Massada was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001. This wonderfully preserved and in parts reconstructed site remains in such pristine condition largely because of its location in the desert near the Dead Sea – the same area where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. One of the most important tourist sites in all of Israel, Massada was a mountaintop fortress built by King Herod in 30 BCE. Its strategic location allowed the Herodians to defend themselves against invaders trying to scale its steep cliff sides until, in 68 BCE, a band of Jewish Zealots managed to take control. These Zealots managed to keep the site in Jewish hands until 72 BCE when it was again taken over by the Romans. A year later, in 73 BCE, the remaining 90 Zealots committed mass suicide when they could no longer defend themselves against the invading Roman army. One can walk up the Snake Path to the summit, or be whisked up in a cable car, to view the remains of King Herod’s two palaces, the Roman bathhouse, the Jewish ritual bathhouse (or mikveh), the synagogue and storehouses, as well as some beautiful and still colourful mosaics and murals.
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