Monday, June 17th was our eighth and last official tour day. We headed out of Jerusalem by bus early for Masada, Qumran, and the Dead Sea.
Our drive to Masada took us past miles of date palm groves. Soon we caught sight of the Dead Sea, gleaming oily blue in the distance.
At Masada we boarded the cable car that took us up the mountain. Before looking around, our guide gathered us in a shaded area and told us the story of Masada.
This fortress settlement was built up as one of King Herod the Great’s palace complexes, though rarely visited by him. After his death, Jewish zealots conquered its Roman guards and took refuge there. They converted the palatial rooms to their uses, even constructing a synagogue. They lived in Masada for about seven years, taking advantage of the fortress’s designed ways of collecting water and storing food.
The Romans came after them, laid siege to the fortress and finally breached it by constructing a ramp on its most accessible side (in April of 73 C.E.). When the Romans entered the complex, they found the entire population dead, having chosen to commit mass murder / suicide instead of yielding to Roman rule. (The story is told by Josephus, who, it is said, got this account from two women and five children who hid during the massacre).
After descending from Masada and shopping at the Ahava Store (which sells skin care products made from Dead Sea mud and minerals, along with other tourist goodies) we boarded the bus again for Qumran.
The desert community of Qumran was once the home of the Essenes, a devout sect of Judaism. It was in caves near here that the Dead Sea scrolls were found from 1946 to 1956. These scrolls were probably the work of the Essenes who spent much time copying Scripture. They also placed great emphasis on purity and we saw many mikveh (ritual bath enclosures) as well as channels dug to aid the movement of water.
A short walk took us to a lookout where we viewed Cave 4.
We ended our day at the Dead Sea.
Earlier, when we drove by, our guide pointed out the sink holes that are developing near it—a response to lessened amounts of water feeding into the sea for various reasons.
Now our bus dropped us off at the one of the Dead Sea beach areas. We left our valuables locked in the bus, changed into swim wear in the busy change rooms and walked a short distance down to the beach. (No photos because I left my camera on the bus).
The water makes you as buoyant as everyone says it will, which is tricky because splashing around in the water, even to regain your feet, is not a good idea lest you get the extremely salty water in yours or others’ eyes. I experienced a little of that; it burns!
All around people were coating themselves with the salt-laden mud/clay that you can dig up with your hands just under the beach rocks.
After coating yourself with mud thus, you’re apparently supposed to let it dry before washing it off to obtain maximum smooth-skin results. I discovered that even without leaving it that length of time, it did smooth and soften my skin.
I’m glad I experienced the Dead Sea in this way, but I was quite ready to rinse off in clear, fresh water and get out of my very salty swim suit.