was build by Herod the Great in the first century BC, but it became most
famous for the last stand of Jewish zealots– sicarii after the First
Jewish- Roman war of 66- 70 AD that resulted in destruction of the
Temple in Jerusalem. Sicarii plural for Sicarius (Latin for “dagger”) is
a term given to Jewish insurgents who attacked Romans or Roman
Judea. Some scholars suggest that Judas Iscariot in the New Testament was a
member of this extremist group hence got its nickname that was altered
later. The Snake path that starts at the bottom is hard and long.
Recently a tram car was installed to bring the tourists to the top of
the 400 meter (1300 feet) plateau. Herod’s palace, baths, Byzantine
church from the 5th century and many other sights are well
worth the visit of this important cultural and historic symbol of
original fortress existed on
since the time of the Hasmoneans (167-37 BC). Probably the only time in
history then Judaism conversion was forceful dates to late second
century BC. Edomites- long time enemies were forced to convert to a new
religion. Ironically Herod the Great comes from this nation. Working as
a slave in a palace he managed to overthrow the ruling dynasty and
become a king. Herod expanded and the fortress on top of
and build many structures on top of the plateau. Many structures carry
Roman style architecture. Although still a protectorate of
was increasingly Romanized.
with a Roman ramp still visible
66 AD at the outbreak of the First Jewish- Roman war (Great Jewish
Rebellion) small Roman garrison in
was exterminated. After siege and fall of
in 70 AD last group of 936 sicarii found refuge here. Although some
records indicate that this increasingly violent and extremist group left
after quarrel with other Jewish rebels. Despite popular belief, people
who were stationed on
were not welcome by many Jews. They often attacked their own countrymen
who were not patriotic enough and did not resist Romans actively enough.
In fact famous Jewish historian Josephus records a sicarii raid on
which resulted in 700 deaths of its citizens.
legion X Fretensis under leadership of governor of Judea Lucius Flavius
Silva marched against
in 72 AD. Initial attacks did not yield any results thus Romans built
several fortresses around the citadel and circumvallation wall to
prevent raids from inside the city. Additionally a rampart was
constructed to allow battering ram to reach the walls. Thousands of tons
of material, reinforced with wooden beams, it still stands today as an
incredible feat of engineering. On
April 16, 73 AD
the walls were breached, but to surprise of Roman commanders only two
women with their five children who hid in the water cistern were alive.
Sicarii under leadership of Elazar ben Ya’ar (probably the same person
as Eleazar ben Simon) chose 10 people to kill everyone. Once most of
defenders were killed a single man killed the remaining rebels and
finally committed suicide.
and most impressing building in
located on three levels. It was divided from the rest of the plateau by
a wall with a small entrance. Above a tower was build with soldiers
constantly keeping watch. The lowest level of the palace was the banquet
hall decorated with columns and frescoes.
is suggested that the round tower in the south part of the
was probably used for nesting of pigeons. It was a common practice in
to raise these birds for sacrifice in temples. They also were beneficial
as spreaders of natural fertilizers. In combination with an empty
landscape the gardens and white pigeons of
stood out as a sharp contrast.
build by Italians this is another example of Herod’s attempt to follow
the Roman way of life. It had all the design and features of any
prosperous Roman villas: steam room, hot and cold water and palestra
(gym court). The columns in the steam room supported the floor and
created space for circulation of the hot air from fires burned
Northern palace this structure was not a Herod’s living quarter. It
was merely used for visitors and official meetings. Judging by remains
of cloths and bronze circles, walls could be covered by drapery.
rock that was used to construct the fortifications, palace, houses and
etc was dug right from the plateau. The empty hollow spaces were used as
storages for water a rare commodity in the desert. Here according to
Josephus two women and five children hid to escape mass suicide.
Byzantine Medieval Church of the Eastern Orthodox Monastery
a long time the story of
was considered to be a myth, however in 1842 it was discovered and
archaeological digs supported the popular story. In fact even pottery
pieces that were used to choose 10 last men were found. Very little is
known of the fate of the bodies. The burial was found with 25 bodies
inside, but judging by the pig remains along with human skeletons these
belonged to Roman garrison that was stationed on
thirty years after its fall.