The Judean Desert
The Judean desert
This rocky, arid area does not fit one's typical assumptions of what a desert looks like. Dotting this desolate landscape are a variety of historical settlements rich with importance and intrigue, beckoning us to uncover the secrets in their layers of sediment and stone. The hills of the Judean Desert echo countless ancient stories, from David’s sojourn in the caves and cliffs of the Ein Gedi oasis as he hid from King Saul to the Jewish ascetics of the Dead Sea Sect, contemporaries of Jesus who created a home on the shores of the Dead Sea and wrote the world-famous Dead Sea Scrolls. Through the ages, the Byzantines, Persians, British, Jordanians, Palestinians, and Israelis have all left traces of their civilizations throughout the Judean Desert.
The tour will start with a visit to the legendary Masada fortress. Jutting up dramatically out of the desert, this mountaintop was originally built up by King Herod as a fortified palace. At the beginning of the Jews’ great revolt against the Romans, the site was settled by a band of Jewish rebels known as the Zealots. Masada became their last stronghold in the country as their forces were beaten back by the Roman militia. In the year 73 CE, the Zealots, surrounded by the enemy, chose to commit mass suicide atop Masada rather than fall into the hands of their Roman occupiers. Excellently preserved, Masada is one of the most outstanding archaeological sites in Israel and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Besides the grim tale it bears, it offers a glimpse into everyday life two thousand years ago, all surrounded by a breathtakingly view of the Dead Sea and the Judean Desert.
After touring Masada we can descend to the beaches lining the shores of the Dead Sea. This lowest point on land anywhere on Earth, this unusual body of water straddles the border between Israel and Jordan. The mineral concentrations contained in its waters and mud are known to have various health benefits for the skin. Due to its extraordinarily high salt content, anyone wading in will instantly float -- just try to keep your legs down and you’ll see! Even Conan O'Brien found this out firsthand. You’ll find that drinking a beer or even reading a book is quite easy to do as you float along.