King Harod’s Palace, Masada

North Palace Ruins, Masada

King Harod had his palace on the northern side of Masada’s plateau summit constructed in the style of a classic Roman palace. Herod the Great was the Rome appointed King of Judaea for the Roman Empire from 37BC to 4BC. Much of the palace architecture remains and offers valuable insight into the Roman way of life. The Northern Palace is also called the “hanging palace” as it is constructed on three natural rock terraced levels starting on the top of Masada and “hanging” 30 meters over the edge on the northern rock face. The palace complex is in fact a group of royal buildings and the location is the highest point on Masada. The architecture is opulent and constructed with intricate engineering. This must have been a daunting task and great achievement considering the harsh natural surroundings and extreme conditions.  The palace would have needed a reliable source of water and so they built a sophisticated water system which accumulated rain water and supplied the palace with all the water it needed. Two cisterns were hewn into the rock underneath the three terraces in addition to other cisterns on Masada.

The upper terrace was mainly used as a residence and there are 4 grand bed rooms. The first level also has a semi-circular colonnaded balcony from which there are brilliant views of the Dead Sea. All of the palace rooms were originally decorated with frescos and they had mosaic floors. The floors on the first level were covered with black and white mosaics with geometric shapes. Even the exterior was brightly painted in intricate designs. To the west is a staircase (which has been damaged by an earthquake) which led from the top level to the lower levels.

On the second terrace there are two concentric walls with two rows of columns supporting a roof covering over a central courtyard. As you look down on the middle terrace today you can clearly see the circular structures.

The lower level also has a colonnaded hall this time with an uncovered central trapezoid- shaped entrance courtyard, bath rooms, storerooms, a kitchen and bathhouse. The square yard is surrounded by a row of double columns with Corinthian capitals. There is a retaining wall surrounding the lower level. The main bath house, for the rest of the residents on Masada was built to the south of the North Palace.

There is actually no evidence that Herod ever made the palace his home, although his family stayed here at one point. He wanted a safe place to retreat to in his old age, if he fell out of favor or if the Romans lost their hold on Judaea. But how ever large, opulent and impressive the Northern Palace it isn’t

It is not actually the largest palace on Masada. That honor goes to the Western Palace which covers 4,000m² but nothing on Masada comes close to the impressive hanging palace.


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