Our fourth day we picked up two rental cars so that we could see some of the sights farther outside of Jerusalem.
We headed from Jerusalem east on the road to Jericho, which takes you pretty quickly out of the city and through hilly dry land, where you can see nomadic Bedouin families living in their settlements not far from the highway. As the road drops at several places there are big lines made of large blue stones in the side of the hill indicating how many meters you are above sea level, but the road just keeps descending.
Then you pass by one marked “sea level” – and yet the road just keeps going down.
Eventually the road comes out near the northern tip of the dead sea where you have to turn south.
Well, you don’t have to turn, but the only other option is clearly labelled ‘for military use only’ and leads to no-man’s land toward Jordan, so it’s probably best to stay off it.
All along the highway heading south along the Dead Sea (meaning the border with Jordan is to the east in the middle of the Sea) there are signs which read: CAUTION! Getting off the road eastwards and staying on the beach after sunset is strictly forbidden. (OK – well technically it also said تنبيه! هبوطه من الطريق شرقا والبقاء على الشاطئ بعد غروب الشمس ويمنع منعا باتا. and זהירות! יורד מזרחה הכביש ולהישאר על החוף לאחר השקיעה אסורה בהחלט. – but that probably matters to few of you reading this.)
Our first destination was the mountain fortress of Masada.
This is an absolutely amazing place to see. It was originally built by King Herod when he was the ruler of the Roman client state of Judea in the first century BC. This was an unbelievable undertaking. The complex had palaces, living quarters, lots of military fortification, and lots and lots of supply rooms.
Considering it was a massive compound on the top of a mountain in the dessert, you had to be clever to get water supplies. As was apparently par for the course for Herod, brute force and massive labor was the answer. Herod had water cisterns built with a total capacity of 40,000 cubic meters – 40 million liters (about ten million gallons). Nope, that’s not a typo – 40 million liters of water.
To do this they built a huge and complex aqueduct system to catch the flash-flood type run off that does occur and direct this water to rows of protected plastered cisterns that were as high as possible along the western side of the fortress, but low enough for the water to run down From these storage tanks it was simply a matter of lugging the water up the cliff face to fill the cisterns in the fortress. The answer to that problem is simple – at least when your a 1st century BC king – slaves. Lots of them. Probably also donkeys.
This allowed the crazed (no seriously – he was crazy – he was so paranoid that he ended up killing two brothers-in-law, his mother in law, a few wives, and three of his own sons when he felt his authority would be threatened) ruler to remain up here for extended periods of siege without needing to be supplied from the outside. This of course was the same Herod who ordered the murder of all boys under 2 living in Bethlehem after the 3 Maggi from the East came in search of Jesus, whom they described to him as “King of the Jews.” Probably not welcomed news to Herod who counted that same title as one of his own. So yeah – pretty much a power-obsessed, murderous nut-job. But anyway…his fortified palace at Masada is sure nice.
Bear in mind that this mountain-top fortress was the third that Herod had built (after the Herodium near Bethlehem, and another near Jericho), and then he went on to have the Temple in Jerusalem built.
Masada is also known for a massive seige by the Romans. There was a sect of violent extreme-nationalists called the Sicarii who would stop at nothing to stop the Romans from gaining full control over them. After the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in 70AD, they fled to the then-abandoned Masada fortress as a hold-out.
The Romans surrounded the fortress with 10,000 men, and built an entire earthen ramp up to the fortress. That’s right – they built a ramp of dirt up to the mountain top.
Then constructed a massive battering ram in a huge multi-story high siege engine – pushed it up their newly constructed ramp and toppled the walls. When they got in the Sicarri had chosen to kill each other and themselves rather than be taken (women and children included) Well….OK then.
The most extreme we got was to walk down the Snake Path with our kids to the bottom of the mountain
From Masada we headed back towards Jerusalem for just a few km’s to get to the Dead Sea.
The shore of the dead sea is the lowest point of dry land on earth, about 423m below sea level.
the Dead Sea is of course ‘dead’ because it’ so salty that nothing can live in it. At about 10 times the saltiness of the ocean – it’s a pretty briney body of water.
Which means of course – yes you float – a lot. (if you think about it – you float when your body displaces a volume of water equal to your mass. So if the water is much denser with salts, it takes less volume of water to equal your mass – so only a bit of your body displaces water. So you float when only a bit of your body is under water)
So the whole thing seems very cool, and exotic. It was something that the kids had been really looking forward to. However you need to also remember that: swallowing incredibly salty water is not exactly pleasant nor is getting it in your eyes, or any small abrasion anywhere on your body.
And seeing that the average child will always have a few scrapes on their body….
So probably within 3 minutes we had one kid out of the water, nauseated from having swallowed a mouth full, and others with bright-red legs where minor abrasions were now burning, and a few others generally in discomfort. I actually was going to go in -but I didn’t even have time to change before the kids were getting out.
We left the Dead Sea as the sun was starting to dissapear behind the mountains to the west. We hoped to find someplace to find supper as we drove back.
We ended up finding nothing.
So we drove all the way back to Jerusalem, and ended up eating at the same Armenian place that we had eaten at earlier. So I guess that was one more day when our one meal of the day was at about 7.00pm
All we did was make the kids hike and swim in the 32° heat for the day.
Anyone want to come with us on our next vacation?
I didn’t think so.