Masada and The Dead Sea

We decided to join a tour as we did not really know how else we were going to get there. However, the problem with tours is that you usually don’t have enough time to see the things that you want and spend way too much time on the bus or standing in the line for a various number of reasons. Regardless, we felt like this was our only option for this particular destination so here we were.

After riding around on the bus for over an hour in Jerusalem picking up other travellers, we were finally on our way through the Judaean desert. What a bleak, beautiful landscape! There are still people that live here in Bedouin villages and Jewish kibbutz (commune like communities) making a living raising goats and sheep, vegetable gardens and fruit trees (including dates, which are very yummy!). As we descended towards the Dead Sea (it is 1388 feet below sea level), Richard and I could both imagine Judas singing on one of the hilltops or the rest of the cast of Jesus Christ Superstar dancing across the desert!

The Dead Sea was much larger than we imagined though you can also see where the water is receding – estimated at a rate of a meter per year. There are sink holes along the shores, and resorts that thrived just a few years ago have now been abandoned as they slowly sink into the ground. Our guide told us that this is because the upper Jordan river that originally fed this sea has been blocked off for irrigation and personal use. There are initiatives in place to regulate this flow and start adding water back into the Dead Sea but it will be many years before it returns to its former glory. Actually it will never return to its original level, but they are hoping to someday divert water from the Red Sea which would hopefully maintain a level.

Across the valley, you can see the mountains of Jordan and it is hard to believe that there is still war and animosity between these two nations. Just to confirm this sentiment, we were stopped at a border checkpoint as we left the West Bank and two young soldiers with very scary machine guns came on board the bus to give us a look see. Apparently, none of us looked like terrorists as they left the bus as quietly as they came on. Further to this, while we were on the mountaintop of Masada, a half dozen fighter jets flew overhead, low and loud. I have to admit, it made my heart race just a bit. Another incident that makes us appreciate Canada even more!

Masada! A ride up on the cable car brings us to the ancient ruins of this Herodian palace and final holdout for the Jewish revolt against the Romans in 73 AD. King Herod built this grand Winter Palace in the style of Rome in 40 BC. It was meant to entertain and impress and I’m sure that it did! The sheer number of storerooms and water cisterns would ensure that one could stay here for years without having to leave the mountain. Even the ingenuity and the enormous effort of getting the building materials up the mountain at this time in history is mind boggling. The living quarters, entertainment areas, bath houses must have been magnificent. There is much original stonework left as well as frescoes and mosaics that have stood the test of time. Unfortunately, our time here was shorter than we would have liked but it was amazing, nevertheless.

Dead Sea – So you hear the stories of floating in the sea or the famous picture of reading the paper while sitting in the water. The healing powers of the water and the mud. We were told to wear footwear into the water to protect our feet from salt rocks so I had a pair of flip flops that I had purchased in Thailand. Richard had his sandals. As we walked into the water, we slipped and slid in the mud and soon our feet were stuck fast. Trying to get my flip flops out, I fell against a large salt rock, scraping my left foot and shin. Ouch! I finally just laid back in the water and guess what? You really do float. In fact, even though we were only in water knee deep, I was unable to rescue my flip flops because I could not touch the bottom with my hands without rolling off my feet. It was a pretty weird sensation and being the control freak that I am, I did not particularly enjoy the experience. So, the flip flops are forever laid to rest in the Dead Sea Sea and I can say that I have floated there very briefly as well.

Back in Jerusalem, we picked up some snacks to spend a very quiet New Year’s Eve watching the mini series Masada. We fell asleep long before midnight but not before wishing friends and family a wonderful 2019!

Today we are off to Nazareth to follow the path of Jesus as he begins his ministry. Can’t wait!

Masada.  If you are not familiar with the history of Masada I highly encourage you to look it up.  It is an amazing piece of Jewish history.


The mosaic on this floor is the original tile installed over 2000 years ago.  Apparently it has lasted this long because of the dry climate.


As you look down from the fortress you will see square enclosures around the perimeter of the fortress.  This is where the Romans set up to prevent the Israelite’s from escaping in 73 AD


The picture below shows where the Romans built the ramp which allowed them to bring a battering ram to bear on the fortress which brought an end to the siege.



The Dead Sea….

Someone is making some money off of mud.


Yep, you actually float in the Dead Sea.  Even I (Richard) did and I don’t float.  Once I was floating on my back I wasn’t able to get up as I couldn’t get my legs to go down and touch the bottom so I had to paddle my way into shore until I could touch the bottom with my hands.  Hard to believe but very true.


Our Way of the Cross.

Being raised Catholic I was exposed to many devotions and given the opportunity (as a young person sometimes a bit reluctantly) to take part in them.  As I grew (notice I didn’t say matured as I am a still working on that one) I came to appreciate some of these devotions in a deeper way and my favorite became the Way of the Cross. From the time Col and I decided to make the Holy Land part of our journey, I have been eagerly anticipating the opportunity to make The Way of the Cross along the actual path our Lord took on his way to Calvary. With a Scriptural way of the Cross that I downloaded from the App Store Col and I were ready to begin our journey along the Via Dolorosa. They really do have an App for everything.

Along the Via Dolorosa each Station of the Cross is marked by circular brass plaque with a Roman numeral stamped into it to identify each station. Some of the Stations were accompanied by pictures, carved reliefs or other sacred images while some just had the Roman numeral for identification.

This first video was taken as we entered the Lions Gate which is very close to where the Via Dolorosa begins.




The First Station.  Jesus is Condemned to Die.




The Second Station.  Jesus Carries His Cross.



The Third Station.  Jesus Falls the First Time.




The Fourth Station.  Jesus Meets His Mother.



The Fifth Station.  Simon helps Jesus Carry His Cross.



The Sixth Station.  Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus.



The Seventh Station.  Jesus Falls the Second Time.


The Eighth Station.  Jesus Meets the Women of Jerusalem.



The Ninth Station.  Jesus Falls the Third Time.



The Tenth to the Fourteenth Stations did not have any brass plaques to mark them.  The Tenth was in the courtyard of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher while the Eleventh to the Fourteenth were inside of the Holy Sepulcher.

The Tenth Station.  Jesus is Stripped.



The Eleventh Station.  Jesus is Nailed to the Cross.



The Twelfth Station.  Jesus Dies on the Cross.



The Thirteenth Station.  Jesus is Taken Down from the Cross.



The Fourteenth Station.  Jesus is Laid in the Tomb.



For those of you who are not Catholic or do not associate with the Christian belief I thank you for bearing with me.  I know this may have not been of interest to some of you, but for me it was very special and something I have dreamed about doing for a large part of my life.  I also want to thank my wife Colleen for walking each step with me and praying at all the stations together as noisy tourists were all around us.  It was an experience I will never forget. 








Holy Sunday

We were up and out of our BNB shortly after 7 AM Sunday morning in order to beat the crowds at the Temple Mount in the Old City. This strategy seemed to work because although there was already a lineup at the gate, it moved through quickly. The Temple Mount is within the original Old City walls which was significantly smaller than the current Old City, which is about one km square. The Temple Mount consists of two main structures – the Al-Asqa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock. The Al-Asqa Mosque is translated as “the furthermost sanctuary” implying its far distance from Mecca. It is also the largest congregational mosque in Jerusalem and the third holiest site in Islam. We were unable to enter the mosque but research tells us that the mosque’s core layout conforms to a Christian church-inspired plan, consisting of seven aisles lined by columns. You may wonder why a mosque would be partially modeled after a Christian church, but you must consider that the Muslim religion was in its infancy stage at this point. They had little cultural architecture to fall back on so some of it was borrowed from the current Christian building in Jerusalem. We wandered around the large stone grounds before entering the area around the Dome of the Rock. Again, we are not allowed to enter but this is the most visually impressive site in Jerusalem and is probably one of the most holy sites for Jews and Muslims. The original Jewish temple was built on this site over what is believed to be the rock on which Abraham was to sacrifice his son Isaac at God’s command. The Muslims believe that the Prophet Mohammed landed on this rock when he was swept up from Mecca and carried off on his night journey to Jerusalem around 621 CE. The Dome which is a shrine and not a mosque, was built over the temple in 691 CE. Its placement on Abraham’s sacrificial rock as well as the historical Jewish temple, was a clear symbol of dominance and control over the faith’s tradition. The inscriptions above the arches on the inner arcade seem to be directed at Christians (as Jerusalem was an predominantly Christian city at this time) an excerpt of which reads “The Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary was but a messenger of Allah…Allah is but one God….To Him belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth”. It stands to reason why this city has been fought over throughout the ages and gives one a bit of understanding as to what the motivations are.
Another item of note that we viewed from this area was the Golden Gate. The gate was built at the time of the Dome but is probably on the site of the original Herodian gate. It is believed by Christians that this is the gate that Jesus entered into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. It is further believed that Jesus will return through this gate at the time of the Second Coming. The gate functioned as a regular part of Crusader religious rituals but has remained sealed since they were expelled from the city in 1291 AD.
With these new revelations in our heads, we made our way across the Old City to the Notre Dame of Jerusalem Centre. This is a pilgrimage hotel and conference area, which houses a chapel as well as a couple of restaurants and cafes. We attended an English mass which was sprinkled with some Latin, had an early lunch and headed back into the city to follow the Via Dolorosa.
Richard will be writing our account of the Via Dolorosa so I will continue to write about the rest of our day.
After finishing the Via Dolorosa walk through the city, we head down to the Garden of Gethsemane, where, as you may recall, was where Jesus prayed on his last night before he was seized by the Romans and subsequently crucified. The Garden is fairly unassuming but full of olive trees. In fact, the word gethsemane actually means “olive press”. Olive trees are very resilient and some root systems last as long as 2000 years. So, some of these trees could have been around to hear Jesus’ final prayers. How cool is that?!?!
Beside the garden is the Church of All Nations, also known as the Church of Agony. It is a Roman Catholic Church built in 1924 over ruins of Byzantine and Crusader churches. It enshrines a section of bedrock where Jesus is said to have prayed before his arrest.
From there we made the long climb up to the Mount of Olives and the Church of the Ascension. Though I had my doubts that I would actually make it to the top, I was not disappointed when I finally got there. The Church of Ascension is actually a shrine rather than a church. It is the spot from which Christians believe that Jesus ascended into heaven. Over the last 2000 years this spot has been venerated by Christians, even though it has fallen to ruin many times. After the time of the Crusaders, the Muslims took over this site and built a mosque here. However, due to the number of Christian pilgrims that were still coming to worship here, they built a second mosque near this site and let the pilgrims continue to come to the site of the original chapel.
Across the valley we could see the Old City and down below, the Jewish graveyard lined with thousands of years of crypts and graves. As we started to descend from the Mount we noticed that the clouds were getting darker and we hoped that we would beat the rain home. We did not get so lucky and before we hit the bottom, we were already soaked. There is very little flat land in Jerusalem, so we had to walk back up the hill towards the Old City in order to get home. Near the top, there was a police barricade (we still do not know why) and we were diverted back down the hill, only to have to find another route back up. Thank goodness for Google Maps and after another hour of walking in the pouring rain, we arrived back at our BNB. Total walking distance for the day? 14 miles or 23 kms. Wow! You’d think we’d be skinny by now! 😁😁

We had a hot shower, a glass of wine, a visit with our BNB hosts and an early bedtime. Another busy day tomorrow – Masada and the Dead Sea (and New Year’s EVE).

The Dome of the Rock.



The Golden Gate.


The Pontifical Institute of Nortre Dame du Jerusalem (Our Lady of Jerusalem) Center. Col and I attended Sunday Mass here. As Col mentioned the center also serves as a hotel, educational / conference center along with being a place for pilgrims.




Under the heading again of “You don’t see this every day” the pictures below are from the hotel.

The Garden Tomb.



The Mount of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane.






The Chapel of the Ascension.