Submitted by alvin on Tue, 2016-06-28 16:16 Entry to the fort from the cable car stationThe 400-metre climb, which normally takes about an hour through the snaking path, took only five minutes in a crowded cable car. As soon as I climbed a few steps from the cable car station, I was taken aback by the sight of the huge flat surface of the mountain top. A few more steps and I was in the middle of a vast excavated area. The images of Hampi came to my mind on seeing the solid rock formations and the excavated palaces and buildingsI was now standing in a corner of the vast fortress of Mount Masada, a fort built by Herod the Great between 37-31 BC. Set in the Judean desert, Masada is a rugged natural fortress in Israel, and is a place prided by Israelis. A group of Jewish people, known as Sicarii, had laid siege to this fort in 66 BC. They expanded it and started living on the mountain top. After the destruction of the Second Temple, more Jews fled from Jerusalem and began living at Masada.Panoramic view of the excavationThe area from where Romans laid a seigeIn 72 BC, in the final stage of first Jewish-Roman war, ten thousand Roman troops surrounded Masada, built a 114 metre assault ramp and breached the fortress by setting the gates on fire. When they entered, they were supposedly greeted by the bodies of 950 inhabitants, who had set fire to all their buildings before committing suicide. It is not known how long the Romans continued living in Masada fort, but the fort came into prominence only in the year 1963 when Israeli archaeologist Yigael Yadin made extensive excavations which went on till 1965.Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001, Masada was built as a palace complex on three natural rock terraces. The plateau on top of Masada hillock is 500 x 250 metres in area and 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.In this part, a piece of pottery containing an inscription, fragments of scrolls and books were found. The remnants of a Byzantine church were also found during the excavation. The throne room of the king, administrative buildings, residential quarters, and store rooms form parts of other palaces. The palace’s size, layout and rich decoration make it significant. The massive defensive wall built all along the fortress is 1300-metres long.The Roman style bathhouses in Masada are also significant. The residents of Masada had developed an excellent system of rainwater harvesting by building cisterns on top of the hill. The ramp built by the Romans to conquer the fort is another attraction of Masada.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. 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." The cable carView of the Dead Sea from MasadaOne can get magnificent views from the top of the mountain. On one side is the Judean desert and on the other, the beautiful Dead Sea. The natural landscape is pleasing to the eyes. Many tourists, after a tiresome visit to Masada, actually go to the Dead Sea to have a refreshing dip.Author:Dr. DV Guruprasad (Former DGP) is presently the Chief Executive of the Gokula Education Foundation (Medical) which works in the field of education and health care.