Masada, in Hebrew, means fortress. It sits on a mountaintop one mile west of the Dead Sea and 15 miles south of En-Gaddi. It was first fortified by the high priest, Jonathan, who was the brother and successor of Judas Maccabeus. It was later enlarged by Herod the Great who built the famous baths there. Masada was the scene for the last stand made by Jewish Zealots in their revolt against Roman rule. The Romans carved out the ramp on one side of Masada that is still used today to reach the summit.
Rising above the shores of the Dead Sea, Masada is the most visited of all archaeological sites in Israel and also one of the most popular climbs. It has one of the earliest synagogues ever found, dating back to the days of the Second Temple. The water cisterns built by Herod are so immense they can hold not only enough water for drinking and washing, but also for growing plants and ritual baths. Today, Masada has become a symbol for reform and independence.