First and foremost, Masada is more than likely not the hottest place on Earth. However, you try visiting this location on essentially a giant rock in the middle of the Judean Desert mid afternoon in July. Yeah, it felt like the hottest place on earth.
This location, one of King Herod’s (from the Bible) famous palaces located essentially in the middle of nowhere is very peculiar. The drive to the site from Ashkelon took almost two hours. Two hours of desert. Two hours of watching camels stroll along the road. Two hours of playing “I spy a shepherd.” Two hours of seeing geography completely different from what I am used to in temperate climate and city living Tennessee. The drive was beautiful and very insightful as to watch the Israeli country side looks like. Moreover, when we entered the desert, the view was astounding. I have never been to a desert, only seen pictures on Google Images. To see and travel through a desert was nothing what I expected. The Judean Desert was not sandy, there were no sand dunes. Rather, it was quite rocky.
Once we journey to what felt like the center of the desert, drove by the Dead Sea, we arrived at Masada. When we stepped off of the bus, the heat hit like a choking wave. It was so hot (well over a 100 degrees), that the snake path trail (walking trail up the side of Masada), was closed. However, we could still reach the top of Masada by a tram-car!
From the top of the rock, you could see the Dead Sea and the country of Jordan on the other side of the water. The view was spectacular! Once we exited the tram station, there was a wide expanse of desert rubble. Remnants of a few buildings could be seen, there were signs/ depicting whar everything was, there were a few fountains to refill your water, and an Israeli flag flew in the air. Shimi, the Roman historian on site in Ashkelon, gave us a guided tour of the ruins. Due to the extreme heat and the desire to be any where but in the sun, the tour was fairly short. We learned all we needed to know and then was able to explore on our own, preferably in the shady areas or the frigidarium (a cool room used in Roman times for cool baths or storage).
One of the areas I found most fascinating at Masada was the caldarium, a room used for hot baths during Roman occupation). The mini pillars dotting the floor were used to heat the room, called hypocaust. This under floor heating was the precursor to modern heating, the Romans were the first. While this room was in the shade, the pathway to walk was narrow and it was not cooler than the outdoors.
In addition to the sites and ruins on the top of the rock, towards the back there is a stairway that leads down to the side of Masada where Herod’s Palace was located. The walk alone scared many of my friends, but was an adrenaline rush for me. For, you are walking on the side of Masada, on a walkway jutting out from the rock and suspended hundreds if not thousands of feet above the ground. It was exhilarating.
Once you reach Herod’s Palace, you are back on solid rock, no more suspension over the desert. It takes just one look to visualize how majestic his palace must have been. It takes a second look to realize how insane King Herod was to build a grand palace in the middle of a desert. Although, to give King Herod some respect, at the time of his reign, the Dead Sea was much closer to the palace.
While Masada might feel like the hottest place on earth and while you might look like you just took a dip in the pool, Masada is a must see to those who visit Israel. I recommend putting this in your itinerary. Just remember to bring your water, your hat, and hydration tablets!