Monday, November 14, 2011

Floating in the Dea Sea...Jerusalem Day 2

Oops! Forgot the Israel flag on the last blog, so here it is...

Avi picked us up at the hotel at 9:00 a.m. and we were ready to go again. Today our itinerary included visiting Masada and the Dead Sea.

This morning we could see more of the city in the daylight and we noticed it was very clean. 


One of the Jewish settlements on the hills outside the city. In some areas, these settlements have caused serious disputes with the Arab population. All the buildings are the same colour and they almost blend into the landscape.

As we got further away, the landscape changed from these hills with bits of vegetation...

Into just sand…

We were now at sea level. The Dead Sea is about 400 m below sea level, the lowest spot on earth.

This is becoming a tradition! Jeff and camel rides. This time he got Kathy into the picture. She was thrilled to have the camel's slobbery mouth resting on her nice hair.

The signs are in Hebrew, Arabic and English…

Our first glimpse of the Dead Sea. Wow! It's a lot bigger than I thought it would be. The temperatures in the area of the Dead Sea range from 20°C in the winter up to 40° in the summer.

Not sure what this was, but the camper was seeking refuge under the tent. I cannot imagine what the heat is like in the summer.

This was a Jewish kibbutz with a hostel in the Ein Gedi Nature reserve. These animals (ibex) were grazing and can surprisingly climb the trees. You can just make out one in the tree. OK...it's a good thing I pointed it out!

Another two grazing…I can see why they climb trees. I don't think there is much grazing material on the ground.

And here was our first glimpse of Masada. The topography looked like the Tablelands in Newfoundland and Table Mountain in Cape Town.

And we have arrived at Masada National Park.

The first fortress at Masada was built around 100 BC and coins from this era were discovered in excavations of the site. Herod, who ruled from 37 to 4 BC, was aware of the strategic advantages of Masada. He chose the site as a refuge against his enemies and as a winter palace. During his reign luxurious palaces were built here in addition to well-stocked storerooms, cisterns and a casemate wall.

After the death of Herod in 4 BC, the Romans stationed a garrison at Masada. One of the first events of the Jewish revolt in 60 AD was the conquest of Masada by the Jews. After the Romans destroyed Jerusalem in 70 AD, the last of the Jewish rebels fled to Masada. In 74 AD the Romans laid siege to Masada building eight camps around the base joined by a wall to keep the Jews from fleeing.

Any hope the Romans had of starving out the Jews was dashed when each morning the Jews would pour water down the mountain side as a measure of defiance. They were proving to the Romans that they had plenty of supplies to outlast them.

This map from the brochure shows the extent of the community. On the north side (the tip jutting towards the front), was where Herod built his palace in three tiers. 

Last stop for drinks before getting up there (so they said…). It must be unbelievably hot there in the summer because it wasn’t long before we were sweating.

Here comes the cable car. Part of the experience of Masada is the ritual of walking up there. Thank heavens we didn't have time!

The view from the top. The two squares you can see are the remains of two of the Roman camps where they stationed soldiers hoping to force the Jews out and keeping them from escaping.

The Dead Sea in the background...all the white on the sand is salt that is left behind as the Dead Sea recedes.

This was the guard’s lookout, the highest point in the fortification.

The black line along the wall shows the original foundation before restoration.

Inside the Commandant’s residence showing the remaining frescoes and the restoration above the line.

Archaeologist impression of what the residence would have looked like.

Remains of family residences…

Jim and Kim at Masada…you can tell how much I love the heat!

This model shows the extensive storerooms as long rectangles and the palace at the front built on several levels. The storerooms consisted of 29 long rooms to hold enough food, liquids, and weapons to last for years.

The unrestored remains of the storerooms.

One of the Roman camps. In front of it running diagonally are the remains of a wall built by the Romans. It ensured that any Jew trying to escape from Masada had to go over it and risk being seen.

This was the largest of the eight Roman camps. Look at the terrain where all this was built. Unbelievable!

A bird at the top.

Avi was telling a very long story. I know it was all interesting, but at this point I had checked out. I’m glad Jim was still listening.

The remains of a mosaic floor...

This is the north face with the remains of the palace on the different levels.

One of the many water cisterns. Some of them were at least 70 feet deep! They were fed by an amazing system of aqueducts that captured the infrequent rain and diverted it into the cisterns. They were brilliant engineers.

An explanation of the cisterns, one of the wonders of Masada…


A model showing the aqueducts. Avi poured some water onto it and you could see how it flowed through the aqueducts and into the cisterns.

The ramp path which the Romans built and used to finally capture Masada. You can see a group of people walking up the ramp.

When it became clear that the Romans would breach the wall with fire and battering rams and that the situation was hopeless, the Jews killed their wives and children before killing each other. The last person slayed himself. When the Romans arrived, everyone was dead. Their belief was that it was better to die than be slaves to the Romans.

The story of the siege that took place at Masada has been adopted as a symbol for the modern Jewish state. The attitude is that “Masada will not fall again.” What a story...

The group was still climbing as we left. 

Information on the cable car system. The operator told us they joke amongst themselves that it can hold 60 Americans or 80 Asians. He’s not far off!

And here we go down to ground level again...

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And then we were off to see where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found…so much history!

The beautiful Dead Sea…you can really see here how much it is receding.

Described as the most important discovery in the history of the Jewish people, the Dead Sea Scrolls (now on display at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem) were discovered inside earthenware jars in a high cliff side cave at Qumran in 1947 by a Bedouin shepherd boy searching for a stray goat.

Excavations at the Park have revealed the settlement and caves of the Essenes, the Jewish sect that authored the scrolls that included books of the Old Testament, the Apocrypha and their own texts. They were a breakaway Jewish sect who believed they were the chosen people of Israel. They existed in the desert from 150 BC until 68 AD when they were expelled by the Romans. This was their settlement.

The hole in the hillside where some of the Scrolls were discovered.

Avi still talking…by now he was used to us and we had grown to like him! He did his Master’s degree on the Dead Sea Scrolls so he knew a lot.

And we were off again...using irrigation, they are now growing date trees and other crops.

At last! At the Dead Sea for some fun. Kathy and I debated back and forth whether we would actually go swimming or just wading, and finally decided to go for it. This opportunity most likely wasn’t going to happen again! The Dead Sea has such a high salt content that nothing can live in it, hence the name.

Lots of people making the trek from the changing rooms to the beach. It looks just like any beach, right?

Wrong! Kathy immediately fell into a mud hole and I was trying to help her get out.

Success! We were killing ourselves laughing at this point.

Ta da! We float!! Avi warned us not to get the water in our eyes, so we were being careful not to splash.

We were only in about 2 feet of water, but it was easy to float.

There is plenty of mud on the bottom which is reported to have great health benefits and people were covering themselves in it. We started to do that and realized how hard it was going to be to get it off, so we aborted that plan quickly! Believe me, when this guy stood under the shower that mud did not come off. It had to be scrubbed off.

Jeff decided to make his way in…and immediately fell into a mud hole. It was too funny...

Jim opted for the foot bath!

That was a great experience! Lots of pretty flowers around the changing areas.

A Bedouin camp…they are scattered along the road like gypsies.

An unbelievable day. When it began to rain in torrents, we were so happy to already be back on the ship.

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Avi will meet us tomorrow in Haifa to continue our tour as we go to Nazareth...

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