Masada, just a short drive from the Dead Sea, is pronounced “Metzada” in Hebrew and comes from the Hebrew word for fortress.
According to Josephus, Herod the Great built the fortress atop Masada during the first century AD as a place of refuge in case of a revolt. A group of Jews called the Sicarii overtook Masada, however, in 66 AD at the beginning of the First Jewish-Roman War against the Roman Empire.
The Jews settled in Masada after the destruction of the Second Temple, after they fled Jerusalem. It was then used as a base to antagonize the Romans.
The Jewish settlement in Masada was short-lived, though, because beginning in 72 AD the Roman governor of Judea Lucius Flavius Silva tried to conquer the fortress.
After several failed attempts at breaching the fortress, Silvus laid siege to Masada and began building a rampart using a great deal of stones and earth.
By 73 AD, after three months of siege, the Romans were finally able to march over the complete rampart and break the walls of the fortress with a battering ram.
But when they entered the fortress they discovered that the nearly 1000 inhabitants of Masada had preemptively committed suicide and set most of the buildings on fire in order to avoid being captured, defeated, enslaved, or executed.
The Masada story is, in modern times, a legend of Jewish bravery and many significant ceremonies in Israel take place on that site.The fortress is situated on the top of a flat plateau and can only be reach by climbing the cliffs on the edge of the plateau.
In the past these edges served as the fortress’s natural defenses, but in modern times the trek up to Masada - usually done early in the morning so as to witness the sunrise from the fortress - is a rite of passage experienced by many of Israel’s youth on class trips or military treks.
Some IDF soldiers hold their swearing-in ceremony at the end of basic training atop Masada. The infamous Snake Path, on the eastern side of the mountain, is the most popular route for such hikes.
For those not interested in any such trek, cable cars are now available on the site.