By Sandra Elzie
We left Petra for our hotel in Jordan, but the following morning we left right after breakfast to drive through the countryside, had lunch, which was interesting, then drove on to the Dead Sea. Our trip planner arranged for all five-star hotel accommodations, but let me assure you that not everyone in the world has the same idea of what rates five stars. I won’t go into details, but we stayed in a couple locations that made us wish for an American Motel-6. But the good news is, the hotel at the Dead Sea was top rate …absolutely beautiful.
The Sea of Death, also called the Dead Sea and the Salt Sea, is boarded by Jordan on the east, and the West Bank and Israel to the west. Its surface and shores are 1,401 ft below sea level…making it the Earth’s lowest elevation. The Dead Sea is only 1,004 feet deep and 9.6 times as salty as the ocean, making it too harsh for animal life. The Dead Sea is 31 miles long and 9 miles wide at its widest point and lies in the Jordan Rift Valley that I mentioned last week.
After checking into our hotel, we donned swimsuits and walked down to the Dead Sea where we sat in the water and laughed like idiots while trying to submerge our bodies further into the water. (No, I’m not going to share any of the pictures in my swimsuit) You can’t sink, so even if you can’t swim, you can’t drown. Warning, just don’t drink the water. When you get out of the water, your skin is crusted with the white dusty residue of the salt and feels as dry as the surrounding desert. All I could think about was getting a shower. One of the very nice pluses was the full array of spa options available at the hotel. My favorites were the facial and the one-hour massages. It was worth every penny after the long plane flight and hours on the bus. (Not to mention the 5 miles we’d hiked through the desert the prior day to get in to Petra.)
I mentioned that the food was “interesting,” but I don’t mean to imply that it was bad…it was actually delicious, just different. Any time you leave your own country, plan to experience new things. For myself, I’m not very adventurous when it comes to food. The hotel caters to international tourists, so we had choices of fish, chicken and even some beef, lots of rice and vegetables. There were some spicy dishes I chose not to try, but I came to love hummus…a paste of hominy with spices that is quite good on some of their course breads and crackers. And if you like dates, well, you’re in the right country. Dates were available everywhere and they were delicious.
Last week I mentioned how safe I felt in Israel despite there being so many men with guns posted around. In addition, as we drove around the countryside of Israel, it wasn’t uncommon to notice huge anti-missile guns perched on the hillsides. The following morning we boarded the bus and drove through the desert where our guide pointed out the cave in the side of a high mountain where, in 1947, a Bedouin boy accidentally discovered some ancient Hebrew scrolls now known as the Dead Sea Scrolls. These scrolls are on display today in the Shrine of the Book at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.
From there, we continued up the mountain to Masada, (Hebrew for fortress) an ancient fortification in the Southern District of Israel situated on top of an isolated rock plateau on the eastern edge of the Judean Desert, overlooking the Dead Sea.
History tells us that Herod the Great built the fortress of Masada between 37 and 31 BC as a refuse for himself. It included storehouses, large cisterns ingeniously filled with rainwater, barracks, palaces and an armory and provides a fantastic view of the valley floor below. About 75 years after Herod’s death, at the beginning of the Revolt of the Jews against the Romans in 66 AD, a group of Jewish rebels banded together and fled with their families to Masada.
In AD 73, Roman governor Flavius Silva marched against Masada with his army and thousands of Jewish prisoners of-war. The Romans camped at the base of Masada and laid siege. They used the Jewish prisoners-of-war to built a rampart of thousands of tons of stones and beaten earth against the western approaches of the fortress, knowing the Jews encamped in the fortress on top would not kill their kinsmen Jews as they worked below to build the rampart higher and higher. In the spring of AD 74, the Romans moved a battering ram up the ramp intending to breech the wall of the fortress and capture the group at the top.
Once it was obvious the siege would be successful, Elazar ben Yair – the leader of the Jews atop Masada – decided that all the Jewish defenders should commit suicide. Everyone agreed that death was better than being captured by the Romans.
The men in the group cast lots to determine the ten men who would assure everyone’s death, and then the ten chose between themselves the one who would be last and who would then commit suicide. One Jewish man was unable to kill his wife and daughter and instead hid them. These two survivors provided an eyewitness account of the trapped people setting fire to Masada and then the mass killing/suicide that took place before the Romans breached the fortress walls. Almost one thousand men, women and children died that day. This sounds pretty gruesome, but they knew they faced slavery (at best) or death (at worst) if captured by the Romans. They chose freedom through death. The two hidden survivors later told their story to Josephus and he recorded it for future generations to read. Although the site of Masada was identified in 1842, it wasn’t until the mid-1960’s that intensive excavating started. You can view a 5-minute You-Tube that gives more details & stunning views of the valley at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0nae2k47qOw (At one point in the video you’ll be able to see the Dead Sea in the distance)
Well, it’s time to leave Masada and head toward Tel Aviv. Next week we’ll visit the Hall of Names. Hope you can join us!!
About The Author:
Sandra Elzie writes contemporary romance and lives with her husband in the Atlanta, Georgia area. Oh, and we can’t forget the owner of Sandy’s house, Jack, the resident feline. You can read more about her on her website...www.SandraElzie.com Her books are available on Amazon.