The Masada Museum

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Visitors to Masada. Credit: Bloomberg

Masada National Park has something that every Israeli national park and heritage site of its stature should have. A dramatic story? Evocative ruins, expertly showcased and signposted? UNESCO World Heritage status? A fabulous view? The souvenir shop? Clean bathhrooms? Yes, all of that. But at Masada National Park, we're also talking about the site museum – a companion to everything you see and learn that puts it all into an enriching visual context. That, in a nutshell, is what the Masada Museum gives you.

Perhaps not surprisingly, when most visitors arrive at the foot of the plateau, usually first thing in the morning, they can’t wait to board the cable car for the three-minute ride to the top and get started on their explorations of the famed plateau. They want to see the remnants of the palace-fortress with all the trimmings from the days of Herod the Great. They're eager to view the place where, according to Jewish historian Josephus, the last of Judea’s rebels against Rome took their own lives rather than fall into the hands of the Romans during the Great Revolt in 73 or 74 CE. They want to enjoy the spectacular view and see the best preserved Roman siege system in the world.

They come down two or three hours later, surfeited with the story, hungry and happily tired. A museum? Now? Really?

Yes, really. The Masada story is drama so great that, ironically, people forget that it's about real people. Some scholars question all or part of Josephus’ account of events. But archaeological evidence unearthed in the 1960s by Yigal Yadin and his team, which paints a picture of the daily life men, women and children lived 2,000 years ago, is compellingly real and all the more touching knowing how the story ends.

The museum contributes immensely to your historical understanding of the place and is a great way to end your Masada experience. Included in your NIS 20 museum entrance fee (separate from the fee for the actual site), is an informative audio-guide which, as you pass through the museum’s nine spaces, introduces you to the life-sized figures in each space, ghostly in a near dark, spot-lit interior that contrasts sharply with the brilliant sunlight outside. You’ll also see many artifacts dug up on the plateau, some – like the inscribed potsherds Yadin believed were the lots the rebels cast to decide how the suicide pact would play out – are rarely seen by the public.

Of the museum’s three themes – Herod, the Roman army and the rebels – perhaps the latter is the most poignant. You’ll see a reconstruction of the living quarters of the rebels, with their simple clay pots and jars, clothing, woven straw baskets and loom weights. These all add up to a sense of their daily life, which tends to get pushed to the background as we allow the story’s famous ending to dictate our perception of the entire site.

The museum begins with a scene of Josephus and ends, appropriately, with the recreation of Yadin’s study in Jerusalem, where he analyzed the information and findings that helped make Masada one of the most famous sites in the world.  

The museum is open daily from 8:30 A.M. to 4:30 P.M. in summer and to 3:30 P.M. in winter. On Fridays and holiday eves the museum closes one hour earlier. Tel.  08-658-4207/8. 

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