Any visitor to Israel would likely agree that one of their favorites stops and activities in all of Israel is the morning hike up to Masada to see the majestic sunrise. Masada, meaning "fortress" in Hebrew is literally an ancient fortress located in the middle of the Judean desert, about a 1.5 hour drive south from Jerusalem. The fortress, which was supposedly built during the time of King Herod between 37 and 31 BCE, is located atop an isolated rock cliff overlooking the Dead Sea on Israel's eastern border. The eastern side of the rock falls in a sheer drop of about 450 meters (or approximately 1500 feet) down to the Dead Sea basin, which is the lowest point on earth. On the western side of the rock, the drop is about 100 meters (or approximately 330 feet) above the surrounding terrain. Though excavations are still taking place today, a handful of important sites have been exposed and found over the last forty years, including the fortress itself, Herod's palace, a bathhouse, a storehouse, a synagogue and a plethora of artifacts. Here is a bird's eye view of Masada and some of the findings you can visit today:
People come to Masada from all over Israel and from all over the world to watch the mystifying sunrise that has made it legendary. When you first approach Masada, the imposing height can be disheartening:
Although most people do choose to face the exhausting climb to the mountain's peak, there is a second option for those less adventurous:
Whichever way you get there, whether by foot or by rail, you can perch yourself in a good spot before the sunrise blossoms and wait patiently for nature to take its course. What awaits you are some of the most stunning images of desert terrain you will ever see against the backdrop of the Dead Sea and an abundance of spectacular natural lighting. Here are a series of pictures I took in chronological order, a time lapse if you will, from my last visit to Masada:
After all the fun and games are over, you still have to get back down, and it's a long way to get there. Take a look at the winding staircase leading back down to the earth below:
Slowly but surely, you will eventually get back down. It doesn't take as long as it looks. You will make it back down to the Dead Sea Basin within one hour, much easier than the hike up!
Should you be so lucky to visit while a Bar or Bat Mitzvah is going on atop Masada, you may see some memorable ceremonial traditions taking place:
I hope every one of you will make it to Masada one day, it's just beautiful! It's the perfect thinker's spot, leaving most people recharged, energized and empowered. Just like many other hikes, layers are recommended, no matter what time of year, due to the altitude at the mountain's peak. I hope you've enjoyed seeing a little bit of what Masada is; it's definitely one of Israel's most treasured spots, for good reason. Aside from Arizona sunrises and sunsets, it still ranks at the top of my list for the world's most beautiful vistas.