Sitting on an isolated cliff in the Judean Desert, Massada`s steep slopes and precipices rise more than 400 meters above the Dead Sea. The combination of cliffs and escarpments in the desert area provided Massada with the perfect natural defense system. Had the attackers not blazed routes to the top, there would have been no way for them to reach the summit.
Although the mountain had natural fortifications, Herod built a casemate wall around the entire summit. This was a tremendous undertaking, since the summit was 600 meters long and 300 meters across at its center.
Herod`s plan for the mountain was fantastically ambitious. Massada was not designed merely as a fortress, but as a royal stronghold with spacious palaces, a bathhouse with the all conveniences available at the time, and a number of smaller palaces, apparently for housing the monarch`s relatives.
Most amazing is the northern palace, which was a tremendous feat of design and execution. Built on the northern part of the hilltop, the palace appears to dangle over the precipice. It was constructed atop three stone slabs; because the staircase was deemed inadequate for the palace halls, enormous supporting walls were built to enlarge the staircase area.
The upper terrace had four bedrooms and a semi-circular terrace with a spectacular view of the Dead Sea, the Ein Gedi oasis, and the Moab mountains. A clever hidden staircase led to the middle level where a large open room was encircled by a porch whose columns were positioned at the very edge of the cliff. Down another flight of stairs was the lower level, whose large hall, decorated with intricate frescoes, opened onto a colonnade. Nearby was a private bathhouse for the residents of the northern palace.
The other inhabitants used the large bathhouse on the summit. When he built what was then considered to be a state-of-the-art bathhouse in one of the most arid places in the land, Herod was thumbing his nose at the forces of nature. The bathhouse has been beautifully restored, including the "hot room" with its double floor supported by 200 columns.
Twenty-nine large storerooms, each 27 meters long, were built on the summit. Archeologists found hundreds of pottery vessels, used to store tremendous quantities of food. The geological make-up of the spot combined with human industry and invention made Massada almost unconquerable.
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