Masada is an ancient fortification in the Southern District of Israel, situated on top of an isolated rock plateau akin to a mesa. It is located on the eastern edge of the Judaean Desert, overlooking the Dead Sea 20 km (12 mi) east of Arad.
Herod the Great built two palaces for himself on the mountain and fortified Masada between 37 and 31 BCE.
According to Josephus, between 73 to 74 CE, Roman troops invaded Masada during the end of the First Jewish-Roman War. This siege came to an abrupt end following the mass suicide of the 960 Sicarii rebels who were in hiding there. However, according to Kenneth Atkinson, there is no archaeological evidence that Masada’s defenders committed mass suicide.
Masada is one of Israel’s most popular tourist attractions. From 2005 to 2007 and 2009 to 2012, it was second-most popular behind the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo, and currently attracts around 750,000 visitors a year.
The cliff of Masada is, geologically speaking, a horst. As the plateau abruptly ends in cliffs steeply falling about 400 m (1,300 ft) to the east and about 90 m (300 ft) to the west, the natural approaches to the fortress are very difficult to navigate. The top of the mesa-like plateau is flat and rhomboid-shaped, about 550 m (1,800 ft) by 270 m (890 ft). Herod built a 4 m (13 ft) high casemate wall around the plateau totalling 1,300 m (4,300 ft) in length, reinforced by many towers. The fortress contained storehouses, barracks, an armory, a palace, and cisterns that were refilled by rainwater. Three narrow, winding paths led from below up to fortified gates.