causing it to become even saltier. In normal years the area, which lies 1385 feet below sea level, receives only some three inches of rain per year.

The Dead Sea is so salty that you cannot sink. Helaine and I both donned bathing suits and waded out into it. You have to wear shoes because the "rocks" are actually chunks of salt and will not only cut your feet but will then "pour salt into the wound."

After wading out, everyone tries to sit down on the bottom. But you can't because you float. It's an unusual feeling to be able to sit on top of the water without sinking!

The Dead Sea was the world's first health spa! Herod used it as such. The mud from the flats and quicksand areas around the Dead Sea are supposed to have therapeutic and cosmetic benefits. I rubbed mud on my bad shoulders and knees. Did it help? I don't know.

There is a great spa at the Dead Sea, called Ein Gedi.
King David is said to have hidden from Saul at Ein Gedi. We ate a sumptuous meal at the spa. Helaine asked if the meal was kosher. The employee rolled her eyes then said, "of course." At the spa we shopped. A cosmetics company has its headquarters there. The cosmetics are made from the minerals of the Dead Sea.

Here is Helaine standing outside the spa at Ein Gedi. The desert is behind her; the Dead sea is in front of her. What scenery!

From the Dead Sea, we drove straight uphill until we reached the Masada.

Here you can see the Dead Sea as we climb up to Masada. There is a cable car. The option of climbing by foot on what is called the "snake trail" is available. Like most, we opted for the cable car.

I love Masada. It is an architectural, interior-design and engineering marvel. It also holds a tragic story within its walls.

The ancient walls still stand.

When you walk through Masada, you feel you have become a part of ancient history.

Herod (also called by some Herod the Great) built Masada between 37-31 B.C.E. One thing you can say about Herod--the man knew real estate! He built the place both to impress the Roman Emperor and as a refuge for himself in case of a Jewish revolt. He used slave labor to build the place.

He had a swimming pool built and baths. In the desert. On top of a mountain!
The slaves would have had to carry water to fill the pool and baths! Herod never got to use Masada.

Here is a bath that Herod had built.

Though Herod had the place built in case of Jewish uprising, Masada is most famous for the tragic yet brave tale of its later Jewish inhabitants. According to history, in 66CE a group of Jewish rebels overcame the Roman garrison of the Roman Empire. After the destruction of the Second Temple (70 CE), the Jewish rebels fled with their families to Masada and used it as their base for harassing the Roman soldiers.

Looking down from the "top floor" to the "bottom floor."

In 72, the Roman governor of Judaea, Lucius Flavius Silva marched against Masada and laid siege to the fortress. but he couldn't breach the wall. Using what was most likely Jewish slaves, the Romans built a ramp of rocks and dirt against the western face of the plateau.
The ramp is 375-feet high! The Romans finally breached the wall of the fortress with a
battering ram. But when they entered the fortress, the Romans discovered that its 960 inhabitants had set all the buildings but the food storerooms ablaze and committed mass suicide rather than face certain capture, defeat, slavery or execution by their enemies.

Here is the rampart the Romans had built to get up to the walls of Masada.

Visiting Masada, I was reminded of the tragic history of the Jews whose only desire is to survive, free to worship the one G-d without harassment. And, of course, of the magnificent architecture. Much beauty of Masada still survives. Food stores were found intact!

Here is an oil jug that sits where it was excavated. Many jars still had remnants of oil in them!

Looking down into the living quarters that have been excavated.

No, this is not a rug. This is a mosaic tile floor made to look like a rug. Imagine the man hours it took to make this. But then Herod used slaves. He didn't care about the hours of tedious work.

Yes, I would say that the Dead Sea and Masada were the most fascinating parts of my visit to Israel. But there is so much more.

More later.....