On the seventh day of our tour we did not rest. Instead, we hopped on our trusty bus and headed out into the desert to see Masada and the Dead Sea.
You don't have to go far out of Jerusalem to find the Desert and sea level. We drove through very desolate country on our way to Masada, but occasionally there were groves of date palms which are cultivated with an efficient irrigation system devised by the Israelis.
The old fortress of Masada is impressive: steep and forbidding, surrounded by wasteland. Although there are walking trails you can use to get to the summit, we were happy to take the cable car.
From the ruins of Masada, you have a spectacular view of the Dead Sea, which sparkled in the intense sunshine.
King Herod the Great (he pops up everywhere!) built his Winter Palace at the top of Masada which is a flat plateau about 1300 feet above the desert. Because it is strategic military site he thought it would be a fortification that would protect him against possible revolts. Here you can see the ruins of the wall he built around the top of the plateau to protect the fortress.
Herod's palace and fortress had many amenities, including a luxurious bathhouse. The photo below shows remains of the elaborate tilework in the bathhouse.
After the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans, a group of Jewish rebels and their families fled Jerusalem and used the fortress at Masada as a base for attacking the Romans. In response, the Romans surrounded the area, built an embankment and a ramp in preparation for laying seige to the area. When they finally got into Masada, they found evidence of mass suicide and the storehouses had been burned. In the 1980's a TV mini-series the seige of Masada was made starring Peter O'Toole as the Roman commander, which you may remember.
Today Masada is a national park. We saw a large stage set up for a production of the opera Aida, complete with a giant Pharoah's head, on the desert floor near the park. That would really be a spectacular setting for that opera. Maybe The Diva will sing the part of Amneris in that opera there one day and we will get to return to hear her!