Masada (Hebrew for fortress) is situated atop an isolated rock cliff at the western end of the Judean Desert, overlooking the Dead Sea. It is a place of gaunt and majestic beauty.
Masada, the ancient fortress built by King Herod the Great atop a lofty natural plateau overlooking the Dead Sea, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001. In adding Masada to its prestigious World Heritage List, UNESCO cited several aspects of Masada’s universal value: the site preserves a grand first-century Roman villa, the remains of the most complete Roman siege system in the world, and tells the story of the tragic events leading to the last chapter of the Great Revolt of the Jews against the Romans – the last stand of the rebels who became a symbol of the struggle fight for freedom from oppression in Jewish History.
On the east, the rock falls in a sheer drop of about 450 meters to the Dead Sea (the lowest point on earth, some 400 m. below sea level) and in the west, it stands about 100 meters above the surrounding terrain. The natural approaches to the cliff top are very difficult.
Masada is not mentioned in the in the Hebrew Bible. The only written source about Masada is Josephus Flavius the Jewish war. Born Joseph ben Matityahu of a priestly family, he was a young leader at the outbreak of the Great Jewish Rebellion against Rome (66 CE) when he was appointed the governor of Galilee. He managed to survive the suicide pact of the last defenders of Jodfat and surrendered to Vespasian events he described in detail. Calling himself Josephus Flavius, he became a Roman citizen and a successful historian.
According to Josephus Flavius, Herod the Great built the fortress of Masada between 37 and 31 BCE. Herod from Edom had been made King of Judea by his Roman overlords and was hated by his Jewish subjects. Herod, the master builder, furnished this fortress as a refuge for himself. It included a casemate wall around the plateau, storehouses, large cisterns ingeniously filled with rainwater, barracks, palaces and an armory.