Masada is an ancient Jewish fortress which has stood here for more than two millennia. The fortress of Masada is in the Judaean Desert overlooking the Dead Sea, a timeless symbol of the ancient kingdom of Israel. It was here where the last stand of Jewish patriots facing the Roman army in 73 CE decided to take their own lives instead of surrendering to the enemy. If you want to witness the sunrise at the Masada you need to get up very early and be prepared to walk up a steep hill.
The Masada was originally the private palace complex of Herod the Great, King of Judaea, in the classic style of the early Roman Empire. According to the UNESCO, the camps, fortifications and attack ramp that encircle the Masada monument constitute the most complete Roman siege works surviving to the present day.
The Masada complex is at the top of a steep hill, about 2 hours away from Jerusalem. If you are not keen on climbing up, you can take the chair lift at an extra cost but I would say that walking up is almost obligatory to have the “full Masada experience”.
Related: this post is part of a series. Read the full itinerary of my holiday in Israel here.
How to Get to Masada
The easiest option is to drive but if you want to save money you can also hitch hike or take a regular public bus from Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. There are also many tour operators that offer guided tours, dropping you off at the base of the hill.
Bus from Jerusalem: the bus line 486 runs daily and stops at Masada Junction but you will need to walk to the entrance from here, which is 25 minutes. The bus also stops at the main free Dead Sea beach of Ein Bokek.
Bus from Tel Aviv: the 421 is the only daily bus to Masada and the Dead Sea from Tel Aviv.
Walking To The Top
I arrived at the famous fort of Masada early in the morning, well before sunrise. My plan was to walk up to the top of the hill and witness this amazing spectacle, just like the Jews did fighting against the Romans two thousand years ago.
It was 530AM when I started walking up and there was another 20 minutes before sunrise. The doors open at 5AM and the walk takes about 45 minutes up to Masada. I was totally out of breath by the time I got to the top and stupidly I left my bottle of water at the entrance so I was completely exhausted!
Tip: Take a big bottle of water and don’t use your torch
What I did not understand is why all the other tourists were walking with their torches when it was pretty bright. Having the torch on just completely blinds you to everything else so there is absolutely no point taking one. Also, about half an hour before sunrise it is never pitch black, so it is just pointless to take a torch.
Witnessing The Sunrise At The Masada
After the big climb I sat down on the edge of the wall, ready for the action! As the sun slowly rose above the mountains I could imagine how difficult it must have been to build the place in the desert heat! Herod must have been a huge egotist to build such a massive palace for himself, especially in the middle of the Negev Desert!
The sunrise looked beautiful and it was just amazing to think that 2,000 years ago the Romans and the Jews were looking at the same sunrise when they were facing each other.
Walking Around The Masada Palace Complex
The Masada Palace Complex was totally fascinating and made me wonder why he would have wanted to live up here? It is difficult to get to, there is no water here and I am pretty sure it was super hot here even back then. Aside this, the complex looked stunning.
As I walked to the northern end of the Masada complex, I felt like a dream came true as I had been dreaming about visiting the Masada ever since I was a kid in school. Standing there, in the living room of Herod, I could imagine how my slaves would have pulled the curtains open every morning to reveal the breathtaking scenery that is the Dead Sea in front of the Masada in the valley.
Unbelievably, there was even a swimming pool in the Masada, even though they had to cart the water uphill using dozens of donkeys! As it started to get unbearably hot up at the top, I decided to go down to check out the air-conditioned Masada museum. After the visit to the museum I hopped in the car and drove to Ein Bokek, a free beach on the Dead Sea.