Sunday, January 13, 2008

Metzada with Nefesh B'Nefesh

Time for another tour! This time, it's off to Masada on a tour organized by Nefesh B'Nefesh.
Metzada, "The Fortress," was one of the many massive building projects initiated by King Herod, also known as "Herod the Great," although his memory is still reviled by most Jews. From an Edomite family (traditional enemies of the Jews,) his family had been forcibly converted to Judaism by the Hasmoneans (a dynasty of Jewish kings of Israel who took power after the Maccabean revolt until the Roman conquest.) He was appointed Tetrarch, a minor ruler, of the Galillee region by the Romans. Antigonus, the Hasmonean heir to the throne, attempted to overthrow Herod and establish his own kingdom, so Herod fled to Rome. And returned wit the Roman Legions, who subdued the province of Judea and ended the Hasmonean dynasty quite violently.
Driving to Metzada, we pass the shores of the Dead Sea.

Some guy selling lemonade at a checkpoint.

Looking through the date palms at the oasis of Ein Gedi towards Metzada.

Metzada rises over the wasteland.
And we're here!

Herod's opressive policies, including the execution of masses of both Jewish leaders and humble subjects, left him in constant fear of revolt. The paranoia that typically develops from megalomania didn't help much either. To keep himself safe and sound, he built Metzada, a desert fortress standing on a massive mesa with sheer cliffs all around. Here, he withstand a siege for years, giving plenty of time for reinforcements to arrive from Rome.

A little red line indicates the Snake Path up Metzada.

Some of the wildlife. An Ibex, or something like that. I don't know the fauna here.
I played with the contrast and color saturations in Paint Shop Pro and I think this version is much cooler.

The hike up the snake path is something of a "high profile" hike.

There is a cable car for those who don't want to hike all the way up.

It has a reputation of being quite strenuous, but really, I didn't find it so difficult. It took me about 45 minutes at an easy pace.

Gettin' high.

Metzada is considered a major landmark not because of Herod, a run-of-the-mill oppressor of Jews who was thrown on the ash heap of history five minutes after his death, but because of another drama that unfolded here.

Made it, no sweat!

Herod's design was, in fact, so defensible that it was used by the Jews during the revolt against the Romans. In 70 CE, as the Romans wiped out the last Jewish strongholds, a surviving band of 936 rebels fled to Metzada. The Romans laid siege.

A current resident of Metzada. In the background, the remains of one of several camps of the 10th Roman Legion which besieged the city.

A model of what Herod's palace looked like.

The remains of Herod's Palace today.

Looking out onto the Dead Sea from Metzada. These canals carry brine from the northern section of the Dead Sea to the southern, where the water is evaporated to extract valuable Potash by the Dead Sea Works.

Looking towards the enormous evaporation ponds.

Our tour guide's father was involved in local excavations. Often the local Bedouin would loot archaeological sites before they could be excavated. They would then sell the items they found back to collectors, or archaeologists. Her father was able to buy back some coins, most of which he gave to the Israel Antiquities Authority, per the law. But they let him keep a few.

A coin minted during the Bar Kochba Revolt.
Rebuilt storehouses.
Another local resident.

With the benefit of elevation, the Jewish rebels were able to prevent the entire Roman Legion from ascending the steep path. The Romans changed strategy and began building a ramp to penetrate the fortress' defenses.

The Roman ramp up the west side of Metzada.

Eventually, after three years of siege, the Romans reached the top. The night before the breach of the wall, the rebels knew the game was up. They drew lots and committed mass suicide rather than be taken prisoner. To this day, the site is seen as a symbol of resistance, and the last bastion of Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel until modern times.

Moshe Dayan, when he was Army Chief of Staff, understood the symbology of Metzada, and, upon their completion of basic training, he had IDF units to ascend the snake path by night to take the Oath of Alliegence, with soldiers swearing upon induction that, "Metzada shall not fall again!"

The flag on Metada.

Well, the hike down is going to be a cinch. After all, it's all downhill from here.

Now I have to go all that way back down.

Back at the bottom. Bet your {} I climbed that mountain!

No comments: