Friday, May 21, 2010

Masada, Qumran, and the Dead Sea

Our first stop of the day was a historical site called Masada. The site contains numerous ruined buildings and defense fortifications scattered throughout the top of a rock plateau overlooking the Dead Sea. Masada is located at the eastern edge of the Judean Desert in the South District of Israel. The Romans sacked the city during the first Jewish-Roman War leading to a mass suicide of almost 1000 inhabitants of the city, who preferred to die rather than surrender.

We took a rail car to the top of the plateau and surveyed the breathtaking landscape, and walked amongst the ruins of the city. Our tour guide Sam explained the history of the city and discussed the purposes of the various buildings and structures we came across. After a while, we returned to the road by means of the Snake Path, a long stone and sand pathway winding down the side of the plateau, and boarded our bus.

We headed to Qumran, another plateau settlement destroyed by the Romans, and best known as the settlement closest to the location where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. Qumran is located just a mile inland from the northwest shore of the Dead Sea in the West Bank.

After eating lunch in a nearby food court, we proceeded to examine the settlement ruins and received history lessons from our ever-knowledgeable tour guide Sam. As in Masada, we discovered how the people in these times lived by exploring the wreckage of the settlement buildings and stone structures. We also saw the caves in which the Dead Sea Scrolls were found and learned how, and by whom, they were made. We then boarded the bus and headed to the Dead Sea.

The Dead Sea is a great body of salt-water bordering the West Bank, Israel, and Jordan. It is one of the saltiest bodies of water in the world and can harbor virtually no life, hence its name.

When we arrived we changed into our bathing suits and headed for the beach. The diversity of the beach going population was remarkable; we heard people speaking French, Italian, Spanish, English, Russian, Hebrew, and Arabic to name a few. Once in the water, it became immediately clear why so many people flocked to the Dead Sea. Due to the high levels of salt, which gives the sea a higher density than fresh water bodies, we were able to float in the sea with ease. We also learned that the mineral rich mud at the bottom of the Dead Sea is excellent for your skin. So after covering ourselves in mud and frolicking for a while in the water, we rinsed off and headed back to the bus.

We returned to our hotel exhausted after another extraordinary day. Today we will be leaving the ancient city of Jerusalem for Haifa, the largest city in northern Israel.