On our way to the Dead Sea we drove through the Judaean Desert. It is a very barren place. The limestone mountains have eroded producing deep ravines (wadis) that make the landscape appear very rugged.
Then we drove along the coast of the Dead Sea and saw sink holes that have formed in the last 20 years because, due to global warming, the desert is drying out, the water level of the Dead Sea is decreasing, and the sandy rock has become less stable. This area used to have recreational areas along the coast. Now because of the danger of sink holes, there are fences and warning signs everywhere.
While we were driving along, we had a rain storm that came and went very quickly. We later learned that not long after we had passed by, a flash flood caused a section of the road to collapse. We also learned that when there is a storm in Jerusalem, the water runs to the Dead Sea which makes sense since the elevation is 1412 ft. below sea level – the lowest place on earth. This was the same storm that caused flash flooding in Petra.
Here is a video of the hole in the road:
Right next to the Dead Sea are mountains and on the top of one of them is Masada, a fort and palace built by Herod in 30 BC. He built it because he had a lot of enemies and wanted a place where he could get a way and be safe.
The top of the mountain is a plateau measuring 1,800 ft by 890 ft. Herod built a wall around the top of the mountain with many towers, and the fortress included storehouses, barracks, an armory, two palaces, and cisterns that were refilled by rainwater, as well as baths. The large palace he built for himself sits at the north end where the cliffs are very steep. The palace was built on three levels.
We got to the top by cable car. One member of our group hiked up. It took him about an hour and 15 minutes to walk a very steep path.
Left: For scale, the arrow is pointing to a group of hikers who are wearing red shirts.
Right: The arrow is pointing to a rectangle at the base of the mountain. It is what remains of a Roman military camp.
Some of the ruins of Herod’s palace.
Herod died in 4 BC. and the palace was abandoned. In 70 AD the Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans and the Jews were run out of Jerusalem. The Romans were intent on getting all Jews out of the whole area and many fled to other parts of the world. There were still some Jewish resistance, and a group of dedicated resisters settled into Masada. There they discovered food stored away in Herod’s storerooms, enough food to last for 7 years. And they had Herod’s system of trenches and cisterns for collecting water.
Herod’s fortified structure, surrounded by steep cliffs, protected the resisters and their families, numbering 960, from the 15,000 Romans who built 8 military camps at the base of the mountain. But there was one cliff that was not as high, so the Romans, used Jewish slaves who had been captured in previous battles, to construct a ramp to the top. It took 2 years to construct the ramp and tons of rock. In the meantime, the Romans could not understand why the resisters didn’t die of starvation since the could not leave the fort to obtain food or water.
Then in 73 AD, the Romans brought in a huge battering ram, dragged it up the ramp and breached the walls. Legend has it that all they found were dead bodies, except for two women and five children hiding in a cistern. The story goes that the resisters decided that they did not want to be taken captive. Since Jewish Law forbids suicide and the penalty is no afterlife, they killed each other, including their families members, and picked by lot, the person who would be the last, and he would sacrifice an afterlife and kill himself. The story goes that the women told the Romans what happened and it was recorded. Since there is no archaeological evidence to document the event, it is disputed by scholars. At any rate, Masada was the last stronghold of Jewish resisters which began the Jewish diaspora.
In the chamber that is identified as the resister’s synagog, we observed a bar mitzvah taking place. The young man and his family were from New York. (photo by Revital)
In the museum at Masada I saw tiny oil lamps that dated back 2000 years. I bought a reproduction of one in the market in Jerusalem as a souvenir. I was very proud of my bargaining skills when I haggled the price down from 50 shekels to 15 ($4.30) until I left the store and saw them at another shop marked 10 shekels!
At the Dead Sea we stayed at resort/spa hotel where most of the guests were Russian. Most of the staff was Russian as well. They are very serious people. Our guide, whose mother is Russian, admits that they can be very pushy. The popularity of the area for spa treatments is because there are a number of factories in the area that produce beauty and skin products with minerals form the Dead Sea.
The water of the Dead Sea is a beautiful turquoise color, not a deadly color at all! Of course we bathed in it and the buoyancy of the water made it bouncy! I felt like a coke bobbing around! Once I got the hang of it, floating was very relaxing.
It was hazy while we were there. Across the water are the mountains of Jordan.
Before we left the Dead Sea we took a Jeep Tour of the desert. 17 of us piled into 4 Jeeps. The sky was hazy which made the landscape look dreamy.
We stopped to examine the large deposits of salt in the rock. I was fascinated with the rock patterns created by erosion.
The ride through the desert was bumpy as the trail curved and had lots of ruts. Our guide discussed the current controversy of the future of the Dead Sea. On this map, the larger sea area is naturally formed. Below that is an artificially made sea where water from the Dead Sea is piped into evaporation flats where industries harvest chemicals including potash, magnesium, and bromine. The industries date back to the 1930s, before Israel was formed, and they are privately owned. A large amount of the chemicals go to Asia for fertilizer. The companies are taxed, but they still make a lot of money for the owners. They also employ a lot of workers and most of the resort/spa hotels are located along the shores. The problem is that the level of the Dead Sea is decreasing with global warming and the piping of water out of it for the industries isn’t helping. The industries also cause pollution, and the foundations of the hotels along the artificial sea are corroding, and it is extremely expensive to repair and stabilize them.
There have been talks of constructing a pipe line to bring in water either from the Mediterranean or the Red Sea, however, there might be problems with these waters chemically mixing with the Dead Sea water. Also, it would be enormously expensive to pipe in water for the industries. Not an easy solution – save the industries, hotels, and jobs for private companies at public expense or save the Dead Sea and the environment by closing them down.
Stay tuned for food and people of Jordan and Israel.